For 14 years, Peter J. Guttridge and his wife have built a business exclusively on the Havana Book Fair. The company sells English-language books at the fair, tapping into the growing interest in English language content. It now represents more than 120 publishers and imprints including all the major UK publishers. For many of these publishers, it’s a chance to sell into a market that they would otherwise not be able to reach.
“The Cuban market can be difficult,” says Guttridge, noting that as the reason for limited competition in English-language books to Cuba. The large audiences (20,000 per day on average over 10 days) make it possible to run a viable business based almost solely on sales at the fair.
“This isn’t a book fair anymore,” says Guttridge. “The Havana Book Fair is the largest Cuban social event of the year – with a book fair inside. It’s a fantastic setting where Cuban families come and [enjoy themselves]. English is the second language here, so we have quite a following year after year. Especially those with children doing English language courses.”
In addition to its direct-to-consumer sales at the fair in February, the Caribbean Book Company sells English-language books in Cuba year-round through its arrangements with local importers, which in turn supply books to bookstores and specialty outlets. The company promotes its catalogs in Cuba and then takes orders.
“There’s a thirst for books here,” says Guttridge. “After the basics of food, clothing and housing, books come pretty high up.” Guttridge cites the example of a dictionary that sold 5,000 copies in seven days. He notes that children’s books and specialty books on music, arts and the military have also done well.
“It’s not easy, but it’s an interesting market. People forget that this is the largest population in the Caribbean -- 11.2 million people. Plus there are 2.5 to 2.8 million tourists, which can only grow. A lot of them are English-language speakers. There is a huge tourist market that is completely untapped.”
What’s next for the Caribbean Book Company? Gutteredge is looking for an exit strategy. “This is a business we got into by accident,” he says.
“We’d love to find a buyer for it.”
Contact information for the Caribbean Book Company.