Villegas Editores is perhaps one of Colombia’s most important large-format book publishers. Its founder, Benjamin Villegas, donated 100 virtual titles to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary by setting up www.100libroslibres.com in alliance with the Ministry of Culture, as part of the many launchings of edition 34 of Bogotá International Book Fair (FILBo).
Virtual audiences can access as many books as they want by creating an account on this user-friendly site. For now, the available titles are in Spanish, and are either sold out or no longer in circulation, which by no means indicates they lack importance or are not reader worthy. Titles in English will soon be available. Villegas aims to donate the publishing house’s entire collection – 400 titles to date – by 2027, by uploading one exclusive book per week.
Works on artists such as Fernando Botero, Debora Arango, Enrique Grau, or Alejandro Obregón are available alongside books on ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, Colombia’s Nobel Literature Laureate Gabriel García Márquez, and writer William Ospina, to name a few.
The Ministry of Culture is supporting Villegas Editores by promoting the initiative and making sure Colombians, no matter where they are in the country, whether living in the jungle capital of Amazonas, Leticia, or Riohacha, departmental capital of La Guajira, have access to books, education and culture.
“Thanks to the generosity of Villegas Editores, we have joined this initiative by promoting the site so that as many Colombians as possible can enjoy such literary richness,” said Minister of Culture Angélica Mayolo.
Coffee table books are expensive publications, usually accessible to the few who can afford them, but by making the collection available for free online, people who otherwise couldn’t have access to them can now read them.
“It is possible to enjoy these books by accessing the collection through the pages of the Ministry of Culture and websites of more than the 1,500 public libraries across the country,” added Mayolo.
Alongside www.100libroslibres.com, Villegas Editores also offers the general public the photo album “Colombia, Land of Enchantment” (Colombia Tierra de Encanto) at www.tierradeencanto.com, a direct reference to Disney’s animated film Encanto, which took home several Oscars this year, and millions in ticket sales around the world.
Colombian culture is one of the film’s lead protagonists, although it isn’t explicitly mentioned – except in two instances. Benjamín Villegas wants to make sure the unexpectant international reader knows that Disney’s Encanto is Colombia by setting up a 60-image gallery of the country. From landscapes and cities to people and objects, readers can take a virtual tour of Colombia, and experience its beauty, iconographic landscapes, and cultural identity.
“People in Colombia immediately knew that Encanto – all the scenery, wardrobes, food, streets, and architecture- is part of the national culture, and everyone is very proud of this, but for people who are unfamiliar with the country or our culture, remains unclear,” said Villegas.
“To the extent that people are aware that the movie talks about Colombia, it can be convenient for the country, as many people can be driven to visit the real locations it depicts, which can stimulate tourism and the economy,” explained the publisher.
The idea of offering the digital library took about 20 years in the making, and marks a shift in the publishing house’s business model to include documentaries in its portfolio of products and services, to keep up with the times, in a digital era that demands new ways of storytelling.
The new area of business is called Amor por Colombia (Love for Colombia), and is under the supervision of Laura Villegas, daughter of Benjamín Villegas, as Co-Executive Director of the publishing house.
An established stage designer for operatic and theatrical productions, Laura works shoulder-to-shoulder with her father on all fronts of their business, including the transition to digital platforms. “It’s always been my father’s desire to make these expensive books accessible to Colombians. It’s been a 22-year process, which has its own set of challenges,” she explained.
“We’ve been working for a long time in digital to leave this legacy to Colombia. The pandemic, however, made us take the next step. It made us say, ‘It’s now or never,’ and we took the leap. As printers, taking the jump into the digital world wasn’t easy,” she said.
Amor por Colombia will be available to the public at the end of this year, alongside the many other areas of business the publishing house has, which includes, of course, continuing to offer large-format books.