UNESCO Focus 2011: South Africa Pubs Still Begrudge E-books; In US, Digital Caters to the Public Interest

In Digital by Guest Contributor

Interviews with Brian Wafawarowa, Executive Director of Publishers’ Association of South Africa, and Peter Brantley, director of the Bookserver Project at the Internet Archive in the USA

By Nicholas Gary, editor of ActuaLitté


On the occasion of UNESCO’s World Forum on Culture and Cultural Industries, being held in Monza, Italy this week, Nicholas Gary of ActuaLitté interviewed participants about the most urgent issues facing publishing today. Today look at the market in South Africa with Brian Wafawarowa, Executive Director of Publishers’ Association of South Africa, and Peter Brantley, director of the Bookserver Project at the Internet Archive in the United States.

South Africa: E-Book Demand is Driven by Consumers, Not Publishers

ActuaLitté: How has the South African book market evolved these past 10 years?

Brian Wafawarowa: Ten years ago the e-book was a story that was described as a phenomenon in the West and something that would take long to take off here. In the last two years it has arrived in earnest in our market. It is a reality that all publishers are now dealing with proactively. All serious publishers and retailers have comprehensive e-book strategies and are packaging their materials for both analogue and digital platforms. Others are venturing into mobile books.

What does the e-book could bring to your country?

There are still constraints with bandwidth and affordability of e-book gadgets, but e-books can still play a major role among traditional and new readers. People who buy a lot of disposable content and read a lot will benefit from downloadable books. There are concerns though that e-books that are cheaper will erode revenue and the industry may experience a dip till the e-book stream becomes viable.

What is the position of South African’s editors regarding the digital reading?

I do not think that the e-book shift is being proactively driven by publishers, but by consumer demand. The shift to or inclusion of e-books is still something publishers begrudge. Publishers are comfortable with the analog book and would like to continue that way. However, they are forced to respond to the reality of readers who have access to suitable e-readers and are demanding e-content. They are also driven by fear of becoming irrelevant or being left behind.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading a local book, 50 People Who Stuffed South Africa — a lighthearted description of the 50 least likeable South Africans (according to the author).

Peter Brantley, Director of the Bookserver Project at the  Internet Archive in the United States

ActuaLitté: How would you define the work of OBA in terms of digitization?

Peter Brantley: The Open Book Alliance (OBA) is an advocacy organization comprised of publishers, authors, libraries, and for-profit technology companies that is seeking a competitive market for access to digital books. By itself, it does not conduct digitization, but it does include members such as the Internet Archive (IA), the organization where I work, that scan for various constituents, including libraries, the print-disabled, and the public domain.

At the IA, we have found that U.S. libraries are interested in digital lending programs that would permit access to out of print books and out of distribution literature through lending programs that provide continuance of historical library practices, focused on their local communities. Although these are likely to be uniquely structured in the North American context, they mirror aspects of some of the national initiatives in the U.K., Germany, and France, as well as several Asian countries.

ActuaLitté: What solution today could replace Google Books?

A simple question but the answer could be almost arbitrarily complex. The proposed GBS settlement would have allowed Google to uniquely benefit from the commercialization of 20th Century literature under monopoly terms through U.S. class action law. In many respects, the proposals represented a privatized Extended Collective License (ECL), which otherwise, if enacted properly through legislation, would permit a wide range of organizations to benefit from negotiated terms with rights holders. There has been some discussion of how an ECL might be structured to benefit e.g. the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), but given the absence of precedent in the USA for this form of voluntary rights association (VRA), achieving a solution equitable for all parties faces many hurdles.

Will OBA open an e-bookstore?

No, as the OBA is not digitizing books.

As far as the Internet Archive, we are a not-for-profit, but we are happy to direct people to places where they can buy both print and digital books. We also firmly believe that access to digital books through library programs ultimately raises awareness of literature, providing low cost targeted marketing, and thereby increasing book sales in the aggregate. We want publishers to make money and invest in new creation, and we want authors to write books. Anything we can do to further those goals while simultaneously assisting libraries to provide as broad an access to literature as possible is one of our highest priorities.

What are you currently reading?

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (also entitled “Peacemakers” in the UK) by Margaret MacMillan. The work is a discussion of the post war talks that set the geopolitical stage for much of what later happened in the 20th century.

POLL: Who is Driving the Digital Transition in Publishing?

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.