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Franschhoek Literary Festival

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Archive for the ‘E-books’ Category

FLF Notes from Jessica Faircliff: Small Publishers and Ebooks

Jessica Faircliff, editor of Bookmark, the magazine of the South African Booksellers’ Association, attended the “Small but perfectly formed” and “Ebook now to avoid disappointment” panel discussions at the 2010 Franschhoek Literary Festival. Here are her notes:

Small but perfectly formed

Ben Williams from BOOK SA chairs the session on small publishers, which features Louise Grantham, Arthur Atwell and Colleen Higgs. They are an interesting mix. Colleen with Modjaji Books focuses on southern African women’s writing; Louise, who has just launched Bookstorm, will focus on quality mainstream non-fiction; and Arthur, a digital guru and founder of Electric Book Works, publishes all sorts of books both in hard copy and in electronic format.

The main question under discussion here is – What’s the difference between a large publisher and a small publisher, really? It’s not necessarily true that small publishers get the dregs that the big publishers refuse. Louise says that by their nature small publishers are more individualistic. They are intrinsically involved in the whole process of getting a book published, whereas within a big publishing house the process is disjointed and books can get “lost”. Colleen says that authors come to her because the like the idea of working with a small publisher.

Another key question, of course, is how much the technologies of digital, print on demand and mobile will affect the market. Print on Demand is a great solution for a small publisher and all three concur that digital will become a default format along with hard copy first off before long.

The key major problem that small publishers seem to face is that of distribution. They battle to get their titles listed with the bigger bookselling chains, although Colleen says that the longer you are in business the better your relationship will get. The South African reading public could lend a hand by asking the bigger chains to stock specific South African books. Demand creates supply, as we know – even if it does feel a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

E-book now to avoid disappointment

The most interesting session of the day on Sunday is on e-books. Arthur Atwell is unsurprisingly on the panel, with author Imraan Coovadia and publisher Basil van Rooyen. It is chaired by Ben Williams, who has on hand, unbelievably enough, a first generation Kindle, a Kindle 2, a Kindle DX (which actually belongs to Imraan) and an iPad – which produces an audible “Ooh,” from the audience.

Arthur is clearly in his element on this panel. E-books can be published in different formats, all of which are just different ways of storing text, he says. A PDF is the easiest format for most publishers, because it looks most similar to the printed page. The e-pub format, on the other hand, is essentially a web page packaged in a zip file. The real advantage with the e-pub format is that it enables flowing text like a website, and therefore fits onto any size screen. You can also put embedded video and pictures into the e-pub format, which makes e-books highly interactive. Amazon has its own proprietary format for its number one selling product, the Kindle, but the rest of the market is mostly open format.

So what does the e-book bode for the future of publishing in South Africa? Imraan is of the opinion that e-book technology will free the industry from the control of the big corporates. Basil thinks that textbooks will stay on paper, in SA at least, because of developing-nation economics, although with fiction things will could to change pretty rapidly. The power struggle regarding the pricing of e-books will upset the industry for a long time ,and as a smaller publisher, he plans on only seriously entering the market once that has been resolved.

Ben points out that the e-book puzzle is only two-thirds complete: a big online e-bookstore is coming from the biggest e-company there is. It’s called Google Editions and it will have a huge impact, because of Google’s incredible reach. All the big publishers are talking to them. It makes business sense: roughly 70% of sales will go back to publishers, which is 20% more than in the print world.

Google have not yet brought out a tablet – but there have been rumours that they are working on one and it will surely come. Google will take a big chunk of the market from Amazon and Apple.

There is so much jargon being bandied about that I can barely keep up. What, amongst all of this innovation will happen to bookstores, I wonder? Will they survive? Some time no so far away, says the panel, we will reach a point where the bulk of all books will be sold as e-bokks, so how does a bookshop position itself to remain the middleman in a market which can easily leapfrog him? Arthur thinks that some bookstores will find a space in this new world. The more e-books there will be, the more we will need people to tell us about the good ones. Like the good independents, bookstores will begin to offer more of a curation service. There is already the technology available that will enable bookstores to sell e-books in their stores via the internet and still take a cut from that.

They discuss Alice in Wonderland, the future of children’s literature, publisher discounts, the future of libraries, built-in user analytics, copyright issues, piracy, security, education and even reading in the bath. (If you’ve got a Kindle, Basil has a solution: put it in a Zip-Loc bag first!)

To wrap it up, Ben wants to know how long it will take for the ripples of change to reach the South African market. The guesses range from 6 months to 5 years.

The market is going to change, where it will go is all guesswork at the moment, but there is no doubt that it will move fast. One can only hope that with books becoming more accessible and more talked about than ever, the market will deepen and, perhaps, just perhaps people will buy more hardcopy books because of e-books.


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