Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Trade-publishing challenges in SA: Arthur Atwell talks to Smangele Mathebula

I stumbled on this is timely and important discussion this morning; I can't believe I somehow missed it last year. I have some strong opinions about the creativity, collaboration and will that is required from civil society, from state and from our corporate trade publishing industry to make books less than prohibitively expensive and less than the luxury items they are right now.

In their interview in August last year, Arthur Atwell talks to Smangele Mathebula. BTDubs, I absolutely loved Arthur's TED talk on on-demand printing in the rurals and the possibilities that alternative book distribution channels have for the developing world (watch it). I'm super keen for his latest talk called "Tech spreads slowly” too.

Anyway, I particularly agreed with Arthur's view on the role of government and would in fact love to see this expanded in a discussion paper or presentation. The idea of more publishing legislation, government oversight or a state-owned publishing house frustrates me because although I've heard these suggestions before, I'm not sure they really makes sense. I think that more support for organisations with the vison, expertise and experience to build a reading culture it's what's needed - that and contributing to an environment that empowers business to find cheaper and easier ways to get books to people. Arthur gives the following example:

In South Africa, banking regulations make it near impossible to offer a truly affordable way to buy online without a credit card. In Kenya, M-Pesa has made ecommerce truly affordable by enabling mobile payments without a bank account at very low transaction costs. In South Africa, M-Pesa’s rollout has been hampered by banking regulations, which required that network operators offering M-Pesa work within an existing bank (Nedbank), which in turn pushed the transaction costs so high that the system is not truly useful to the poor.

Until truly affordable mobile banking is available, the total cost of buying books will remain out of reach for most people, no matter what publishers do.

That said, two initiatives actively tackling these problems are Mxit and Paperight.

Yes! That makes sense and it's the kind of thinking trade publishing needs. I definitely recommend reading the whole interview

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