• 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)


The human factor

Technologies are, of course, a key component of the topic that concerns us. But at the same time, it is essential to pay attention to the people who will use them, and this is where the importance of working on the human factor becomes apparent.

We must point out in this regard that numerous publishers are wary of digital tools and this reaction – which is perfectly understandable given the profound paradigm shift that is necessary – may set off a vicious circle. Fear of piracy, the difficulty of finding a business model that can rapidly replace the previous one and the lack of contact with players from the electronic world lead many representatives of the book sector to distrust new technologies, thereby delaying the advent of a solid digital industry.

The countries most susceptible to this problem are perhaps those with a more longstanding tradition of publishing – the medium-sized and large countries of Latin America for example. In contrast, publishers from regions where the book industry has suffered more – such as Haiti or countries in Africa – are much quicker to spot the opportunities implicit in new technologies. Nevertheless, it has been interesting to observe that of all those surveyed from across the globe, only 3 publishers – all 3 of them Latin American – replied that digital technology represented a direct threat to bibliodiversity, which suggests that there is a fairly generalized perception that, in spite of everything, electronic tools may play a significant role in preserving culture.

It would be advisable, then, to find a way to replace concern and fear with curiosity and the desire to experiment. From our perspective, this can be achieved through training and networking activities, on the condition, yet again, that such initiatives are implemented with a focus on the local reality and not “from above” or “from outside”. Indeed, in developing countries there are countless courses and events on the digital age already taking place, but these tend to be based on tools designed for regions whose reality is so different from their own that the disparity ends up discouraging the audience even more. A typical example would be the lectures given by US or European gurus who insist on the importance of distributing books for the iPad. Obviously, in itself, it may be very interesting to learn how some publishers from the US or Europe convert their titles to ePub and sign contracts with digital distributors that in turn have agreements with Apple and will periodically deposit payment for a certain percentage of sales in a bank account in the North. But for a publisher from sub-Saharan Africa or the interior of India, this is no more than a curious anecdote, an abstract piece of information inapplicable to their personal context, given that other than among the wealthiest sectors in the region, in sub-Saharan Africa or the interior of India there are no iPads – meaning there is no domestic market for this type of platform – and publishers do not have bank accounts in the North where they can receive any royalties from sales made abroad. So in order for the guru’s lesson to mean anything, somebody should at least explain how to bring those earnings to the African or Indian region. Once again, this is not about impugning US or European devices; instead it is a matter of rethinking the kind of training and networking that can most benefit publishers from developing countries. In other words, should we limit ourselves to exhibiting exotic tools and business models that may never spread to the region in question, or else take the needs and requirements of entrepreneurs as a starting point, in order to expand their possibilities through precise and effective action?

In our view, the second option is the one most likely to mitigate anxiety and at the same time encourage exploration. For this purpose we recommend emphasizing several different directions:

1) As we pointed out in the regional study, it will be necessary to hold update seminars in conjunction with the various institutions that are already working on the topic, including publishers’ associations, universities and training centres. To recall just a few examples, we might mention CAFED in Tunisia, KITAB in the Arab Emirates, the professional conferences of the main book fairs in the developing world (Abu Dhabi, Buenos Aires, Delhi, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Cairo, Cape Town, Guadalajara, Bogotá, etc.), the publishing degree offered by the University of Buenos Aires, the Universidade do Livro in Sao Paulo, among others. It will be important to focus on IT, legal and economic problems, with the help of experts who know the limitations and potentialities of the field and can contribute far-reaching responses.

2) The seminars may also take the form of virtual courses, in different languages, to be carried out in conjunction with institutions that already have a local presence, but also with the additional support of actors from other countries. South-South knowledge transfer with regard to the different technologies involved can be promoted using videos on the Web or written classes. It would be particularly beneficial to introduce within this format the solutions that some publishers from developing countries have constructed ad hoc.

3) In addition, it will be essential to encourage personal encounters between traditional publishers, digital publishers, hardware manufacturers and software developers in order to strengthen the domestic industrial ecosystem as much as possible, with the support of unifying actors – publishers associations, software chambers, start-up incubators, book fairs and the public sector.

4) Along similar lines, it is imperative to promote activities (workshops, lectures, exhibitions) that link up publishers in general with artists from the electronic world – cyber writers, web designers, digital illustrators and even video game creators –, so as to encourage the inclusion of new forms of expression within the “radar” of the publishing industry. It will also be interesting to promote ties between publishers and creators in the various developing regions, as another way of strengthening South-South relations. These initiatives can be undertaken with the public sector and NGOs from each region.

5) It will also be important to broaden publisher networks to include the electronic field. Groups like the Young Publishing Entrepreneur[1] – sponsored by the British Council and the London Book Fair – have already incorporated digital entrepreneurs. The International Alliance of Independent Publishers could also invite new players to participate in the organization, in particular because – as we have suggested – in many developing countries bibliodiversity will depend sooner or later on publishers’ complete command of digital technologies.

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