Beatriz Solis, long a Mexico City professor of communications, will bring previously inaccessible specialist publications by Latin Americans to teachers and students, private voluntary association leaders, and other professionals wherever they are across the region quickly and relatively inexpensively.
The New Idea
In Bolivia, a novel use of radio is helping miners speak out directly and reflect together despite geographic remoteness. Solis wants to make an evaluation of its methods and results quickly and reliably available to both Portuguese and Spanish-speaking Latin Americans in university departments of communications, in leading private voluntary organizations that might want to use the idea, or who are especially interested in Bolivia, unions, or radio.
Solis will ensure that hundreds of similar reports come to the attention of interested people through catalogues and a series of abstracts. She will, in turn, spot them through the networks she has developed in the communications field. (She is a founder of the Mexican Association of Researchers of Communications and is active in the Latin America Federation of Faculties of Social Communications.) She will also get ideas from her subscribers.
The key to her capacity to do so is to direct distribution through the mails. She captures the wholesalers'/retailers' usual 40 percent markup, allowing her to provide her materials at useful savings, especially during these hard times. More important, this approach allows her to reach anyone, whether or not they are in one of the few urban centers with retail book stores that conceivably might be interested in carrying such specialized materials.
Once Solis has fully developed this service in the communications field she plans to extend it to other areas. She'll begin with areas where they's some overlap in the circles of people with whom she's already working, e.g. education or some aspects of the environment.
Solis' idea promises to help open the arteries of communication and thinking in the region. It also may help make possible more decentralized initiative, both active and intellectual, than is now possible in many Latin societies where information and decision-making are characterized by the heavy central dominance of capitals like Mexico City and Buenos Aires.
Unless a New York or Paris firm published and distributed the report on the bolivian radio experiment, for example, it would probably now be lost to many of those who would want to read it. Even then, their chances of getting, let alone affording, it would be slim.
Few materials, even those of the most renowned Latin American writers, are available outside each country's capital city due to problems with distribution. Either there are no book shops, or those that exist carry bestsellers rather than specialist or academic books. Even in Mexico's major provincial university towns readers cannot obtain such publications. They go without or resort to asking friends to send the books from Mexico City.
Cost is a second major barrier. Voluntary association workers and university consumers have suffered badly over the last years from the economic crisis. Inflation has cut their incomes sharply and driven the costs of books and publications up steeply. The typical Mexican professor has lost half his or her salary over the last six years, after inflation. At the same time the costs of publishing have spiraled upward within the region, and imported materials have become all but unobtainable as the exchange values of Latin currencies fell.
Solis has a three part strategy: spotting, distributing, and discounting.
First, she builds networks that spot both the information needs of her clients and the places materials can be found that would fill those needs. Here she uses professional associations, the university faculties in the field, concerned non-governmental organizations, and whatever other agencies seem promising. Her clients will be among her best advisors. By thus knowing the specialist needs of a field, she can offer in one place what those in the field need from both familiar publishers and a wide range of unfamiliar sources.
Second, she distributes efficiently. The first step is to let people know what is available. She plans a quarterly catalogue, which can also serve as a bibliography for students. This will be distributed to a selected list of individuals and institutions. In addition to the catalogue, she hopes to bring out a quarterly newsletter with abstracts that summarize the texts named in the catalogue. The readers she serves can then order what they want and get a quick response by mail.
Finally, by substituting the mails for booksellers she can get her publications to her clients at significant savings.
Solis started the distribution gap in her field to help friends. She then got German help to send book packages to poor Latin American universities outside Mexico. With this experience behind her, Solis now plans to serve Mexico as well as other Latin countries. She also plans to cover many more clients, both individual and institutional, and gradually extend the service to other specialist fields. As she moves to new fields she plans to engage some of those who truly know these fields to guide her key first step of identifying needs and sources.
As these first areas succeed, Solis hopes professional associations and others from many more fields will follow the model she develops, over the next several years. In the communications field alone, she estimates her potential university audience across Latin America at 15,000 teachers and perhaps 100,000 students.
Beatriz Solis is one of Mexico's respected professors in the field of social communications. In addition, she is the Publications Coordinator for the Latin American Federation of Faculties of Social Communication, as well as a researcher for the Research Center in Transnational Culture in Peru. Trained as a psychologist at Mexico's National Autonomous University, she helped develop social communications as a degree course at the Metropolitan University in Mexico City. She has written numerous books and articles on the media in Mexico.
Solis led the group charged with developing a proposal on the development of a social communications system for the Presidency of the Republic during the Lopez Portillo administration. She helped found and has presided over the Mexican Association of Researchers of Communications and the Latin American Federation of Faculties of Social Communication. She has also been President of the National Council of Communication Teaching and Research.
She will now commit herself fully into applying her idea on a significant scale. By enabling socially important information to flow to the grassroots, she will both be giving such ideas far greater impact and also be significantly encouraging more decentralized initiative.