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Pub Res Q (2011) 27:311320 DOI 10.

1007/s12109-011-9241-4

Digital Publishing in Developing Countries: The Emergence of New Models?


Octavio Kulesz

Published online: 7 October 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Abstract In developing countries, where traditional publishing faces enormous challenges, digital may work as an accelerator that could help local actors to skip a stage and position themselves at a much more advanced level. However, for domestic players to really benet from the electronic era, it will be essential for them not to adopt systems implanted from outside on an as is basis, but rather to invest in new models better suited for the local peoples expectations and requirements. Keywords Africa Amazon Apple Arab world China Developing countries Digital publishing Google India Internet North Latin America Russia Sony South Sub-Saharan

Introduction: Imitation or Autonomous Evolution? As it is well known, in the last 15 years the digital revolution has transformed every link of the publishing chain, from reading and writing to printing and selling. In industrialized nations, these changes have been particularly apparent, and companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Sony and Samsung have truly reshaped the whole publishing landscape.

This paper summarizes the main results presented in the report Digital Publishing in Developing Countries, commissioned by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers and the Prince Claus Fund. The full studysubmitted in February 2011includes a wide range of technical details as well as testimonies of more than 120 publishers from around 40 countries, and can be read in English, Spanish and French on the web: http://www.alliance-lab.org/etude. O. Kulesz (&) Editorial Teseo, Gurruchaga 2235, CP 1425 Buenos Aires, Argentina e-mail: ok@editorialteseo.com

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Now, when it comes to developing countries,1 it is generally agreed that digital publishing in those regions suffers from a serious delay compared to that of industrialized nations, due to poor technological infrastructure and limited human resources. As a result, the recurring assumption we nd in the media and in international debates is that the only option left for the South2 is to simply wait until companies from the North implant their successful models in these disadvantaged regions. Nevertheless, this statement is highly debatable. To begin with, it is not always clear to what extent these models are successful, at least from a commercial perspective. Indeed, all the companies we could think of as leaders in the eld of digital publishing are actually still groping their way, if we judge from the continuous amendments back and forth they introduce on formats, devices and terms of use. What is more, there are no reliable gures making clear how lucrative the Kindle, the iPad, the Sony Reader or the Samsung Galaxy Tab paradigms implying both content and deviceshave been in the area of electronic publications. On the other hand, even if those systems may prove one day very successful in their own territories, we should wonder how useful it would be to implant them on an as is basis in regions whose reality differs dramatically from the original, i.e., countries whose language, culture and social structure would convert a Kindle or an iPad into mere oddities. In our view, digital technologies, like any other tool, are much more than simple instruments; in truth, as they need to be useful to a certain group of people to be authentic tools, they will necessarily say a lot about the particular society they were born in. Lets take for instance Apples digital ecosystem: devices with a highly minimalistic design; applications that were previously checked by the company to ensure a safe and chaste experience by the user; a solipsistic I prex attached to the name of every product and an enigmatic logo that refers to biblical sin are all features that could be related to a sort of puritan Weltanschauung which are unlikely to be adopted on a massive scale by societies ruled by very different values.3 Thirdly, does the South really need to wait for its digital publishing industry to surge forward? In fact, it is hard to believe that despite accounting for 82% of the global population4 and having experienced an astounding economic growth in the
1

With regard to the difference between industrialized and developing countries, we have opted to follow the classication given by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its report of April 2010, although in the section on China we have included references to Taiwan, which for the IMF belongs to the advanced economies. Cf. [4]. Throughout the text we will use the terms North and South as synonyms for more industrialized nations and developing countries, respectively, while fully conscious of the fact that this distinction is highly schematic; indeed, developing countries like India or Mexico are located in the northern hemisphere and, inversely, a high income country like Australia is situated in the southern hemisphere. Of course, a company like Apple will certainly nd a highly protable niche among the most afuent classes in developing countries, since the cultural and consumption patterns of these sectors tend to imitate those of the North. But the interesting thing would be to nd out what digital models might be a hit not just with the wealthiest 20% of the citizens of developing countries, but with the rest of the inhabitants, that is to say with the bulk of humanity. Cf. [10].

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last decade, the developing world is not producing right now innovative and powerful models that may be better suited for its own peoples expectations and requirements. It is for these reasons that the study of digital publishing in the South could be much richer if we envisage those regions in their own right rather than as a mere copy of the models from the North. This means paying attention not only to the platforms and devices being tested on the ground but alsoand especiallyto the particular way in which local actors make use of those tools. In fact, if the goal is to nurture local digital ecosystems that may become self-sustainable, this new approach could be much more benecial to the South itself. What follows is a summary of the main results of our research. We have broken them down into six regionsLatin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Arab World, Russia, India and Chinathat can shed light on the reality of the developing world as a whole.

Latin America As frequently stated, Latin America is a territory characterized by sharp contrasts and a considerable cultural diversity. This has led to very different ways of appropriation of digital technologies, and Print on Demand (POD) is probably one of the most widely adopted ones, having gradually started to displace the traditional Offset system, in a context of decreasing average print runs. On the other hand, numerous online stores5 have begun to offer thousands of e-books in Spanish, Portuguese and English through their portals. It is interesting to observe that most of the e-books sold in Latin American stores come from external aggregators, in particular from Spain, the US and the UK. Among the few local aggregation initiatives, we must mention Xeripha Brazilian company that also owns Gato Sabido, the rst store selling e-books onlyand Distribuidora de Livros Digitaisan e-distributor launched by the main Brazilian publishing houses. So far, e-readers and tablets have not reached anything like a mass market, due to the high price of these devices at the destination point, in the case of imported ones. It is worth mentioning that some countries in the region, especially Brazil and Argentina, have undertaken a very aggressive policy of reduction of the price of gadgets that will eventually lead to the emergence of new players.6 In any case, there are various trends that are likely to accelerate the development of digital publishing in Latin America: (1) a new middle class will be rapidly incorporated into the consumer market, particularly in Brazil;7 (2) various public initiatives will help to narrow the digital gap, a case in point being the plans concerning technological infrastructure for the education sector, such as Ceibal (Uruguay) and Conectar Igualdad (Argentina); (3) the promotion of local production in free trade zones such as Tierra del Fuego (Argentina) or Manaus (Brazil) will
5 6 7

The reader will be able to nd a detailed list of these players in the original report, on the web. Cf., for example: [5]. Cf. [1].

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catalyze the appearance of nationally manufactured hardware designed for electronic reading; (4) there will be a possible expansion of free and open source software, which has been part of the state policies of different countries for several years (Brazil8 and Venezuela,9 for example); (5) there may be changes in legislation, such as tax exemptions on electronic publications, discussions of xed/ variable prices for e-books and a wider debate on current copyright laws; (6) online literaturea eld that since the mid-2000s has shown an interesting dynamism will probably thrive; (7) Brazilby a mile the country that invests the most in R&D in the region10 will play a leading role in both producing electronic reading hardware and in creating content platforms.

Sub-Saharan Africa The rst observation a visitor might make with regard to digital publishing in Sub-Saharan Africa is that it is in an entirely embryonic state. For a start, the presence of e-readers is minimal. Since March 2010, the Worldreader organization has been handing out Kindle devices to students in Ghana, in order to explore the reactions of these young people to digital technology.11 This initiative made an immediate impact on the media, but many analysts pointed out that whereas the original objective of the program was to ght illiteracy, it ultimately faced the challenge of creating a whole new cultural and economic ecosystem, thus introducing more complications than solutions.12 Other projects, triggered by actors on the ground, have trodden a very different path, taking the existing human and technological ecosystems of the continent as their starting point. For instance, Paperightrun by the South African entrepreneur Arthur Attwellhas betted on POD as a way to distribute texts using an already available infrastructure. Paperight transforms any computer with a printer and Internet connection into a non-conventional on-demand store. Through this system, readers might be able to buy books at the local photocopying centre and pay for the cost of printing along with a small amount corresponding to the authors and publishers rights. On the other hand, while we may nd some online e-bookstoresmost of them launched in 2010, it is probably the mobile network that has had the most profound effect as a platform for electronic publications. One example is M4Lit, the project created by Steve Vosloo, another South African entrepreneur who in 2009 published the story Kontax, by Sam Wilson, rst from a dedicated site13 and then
8 9 10 11

Cf. [6]. Cf. [7]. Cf. [9].

According to its website, Worldreader is a non-prot organization that aims to put whole libraries in the hands of people in the developing world, by using tools like e-readers. Their motto is Books for all: http://www.worldreader.org/.
12 13

Cf. [2]. http://www.kontax.mobi/.

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through the mobile platform MXit. Kontax was distributed free of charge in English and in Isixhosaone of the countrys ofcial languages, while an interactive blog was set up where readers could leave comments, discuss the story and suggest alternative endings that were later entries in a competition. In just 2 months the mobile site exceeded 63,000 subscribers. In spite of the enormous difculties that exist with regard to infrastructure and human resources, digital publishing in Africa shows an interesting potential. Based on the different cases studied, we can outline two main future trends: (1) the mobile phone network will continue to be fertile terrain for new experiments in book publishing or promotion, given that the Internet penetration will certainly take many years to reach the heights of other regions; (2) the training of traditional publishers will be a decisive factor that might accelerate change, as long as it will foster experimentation with the existing technologies.

Arab World Some players entered the eld of digital publications in the Arab world quite early, like the portal Arabic eBook, presented in 2002, and Kotobarabia, an Egyptian e-book distributor founded in 2005. While PDF or Flash formats do not pose any technical complications, many local publishers complain about the difculties that arise when a text in Arabic has to be converted into ePub. A great deal of training and experimentation will thus be needed to overcome these challenges. Like in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the Arab world, possession of e-readers and tablets is limited to the wealthiest stratum of the social pyramid. The sales gures for the Kindle in the region are not known, and devices like the iPad are considered luxury products. In spite of these shortcomings, native players agree on the fact that digital could prove vital for the Arab world, since the fundamental challenges of publishing in the regioni.e., inefcient analogue distribution and censorship could be mitigated thanks to the incorporation of electronic technology. Currently, it is possible to identify various forces that are likely to have a considerable effect on the future publishing in the Arab world: (1) the recent political events that took place in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and other locations have already brought about modications in the power structure of those countries, something that in turn will lead to changes in the way control and censorship are exercised; (2) the younger generations, eager for content that goes beyond the reality their parents were accustomed to, may become more and more involved in blogs and other digital social networks; (3) analogue publishing will increasingly show its intrinsic weaknesses and limitations when it comes to satisfying new demands; (4) publishers will have good opportunities to venture into the electronic age, although this will require a great deal of experimentation with different tools, formats and platforms; (5) print on demand and mobile phones may play a key role, at least in the short to medium term.

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Russia As an initial approach, it is important to acknowledge that within Russia there is a myriad of websites dedicated to the sale of e-books. The main actors in this eld are Ozon, Biblion, iMobilco, Elkniga, Bookee and BestKniga. We can also nd various sites that base their business model on online texts subscriptionssuch as Bookmate or KnigaFund, as well as big local aggregatorslike Litres or DDC. Even if there is considerable activity taking place in online platformsstores, distributors and e-libraries, we must be well aware that the hardware industry displays a far greater vigor. Dozens of e-readers are manufactured in Russia and sold in both the domestic market and abroad, particularly in the former Soviet republics. As for POD, some recent moves suggest that this technology may prove very active in the short and medium term. One relevant example is Kniga Po Trebovaniyu (On Demand Book), a company that has made it clear that it intends to set up dozens of POD terminals in different cities in Russiaan initiative that will enable readers from distant locations to access a backlist of 300,000 works in 50 languages.14 Digital technology is advancing at such speed in Russia that it appears to exceed the possibilities of traditional publishers. However, it is clear that digital could represent a qualitative leap in this country with regard to the distribution of written content. In fact, Russian publishing has always faced an obvious obstacle: the problem of distributing printed books across the length and breadth of its vast geography. In this sense, options like online stores, virtual libraries and even print on demand constitute a necessary step. Such tools represent the only way to ensure that an inhabitant of Siberia can access reasonably similar backlists to those available to a fellow citizen from Moscow. Although as yet there are no digital business models in Russia that can entirely replace the traditional system, there are forces that could accelerate the migration of the industry: (1) sooner or later the economic crisis that has plagued the book sector since 2008 will lead publishers to reduce print runs and seek new and more efcient forms of production and marketing, such as print on demand and the many variants of electronic distribution; (2) Russian readers thirst for digital content, which is demonstrated by the boom in e-readers and the increase in piracy, may result in new modes of creation, specically designed for digital mediums;15 (3) there may be heated legal debates, such as those that have already taken place on topics including reprography, e-book taxation and access to virtual libraries;16 (4) the most inuential factor in the future may perhaps be the cluster of hardware companies which, along with mobile phone operators, have an enormous domestic and foreign market volume, which guarantees them an extraordinary capacity for investment and manoeuvre.
14 15

Cf. [8].

A premonitory example is that of the novel Metro 2033, published by Dmitry Glukhovsky in 2002; the work could originally be read free of charge on the web and became a huge bestseller after it was published on paper; Glukhovskys later titles were published directly as online experiments.
16 Cf. for example the discussions taking place within the Russian Association of Online Publishers: http://webpublishers.ru/.

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India The championing of its software industry has made India a global centre for publishing-related technological services. This strength in IT has probably been vital in the early emergence of a great number of online stores selling e-books, such as Odyssey360, BookGanga, India Ebooks and A1Books. However, the most dynamic players in the e-book eld are currently those which have attempted to build their own ecosystem, combining content and hardware. Created in 2007, Inbeam is the biggest online bookstore in India: in January 2010, it captured the attention of the local and international media when it announced the launch of Pi, its own e-reader with electronic ink and touch-screen. Another remarkable venture that integrates an online platform with a reading device is DC Books/EC Media, with its e-reader Wink, prepared to operateas the Piboth in English and 15 Indian languages. Anyway, neither xed Internet connections nor e-readers have mass penetration in India today. As occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa, the only devices that are found on a wide scale are cell phones: in late 2010, India had around 752 million cell phone users. One of the keys to this growth is related to the existence of companies that have managed to adapt their models to the local reality. For example, in August 2010, the Indian company Wynncombased in Gurgaonannounced the launch of the Y45, the rst cell phone with an analogue keyboard in Hindi. Mobile operators themselves are among the most dynamic actors in written content distribution today. Vodafone, for example, markets an entire series of Momics (mobile comics), that deal with Indian mythology and can be downloaded by sending an SMS. At the same time, India has witnessed the emergence of veritable e-factories producing publications for mobile devices, such as Mogae Digital and MobileVeda. At any rate, digital publishing in India will be positively impacted by a series of powerful tendencies that will carve out a new landscape in the medium and long term: (1) to begin with, the countrys economic growth has led to the surfacing of a new middle class hungry for customized hardware and content; (2) in addition, Indias growing technological sophistication and the progressive interaction between content producers and IT companies may boost the digital publishing industry; (3) thirdly, it is highly likely that we will see a rise in text dissemination via mobile phones, given the mass penetration of these devices throughout Indian society, irrespective of class or region; (4) nally, in spite of all its restrictions mainly coordination and budget wisethe Indian State will certainly continue striving to bridge the digital gap, particularly among the inhabitants of rural areas.

China It goes without saying that China has been for decades a world centre for manufacturing of all kinds of goods, and this supremacy is absolutely clear in the eld of e-readers. According to various sources, around half of the worlds electronic

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ink devices are produced in China.17 However, Chinese e-reader manufacturers face the difculty of creating a brand and competing over variables that go beyond price alone. As a way to elude the process of price cannibalization affecting hardware industries and online sales, some Chinese playerslike the ones in India we have pointed outhave developed ecosystems integrating the sale of content with the distribution of an own-brand device. The most famous example is Shanda, a formidable online platform made up of hundreds of thousands of writers and millions of active readers who leaf through billions of pages every month. In August 2010, Shanda launched its Bambook e-reader, at a price below the Kindles. Another heavyweight player is Apabi, the digital branch of the technology group Founder, which since 2001 has been offering IT solutions to the publishing world. Last but not least, the manufacturer Hanvon is also aiming to position itself as a distributor of digital publications in order to avoid a devastating price war. Anyway, as in other developing regions, the platform on which the greatest ow of digital content is circulating in China is not e-readers, but rather mobile phones. The three main cell phone operatorsChina Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecomaccount for around 900 million users, which give these communications giants an extraordinary margin for manoeuvre to develop their own operating systems and to distribute publication apps via dedicated portals. There are a number of forces within the Chinese digital publishing sector that are likely to be sustained in the medium term: (1) rst of all, like in Brazil and India, a new middle class is being rapidly incorporated into the market, particularly into the consumption of digital content; (2) insofar as these new sectors enter the market for cultural consumption without any mediation on the part of the analogue book, we may witness an even quicker expansion of online literature; (3) there will certainly be more copyright-related lawsuits, as well as innovations in Chinese legislation; (4) massive growth in demand and increasing competition will bring down the price of all the electronic devices involved: e-readers, computers, mobile phones and tablets; (5) the public sector will go on investing heavily to restructure its publishing industry; (6) the main players in Chinese digital publishing will seek to impose the game rules on their own territory; it will thus be extremely interesting to observe the way these actors react to developments in American and European platforms; (7) Finally, the AsiaPacic region, with China at its core, will become more aware of its potential in the eld of electronic publishing.

Conclusions: A Diverse and Vibrant Landscape From the point of view of technology, there are four prime movers that continually crop up: POD, online platforms, e-readersand tabletsand mobile phones. POD, which is relatively strong in Latin America, is less widespread in SubSaharan Africa and the Arab world, in spite of the important advance this tool might represent in countries with few bookstores and a fragile distribution system.
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Cf. [3].

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As far as online platforms are concerned, except for DC Books in India, the most dynamic examples are provided by local software or video games companies rather than traditional actors from the book sector. But for China, these sites tend to be supplied by foreign aggregators (in particular from the US, the UK and Spain), since obtaining autochthonous content is still an arduous task. In the eld of e-readers and tablets, China and Russia lead global production. There, as well as in India and Brazilcountries that have also ventured into this terrain, native devices usually offer numerous advantages over imported models such as the Kindle or the iPad: (1) rst of all, they are sometimes more economical thanks to savings on shipping and customs charges; (2) also, they are generally designed with the local population in mind; thus, for example, some devices come with an interface in regional languages, something that gadgets from the North do not cater for; (3) in addition, they usually offer a permanent connection to platforms also from the country, which demonstrate better judgment in pricing policies and text selection. As we have seen, one area with great potential in all regions is the mobile phone network. India, China and South Africa are leading the vanguard and local entrepreneurs sometimes demonstrate know-how comparable to that of other actors from Europe or the US. There is still a great deal left to explore, with regard to both formats and business models, but the opportunities in this area are extraordinary, for various reasons: (1) mobile phones are an existing platform with high penetration throughout the social pyramid; (2) in many countries of Africa, mobile phones already incorporate electronic payment systems, giving publishers a privileged commercial platform; (3) the mobile phone network is particularly benecial for local publishers, who have the advantage of being on the ground and in contact with authors that publish in native languages, in addition to being much more familiar with the publics needs. In any case, it is clear that digital in the South plays a very different role to the one it does in the North. Indeed, in countries such as France or the UK, where paper publishing works acceptably well, digital appears as an extra layer that is not generally considered vital by traditional actors. In contrast, in developing countries, where book distribution faces enormous challenges, new technologies may work as an accelerator that could help local players to skip a stage and position themselves at a much more advanced level. However, as we stated at the beginning of this article, for local actors to really benet from digital, it will be essential for them not to adopt infrastructures and models implanted from outside on an as is basis. In our view, any approach based on a top-down or deus ex machina strategy could prove not only ineffective but also harmful, in that it might add confusion and eventually postpone the strengthening of durable digital ecosystems in each region. What would be needed, instead, is to make sure that local actorsauthors, readers, publishers, entrepreneurs, booksellers, distributors, programmers, web designers and videogames developersbuild new alliances and work together on further explorations within their own context.

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