Book Shopping In Portugal

For those who don’t know this, I am in Portugal at the moment, visiting my parents till the middle of June.

It’s not quite a return to familiar hunting grounds.  First, I’ve never lived in Portugal as an adult – I went to the States straight out of college.  The rhythms and obligations of a responsible adult in Portugal are completely unknown and often mysterious.  Second, the country has changed a lot since I was here.  When I left there was one mall.  It was a mini-mall, with maybe ten shops, and it was in downtown Porto.

So I was a little surprised when a visit to the bookstore, to spend a gift card my dad got for his birthday took me to the mall in what used to be one of the nearest villages.  The mall was both familiar and oddly different.  Yes, there were all the usual accouterments of a mall, including a food court, but the lay out was different, and there were very few people there, and none of them looked like mall rats.

The bookstore was different too.  Portugal, in some ways has always been ahead of the US when it comes to book marketing.  Okay.  In a bad way.  You know how towards the end of the old model, there, before ebooks changed the game, no one kept back lists?  Portugal was always like that.  I’m not sure why, perhaps because of the pressures of a smaller market, but the first printrun was all you got.  So bookstores are smaller.  On the other hand, they are still, strictly, bookstores.  There are no cds, no coffee shops, no movies.  Just books, in clearly marked sections.

The books are, and this is a reflection of the national character, at least in terms of the people who CHOOSE to read, mostly non-fiction of a scholarly nature.  There were a lot of books I wanted, ranging from a comprehensive history of Portugal (almost impossible to get in the US) to fictionalized biographies of various Portuguese princesses.  Unfortunately I was with my dad, who had announced his intention to buy me anything I wanted.  Even more unfortunately, these books ran in the neighborhood of 40 Euros, which is daylight robbery.

When my dad asked me to find him a book I enjoyed, I was stumped.  Apparently, only our more turgid bestsellers make it here, including Dan Brown’s Opus (opuses?) which really shouldn’t sell that well in a Catholic Country.  I mean, people know that the Catholic church doesn’t have assassins, right?  (If they did, I’d be a nun, duh.)   There were also, disguised under historical covers, book after book of undead porn.  (Some of it very good undead porn, but not my dad’s cup of tea, and certainly not the sort of thing I should recommend to my dad.)   There were other bestsellers too and I ended up settling for recommending him a scholarly book on World War II and one of Phillipa Gregory’s historical books.  I probably would have recommended Raymond Feist, too, but I doubt my dad would “get” Fantasy.

The good news is that Science Fiction and Fantasy were shelved in the middle of the other fiction.  The bad news is that there was so little of it.

How does this relate to where we are, and what the ebooks are bringing?  Ebooks are unknown here.  I had to explain my kindle over and over and over again.  The funny thing is that once explained they take to the concept like ducks to water.  They want them.  Badly.

If my dad read English I would, right now, be leaving him my kindle.  As is, though, there is no Amazon pt selling translations of works.  And here I must ask, why not?  Surely I’m not the only writer who is fluent in two languages.  If we’re going to do this thing on our own, why not sell translations?  I wonder if Naked Reader would like a Portuguese translation of ATON?  The sales will be slow, but due to the lack of back list and limited selection, the market is wide open.  It will be slow only till e-readers catch on.  And I think I know someone who can do a French Translation, and I wonder if I can get a friend to translate into Japanese if I give him a cut of the action…

This is something we haven’t even started to think about, but we should.  Ebooks are by nature worldwide.  Oh, what brave new world…

How do you think we should go about it?

«crossposted at According To Hoyt»

19 thoughts on “Book Shopping In Portugal

  1. Are there already ebook outlets any of the European countries? If not, why not?

    From everything I’ve heard, Japan is way ahead of us, but thinking about it, I recall no comments from Europe. I’ve been snippitting my old unpublishables on my Live Journal page, and checking the readers, I’ve been surprized at how many of the regular readers have websites in cyrillic, no matter where they are located.

    If they’ll read that, you know there’s a market for good stuff.

    1. Hi Pam,

      I did a bit of googling and it seems that there are more than a few ebook places around in different parts of Europe. There has been a much slower start in the places I checked though.

      According to this article in Italy several thousand titles are being made a available thru several sites. They seem to be going the DRM and overpriced route though.

      In Spain they’re doing a bit better. According to el “ebook” now represents 3% of total books sales. There are 18 221 available thru several retailers. From the comments to that piece the ebooks are full of DRM and quite overpriced. It’s strange that books in Spain are almost as expensive as in Portugal.

      In France things are also going slowly. According to this piece from last year there where several retailers and about 70 000 titles, not many of them new though. The books are as expected overpriced. Most of the books available are DRMed according to

      Things are bleaker in Portugal with only a site and a very small number of books that are of course overpriced and full of DRM. The site is

      From a quick look things don’t seem to be much better in Brazil either.

      Rui Jorge

  2. To quote Instapundit, faster, please!

    Now, how to get Impaler translated to Romanian and assorted other Eastern European languages…

  3. Give everyone in China a kindle for free (I’ve just returned from China – AWESOME BTW). Publish backlist. Translate everything into Mandarin.


  4. I saw a couple Weber e-books… I think it was actually on the Barnes and Noble website, but I’m not sure… that were apparently (and IIRC) in German.

    With one one-star review and the comment that it was stupid because the person didn’t read German. Srsly.

    In any case, what I wanted to know and what wasn’t at all apparent was… which books were these? Different title, different “cover” art. And while I don’t read German either, I know people who are studying German and might like a novel as a gift. And I’d like to know which book it is, if I’m buying it for someone. And for me, I’d like to know if I’ve missed something by that author.

    In a world-wide market I think that it’s going to be very important to clearly indicate which translations are the same work.

  5. Sarah

    I’m reading this at Mad Genius and your name is not on it anywhere. I think there’s a bug in the new MG or something got lost in the transfer. Just thought you should know. I know it’s you but others might not.


    1. WB,

      It’s something we know about…and I’m sure Sarah just forgot since she is doing this from Portugal. But thanks for reminding all of us.

  6. Hi Sarah,

    Although the Portuguese market is small the Portuguese speaking one is not. There are about 200 million Portuguese speakers out there, at least a few are likely to be book lovers, so a reasonable number of sales seems possible. More so if it is a reasonable priced book as are the Naked Reader ones. already has a few Portuguese e-book titles (as I just found out, to my surprise). It looks like the best place to sell your translation if you decide to give it a try.

    Rui Jorge

  7. Omike,
    As it happens I just ordered a very good Portuguese history in Translation, which I somehow ordered TWICE. I can send when Iºm back home in CO

  8. Synova,
    I have friends whose series died here who wrote six or ten more books for Germany. In a global market, those should be available here too.

  9. Rui Jorge,
    Iºve got friends in Portuguese speaking Africa as is, Iªm sure a Portuguese translation woudl facilitate that, at least for those books to which Iºve got translation rights. My problem is my Portuguese is no longer up to the job. I oculd do a half half assed translation if I knew anyone who could fix it…

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Even an half-assed translation would be better than more than a few wretched things I’ve stumbled upon. Many didn’t even got close to that level of excellence!

      If you do decide to give it a try please let me know if my modest skills can be of use. My gmail e-mail is rui.jorge at

      I hope you’re enjoying your visit to our deranged country. :0)

      Rui Jorge

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