• Table of contents

    • [+]Preliminaries (3)
    • [+]Introduction (4)
    • [—]Latin America (13)
    • [+]Sub-Saharan Africa (9)
    • [+]Arab World (11)
    • [+]Russia (11)
    • [+]India (11)
    • [+]China (9)
    • [+]Conclusions (6)
    • [+]Appendix (1)

Latin America

Latin America

Challenges and proposals: digitization, training and networking

If our vision is correct, then digital technology could signify a positive step for Latin American professionals, since, if properly used, these tools would help to boost the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of present-day publishing. However, any digital reengineering of the sector will demand considerable effort.

First of all, any professionals seeking to distribute their titles in one of the digital modalities described above will need to have their entire backlist converted into electronic format. The most long-established publishing houses, particularly in the case of small and medium players, have digitized only a relatively small proportion of titles. At present there is very little help available for scanning backlists, unlike what happens in France for example.[1] In this case it would be worth submitting reports to local authorities – Ministries of Education, Culture and Production – in order to obtain support for digitization initiatives.

Moreover, as 77% of our Latin American survey respondents acknowledged, it would be essential to implement training activities to help update the working methods of small and medium publishing companies. For example, the survey reveals that publishers use very few software options other than Microsoft Office and Adobe InDesign, and virtually no personalized tools. Another difficulty is related to the insufficient legal knowledge publishers possess regarding the digital world. A typical case arises in copyright contracts. Very few small and medium-sized publishing houses have modified their contract models in order to market their works in electronic format; what is worse, some have even begun to sell digital copies without signing any ad hoc addendum with the authors, under the mistaken conviction that clauses like “the work may be published in paper format or in any future format” grants them the power to do so with electronic versions. As Mónica Herrero, a copyright specialist (Argentina and Brazil) points out:

Many publishing companies habitually include that line about the future format, but it is useless because copyright is interpreted in a restrictive manner, that is, if it is not explicitly stated what is being granted, the interpretation will always (in the event of a dispute) be in favour of the author, who is the party considered to be most vulnerable.[2]

On other occasions publishers feel disconcerted by the overly demanding contracts of certain digital aggregators; publishers may indeed be accustomed to signing exclusivity agreements with territorial distributors for their paper books, but the same course of action proves very risky in the case of electronic marketing. Thus it would be advisable to add to the training activities topics related to the new book chain and its business models – many of them yet to be invented. [3]

These professional updating activities should be designed according to the local actors involved and would require the commitment of institutions currently operating in the region. A number of interesting initiatives of this kind have already been carried out, such as the Congresso do Livro Digital (Sao Paulo, March 2010), the third Publishing Conference, organized by Opción Libros (Buenos Aires, September 2010) and the Primera Muestra Internacional del Libro digital (Bogotá, August 2010).

To ensure that the proposals do not remain purely abstract in nature, the training would have to be complemented by activities focused on developing professional and commercial links. Book fairs may prove to be a privileged arena for exchange, but so far these events do not appear to have put sufficient energy into digital technologies: 26% of our survey respondents gave a score of 1 out of 5 to the technological updating of local fairs, while 55% gave them 2 out of 5. Lastly, if we bear in mind that 74% of those interviewed acknowledged that dialogue with colleagues from the region constitutes their main source of information, it is at fairs and the different professional conferences organized locally that the greatest efforts for change should be aimed.

These meetings and seminars could help to overcome the paralysis that tends to prevail among the more traditional publishing houses, and even reawaken the flame of vitality and the desire for exploration that no doubt marked their beginnings, decades ago. Although of course the “ecosystems” that emerge from the different initiatives in digitization, training and networking will necessarily have to integrate new actors from the digital world – programmers, web designers, videogame developers, etc – and, in this sense, they will be very different from any other experience that has taken place in the past.

  1. That European country offers considerable assistance for digitizing back catalogues, mainly through the Centre National du Livre (CNL).
  2. Personal interview, February 2011.
  3. There is something to be learned here too from the case of France: the Syndicat National de l’Édition (SNE) offers its members legal and tax update programs, something that is essential for companies that need to adapt to the electronic age.
Latin America


  1. En ciertos países Latinoamericanos, respecto a las ediciones digitales aún estamos como cuando recién entró la computadora y los softwares especializados a la edición de libros: totalmente desorientados.
    Las noticias se consiguen a través de la red o de muy pocos cursos por lo común en el extranjero. No hay capacitación en ninguna de las áreas necesarias para la generación-comercialización de libros. Tarea pendiente para las Cámaras del libro nacionales.

  2. thierry quinqueton

     /  27/08/2011

    La question du soutien public à la numérisation des fonds par les maisons elles mêmes (et non par google…) est effectivement un des outils clefs de toute politique publique qui porterait la préoccupation de la bibliodiversité dans ce contexte de montée en puissance de la circulation numérique des savoirs.

  3. thierry quinqueton

     /  27/08/2011

    Et oui, encore, le soutien à la mise en place de contrats juridiques (adaptés aux contextes juridiques de chaque pays ou région) est également une question clef.

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