The Abril publishing and media group has a long, proud history of adherence to that Golden Rule of the mainstream Brazilian media: “For our friends, anything; for our enemies, the Law.”
It began its life franchising Walt Disney content for Portuguese-speaking readers, which makes for an interesting but at the moment irrelevant story.
The group has been diversifying through M&A in recent years and months, including the purchase of two major schoolbook titles and a (rumored) relationship with the Huffington Post (news item) to assist it with its Web operations (which badly need some purely technical attention, if I may say so). Sometime in the last few years it sold 30% of itself to the South African Naspers — a factory for churned out apartheid presidents in South Africa for decades — a couple of years ago.
Fazendo Media, a modest Ford Foundation-funded watchdog project, explains how politics and the press walk hand in hand like Tweedle Dum and Dee. See also:
Source: Rede Brasil Atual, Fazendo Media
On July 14 of this year, while the press was focusing on street protests in São Paulo, the state Official Diary published the procurement — without competition — of 5,200 semiannual subscriptions of Veja magazine to be distributed in the public schools. The contract was worth R$ 669,240 and was to be paid in the name of the Foundation for Educational Development (FDE), an agency of the state government.
For years, the PSDB governments of the state have been sharply criticized for the procurement of these magazines and newspapers on a mass scale. The criticisms begin with the dispensation of competitive bidding. After all, there are at least three [national] newsweeklies that compete with Veja.
Click to enlarge.
The editorial line of the magazine is, how shall we put it, sympathetic to the state government and hostile to the São Paulo political opposition, provoking a sharp questioning of whether or not political rather than pedagogical interests may not be reflected by this procurement order.
Another controversial point is whether the magazine is really appropriate for a readership of schoolchildren, given the fierce polemics surrounding some of its news coverage. And by controversial news coverage, I am not just referring to legal proceedings that produce a legal result, whether for slander or the right of reply.
There are also cases of reporting that is rejected by the academic and scientific community, including a case in which the magazine recommended the use of a particular weight-reduction remedy that had already been banned by Anvisa, the federal food and drug agency. And let us recall the role the magazine played last year during the case of the numbers racketeer Carlinhos Cachoeira, whose telephone transcripts suggested close ties with the senior management of Veja, much closer than is wise and has never been explained down to the present day.
With an editorial profile like this, which we cannot exactly call educational, it would better if Governor Geraldo Alckmin and his government let those who want to read Veja pay their money and read it, rather than assign it as required reading to public-funded schools.
Furthermore, the magazine is not appropriate for students of the age group it targets. Abril itself, in a report on its readership, reports that 11% are from ten to 19 years old. The largest segment of the readership is fifty years or older.
Even if we were to ignore the numbers reported by parent company Abril, a recent study by the Perseu Abramo Foundation found that 37% of those interviewed inform themselves using the Internet, compared with 24% for print media. The study included subjects older than 16 years among the subjects as a whole. If the study were repeated, the print-Web differential would be even greater, because younger generations are more intense users of the Internet. For this reason, it is most likely that many of the copies bought for the school are not really used by students, indicating a waste of public funds.
In other words, the decision to continue acquiring these publications is favorable to the special interests of the owners of the contractor, in that it artificially overstates circulation, which is used to fix the price of advertisements. This may be good for the governor and his political allies, but it is awful for the public coffers and the students of the public schools.
There is a risk in qualifying Abril as a manipulator of ad prices — it won a nasty SLAPP suit against one of its online critics recently. But there remain those who believe it can be done, and techniques for doing it.
in a deal that included the digital bookstore Gato Sabido.
In an April 2013 paper on Evolution of the Brazilian Publishing Market, Gerson Ramos observes,
Although there is a good selection of works that address individually the history of one or other publisher or bookstore by itself, in order to understand the dynamics of this market it is necessary to learn how to the overall sectors move and propel with its background data. Even companies that have already negotiated rights with Brazilian publishers or those who export their printed book to Brazil, still have difficulty understanding how this new economic scenario functions—which is the 7th greatest economy in the world—and where we might now find almost as many bookstores as we may find publishers.
The predatory pricing of books and monopoly power of Companhia das Letras and the like are beginning to abate, it seems to me — most often through M&A — and especially due to the available of texts electronically.
If the mushrooming Brazilian metropoles are germinating an extremely wired culture that led to the amazing Brazilian Orkut exodus a few years back, these more affordable books could enable the habit of building personal libraries of the classics, from the Timaeus to Notes of a Dirty Old Man.
Perhaps most symptomatic of the causes is the all-Penguin Classic in Portuguese of Brazil in the Conjunto Nacional, which anchors the Avenida Paulista. Wall to orange-spined wall. My Mrs. is reading Joseph Conrad Nostromo in PT as I reread it in English.
Gerson’s paper offers an excellent historical perspective on the sector:
The French group Vivendi, then owners of Hachette and PPR’s biggest competitor, together with Publisher Abril, buys Ática and Scipione, becoming the first group with international capital in the Brazilian textbook market.
Publisher Rocco, already among the 20 biggest publishers, buys the rights for the Harry Potter series and jumps into the top five biggest publishing groups in Brazil.
[ … ]
What is at stake? The publishing lobby is pushing back hard on efforts to overturn the Press Law — a legacy of the dictatorship finally expunged last year — which allows no more than 30% ownership of a Brazilian media company.
Look and see, Veja: The cable TV grid is nothing more than the grid you watched two years ago on ABC, CBS, or NBC, sometimes dubbed, sometimes not, with subtitles. The problem is that middle-class Brazilian cannot turn on the tube and select from a rich menu of homegrown content reflecting his or her outlook on life in general.
For that reason, the Culture Ministry has worked hard on educational policy issues. The opposition has attacked the Ministry as a locus of pro-Soviet “communist indoctrination.” For the moment, at any rate, Scrooge McDuck fights bravely on.
For further reading, Gerson recommends ‘” (Economia da Cadeia Produtiva do Livro)
It is interesting to see how much faith publishers seem to place in the growth of literate potential customers in their sector, when readership was seen as in decline in 2012.
The Câmara Brasileiro do Livro is the main trade association.