Culture & History, Markets and Trade

Leafing Through Bookworms’ Choices in Mexico

Stack of Real Books

In the space of a few years, much has changed regarding access to books in Mexico, thanks largely to the proliferation of eBooks, tablets, and online shopping, although Mexican bookshop chains continue to flourish here.

In the south of Mexico City, where Miguel Angel de Quevedo avenue crosses Avenida Universidad—about five minutes from the Bohemian hangout of Coyoacán—is a mini paradise for bookworms.

Three major bookstores – Gandhi, El Sotano, and Fondo de Cultura Economica – and a dozen or so smaller ones, line both sides of the street. Outside are wooden trays with books and CDs at throw-away prices, and inside you’ll find special offers on those less likely to be thrown away.

Mexico City remains the place where the widest selection of books and bookshops can be found, and some well-known chains have most of their branches in the capital.

But while in many developed countries bookshops have been closing, Mexican chains have been opening new stores. Like bookshops everywhere, they have also added CDs, DVDs, toys, puzzles and other paraphernalia to their offerings to make the business work. This may annoy some purists, but somehow it’s hard to get worked up about a model that means the book business can continue going.

Cafebrería El Péndulo – coffee shop-bookstore – now boasts six branches in Mexico City, including in trendy neighborhoods such as Polanco, Condesa and Roma.

Librerías Gandhi has expanded with a number of new stores in Mexico City, and also has branches in a few other cities. El Sótano and Casa del Libro have more than a dozen branches.

Gonvill Librerías is the biggest chain in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second most populated city which is also host to a major international book fair each year.

These chains tend to stock the best selection of books, often beyond the capacity of the shelves so that many are neatly piled up on the floor. You can find most books in Spanish at these stores.

And while many, especially Gandhi and El Péndulo, have one or two shelves of books in English and French, here it tends to be hit and miss. You might find occasional books of interest, but you are less likely to find a specific title. (For some you can check availability online).

When you are looking for a particular book – such as a new release – the options are to stock-up on a trip abroad, or order it online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or anyone else you can think of, which will ship books to Mexico with no problems—but not necessarily that quickly. If you want a particular book right now, eBooks are the way to go.

Department stores and big box stores have book sections, but these vary widely in selection and quality. There are several hundred Sanborns stores which have ample book and magazine sections, but not much in English beyond bestsellers.

Despite the expansion of some chains, Mexico still has only around 1,200 bookstores in a population of 120 million, of which nearly one third are in Mexico City, according to the publishing industry chamber which would like to see twice as many.

Often even the most bourgeois of us like to dig around for books in a bohemian atmosphere, and for that there are plenty of elegant bookshops—although that isn’t where most Mexicans go to get reading material.

More people visit the book sections at department stores, 25% compared with 18% that go to bookstores, according to the National Statistics Institute, which adds that 16% of people go to street stalls selling used books and magazines, and 10% visit libraries.

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