(Article originally written for The Readers Society of South Africa, to see the article click here)
Imagine meeting a long-lost cousin for the first time in ten years. The bratty, spotty teen you remember has transmogrified into a mature, well-spoken and successful individual. Thinking about digital publishing in South Africa is in some ways a bit like this. The surprise you feel at the change that the teen has embraced is overwhelming. At the same time, and at the opposite end, you could never have predicted how the cousin would have turned out.
At present, South Africa is lagging way behind international trends in digital publishing. Widely cited estimates put eBook sales in the US at 9% of the total consumer book market. Some predict that this will comprise as much as 20% to 25% by 2015.
Book publishing in international markets has been changed in profound ways. In an environment where ‘everything’s free’, publishing models have had to be rethought. Changes in book-production processes have also had acute effects on how content is created. Various opportunities in social marketing have emerged along with the new demands of changing consumers who need to be engaged rather than barked at. And consumers have been treated to an ever-increasing array of e-readers that are cheaper and cheaper, and which continually improve the reading and buying experience.
Yet, South Africa seems strangely dormant when it comes to eBooks – will digital publishing take flight and impact the local publishing scene? To say that it won’t is a bit like expecting that long-lost pimply cousin to look and act exactly the same in ten years time.
Where are we on the retail side?
A lot depends on the uptake of e-readers in South Africa. A few brands have made their way here. Most notable is perhaps the Amazon Kindle, which became available in South Africa in October 2009. The Kindle’s unmatched easy access to a wide range of cheap books puts it ahead of most other devices.
But other brands, such as e-ink e-reader devices by manufacturers iRiver and Bookeen, among others, have opened the market up. These devices are available through a range of retailers – both online and brick-and-mortar stores – and their continued and cheap availability will encourage the uptake of local eBooks.
Tablets such as the iPad are set to increase the eBook-buying market marginally, while we should brace ourselves in the coming months for a wave of other tablets that take advantage of Google’s Android operating system, such as the Samsung Galaxy, which is widely acclaimed as the fastest-growing mobile operating system worldwide.
But e-ink e-readers – readers such as the iRiver Story, that are not backlit by eye-straining screens – won’t be outdone. The irony is that e-ink e-readers – digital devices – are strangely exactly valued for their ability to mimic the master format everyone is so concerned e-readers will make obsolete – the ‘killer app’ of the last few centuries, the print book.
So devices are becoming more and more readily available, and cheaper to local buyers. But what about local content?
Kalahari launched its eBook offering earlier this year, and so far has been very proactive in promoting eBooks and e-readers. We have registered some sales through Kalahari already since launching our eBooks in October. Exclusive Books has also launched its eBooks store, and will begin introducing more local product into the market. A local eBook store, ebookdiva.co.za, is an engaging local portal with access to content.
What kinds of books?
eBooks and e-readers offer a range of advantages, but the key factors can be summarised as accessibility, anonymity and price. People want content they can buy with two clicks (or touches); they want eBooks that they can consume anonymously (such as Mills & Boon-type titles and anything readers don’t necessarily want to keep on their shelves); and they want this content to be cheap.
Many South African publishers seem to be behind the curve in exploring ways to make money out of digitising their content. At Pan Macmillan South Africa we are doing our utmost to keep up with the curve. We have converted a few of our books into ePubs and Web PDFs which are available on Kalahari.net.
Next time I will explore some of the opportunities and major shifts that currently characterise the e-publishing industry. While Pan Macmillan has made baby steps in the digital realm, it is our sincere hope that publishers and authors in South Africa will be involved as much as possible at this exciting juncture – and not label that obscure young cousin ‘Digital Publishing’ as nothing more than a misfit incapable of change!
- Article written by Wesley Thompson for The Readers Society of South Africa
To see the Apple iPad's iBook trailer click here
To see the Kindle advert click here
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