The latest data on the Mexican book market, as reported to El Economista by Nielsen Bookscan Mexico makes grim reading.

The decline in annual turnover started subtly in the first half of February, with a barely noticeable -2.5%. For week 13 of the year, in the second half of March, economic losses began with double-digit percentages for publishers. The decrease went from 9.9% to 42.1%; then, at the beginning of April, when practically all the bookstores in the country were closed, it was 67.3%, and it bottomed in week 15 (April 6-12), with 88.2% compared to the same period of the previous year.

In real terms, El Economista explains, while 386,776 units were sold in the first week of January, equivalent to MXN 87 ($3.6 million), at the lowest point during the first half of April, only 103,674 units were sold, with a turnover of MXN 20 million ($848k,000).

But from that low point the numbers began to revive, not because of any easing of Mexico’s lockdown, but because publishers belatedly realized digital was their best friend.

Bookscan México director David Pemán explained:

Since week 15, when the point of lowest sales took place, the sector has been reinventing itself, promoting improved logistics and, in a few weeks, they have boosted their e-commerce business. That is why we went from 100,000 units weekly approximately a month ago to 130,000 that are currently being sold this week.

Oniine print sales took up some of the slack, but it was digital – ebooks and audiobooks – that became not just the safety net but the rebound platform for Mexican publishing.

Diego Echeverría, CEO of digital conversions specialist Ink It, reported a 60% surge in sales in march and said he expected triple digit increases when the April numbers are totalled, and that that would continue for May.

National and international publishers have approached us to support them in accelerating the conversion of their titles to ebook format, to prioritise their new titles and digital launches and increase the catalog available at online points of sale.

Print focussed publishers and booksellers, while disadvantaged, have also shifted their attentions to digital, with online promotion and author activities.

As this post goes live Mexico ranks 18th in the most infected countries rankings, adding about 2,500 new cases per day, with 4,477 Covid-18 deaths.

Lockdown restrictions will begin to be lifted in certain areas of Mexico next week, but the country expects, per the FT, to enter a “brutal recession” that will do the publishing industry no favours even if bookstores are allowed to reopen nationwide.

As Mexican publishing’s new normal evolves we can expect to see digital continue to play a central role.