The Internet has already radically and irreversibly transformed whole industries, such as music and travel. Now media and publishing houses are confronted by the disruptive impact of electronic content creation and delivery on their traditional business models and profit margins. After an initially reluctant embrace of digital formats by major publishers, books published in a digital format, called eBooks, have grown rapidly in popularity. According to a recent Association of American Publishers report, digital sales in virtually every market have been skyrocketing. In 2011, UK eBook sales increased by 1316.8 per cent; Africa saw eBooks rise by 636.8 per cent; Europe grew its digital by 218.8 per cent while Latin America saw eBooks grow by 201.6 per cent. The significance of this growth is telling when contrasted against the relatively meager growth in traditional print sales. We are in the midst of a digital publishing revolution.
Technology Driven Change
Digital publishing is being pushed by several factors. Firstly, the rapid growth of Internet-connected mobile devices has transformed how users consume content. Smartphone and tablet prices are falling and more content is being optimised for these devices. Publishers have also benefitted from the emergence of dedicated digital readers such as the Amazon Kindle, the Nook and Kobo reader. These Internet-enabled devices are impacting how books, magazines, newspapers and digital content are produced, distributed and consumed. Secondly, product and service innovations, often by companies that have sat outside of the traditional industry boundaries, are changing user experiences and expectations. New tools allow authors and publishers to incorporate multimedia, integrate social networking elements and engage user communities in entirely new ways. Indeed, digital publishing innovations are challenging the very definition of book and magazine as something you read or passively consume. Audio books and interactive books are growing segments capturing new audiences. Thirdly, new self-publishing and Internet distribution models are upending traditional publishing and empowering a new generation of authors and publishers. Indeed, the dominance of the global giants who once stood as gatekeepers for the industry, has been broken by the rise of smaller, more nimble publishing firms and by self-publishing platforms. Authors can now directly upload their manuscripts via the Internet, automatically convert the files into multiple eBook formats, set their own price for their works and self-publish on platforms like Amazon.com, Qbend.com and Magzter.com. Together, these developments are forcing major changes in how publishers and book stores function, in the price points at which books are sold and in the profit margins for authors and publishers. These developments also open tremendous new opportunities for Caribbean publishers and authors. The implications, however, go beyond the publishing industry.
Digital publishing and Local Content
For developing societies, digital publishing represents a significant enabler for the production and distribution of local content. For many reasons our societies have developed a greater appetite for foreign content than for local content. With foreign content come foreign values, perspectives and ideals. For resource-constrained developing countries this can easily undermine or overwhelm local norms, cultural heritage and even economic livelihoods. Technology can practically serve as a development and empowerment lever to counter this. Digital publishing opportunities can be strategically leveraged to provide new opportunities for locals to express their ideas, knowledge and cultural experiences to local and global audiences. Digitally publishing local content can help foster a national consciousness in a context where foreign material is more prevalent. It can also inspire a sense of possibility in the minds of future content creators. The implications for the education sector, and more broadly for national development, are profound.
This is a key reason why the development of a digital content creation capacity must form a critical pillar in any strategy to develop a knowledge-based society.
Opportunity to Lead
Most publishers still get 90 per cent of their revenues from physical books, however, digital books are the fastest growing segment. Digital publishing provides a unique opportunity for emerging markets to stake a claim in the eBook creation and distribution models of the future. The Caribbean has a significant role to play in shaping this future. The region has a proud literary history. World-renown Caribbean writers tackle subjects and themes as wide and diverse as those of any other “national” literature. The region’s writers have a perspective and concern on questions of identity, culture, and community that can only be birthed out of the Caribbean experience and captured in Caribbean expressions. Now the literary community must embrace technology to find new voice, and reach new audiences at home and across the world. In an era where the face of publishing is being redefined, the region has a real opportunity to lead in the revolution.
Bevil Wooding is the Founder and Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-focused not-for-profit delivering values-based technology training programs including digital publishing and eBook creation workshops. He is also Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN.
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