Archive for category: Articles

Arthur Attwell at TEDxAIMS: “Tech spreads slowly”

Categories: Africa, Articles, Events, Featured - Tags: , , ,

In a presentation at TEDxAIMS on 20 January, Arthur Attwell argued that the idea that “technology spreads quickly” is a common misconception. As wealthy, technology-oriented people, it suits us to say “technology spreads quickly”, but for most people in the world, new technology arrives late and slowly. The speed at which technology spreads is of course relative to our individual perception of time and progress. If we choose to believe it’s quick, argues Attwell, then we risk building products that our customers can’t use.

From the talk:

For instance, we’re told and we believe that the mobile web is moving like lightning through Africa. Then why, according to our recent census, do 65 per cent of South Africans have no Internet access at all? Why, five years since M-PESA revolutionised low-cost banking in Kenya, do we still not have a mobile-banking service in South Africa that the poor can afford?

Last month, a report said that broadband access in South Africa had more than doubled in the last two years. Is that fast? Well, it sounds fast. But if we remove the celebratory tone from the press release, maybe it isn’t. Broadband penetration increased from 5% to 11% of South Africans. So, here’s the most revolutionary, democratising, business-enabling technology ever invented and in two whole years we shift the needle by a measly 6 per cent.

New technology spreads slowly.

Read the full presentation here.

On choosing an ereader

Categories: Articles, Featured

Over on his blog, Arthur has written some guidelines on what you need to know when choosing an ereader, or recommending one to someone else. This info is especially important for publishers. In our consulting, it’s surprising how often publishers want to sell ebooks without being ebook readers themselves. If you want to sell ebooks, you have to know the basics.

So you’ve decided that that many people can’t be wrong: it’s time to get an ereader. But which one? The industry of ereaders and other mobile devices is filled with big and small companies promising you the world, and you don’t trust half of it.

The cruel truth is that no one can tell you exactly what’s best for you. Everyone’s preferences are different. You simply have to figure it out for yourself, and this might be an expensive journey. That said, if you’re going to take the plunge, here’s my two cents’ worth. It might help you dodge a few bullets along the way.

Read the full post here.

Brazil: e-books, education and technology

Categories: Articles, Featured, Latin America

With its 11 million inhabitants –20 million, if we include the suburbs– and a GDP of over 300 billion dollars, São Paulo is South America’s main industrial and financial hub. Some 6 million vehicles travel its gigantic network of highways, avenues, tunnels and viaducts. Away from the traffic, countless passengers are transported underground by different subway lines, while up in the air a swarm of helicopters wait to land on the rooftop of one skyscraper or another.

The city exudes an extraordinary intensity; it is thoroughly multicultural and absorbs any outside influence –customs, dress, food and even words– just as naturally as a rainforest assimilates new species. However, such ease should not give rise to confusion: far from passively adapting to fashion trends, São Paulo transforms them to its advantage, which perhaps explains the Latin motto that adorns its flagnon ducor, duco –“I am not led, I lead”.

[Read the full article by Octavio Kulesz]

New study: Digital Publishing in Developing Countries

Categories: Africa, Arab World, Articles, Latin America - Tags: , ,

On Publishing Perspectives today, you’ll find the introduction to Octavio Kulesz’s significant research into digital publishing in developing countries. The study was commissioned by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers with the support of the Prince Claus Foundation, and covers industries in Latin America, the Arab World, Sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, India and China.

In addition to the countless IT service providers in India and hardware manufacturers in China that support the Western platforms from behind the scenes, there are original and innovative digital publishing projects being carried out at this very moment in the South -– local platforms that will one day be able to compete with foreign ones. In fact, some of these ventures are so dynamic that instead of debating who will be the future Apple of China or the Amazon of South Africa, perhaps we will soon be asking ourselves who will be the Shanda of the US or the m4Lit of the UK.

The full report is published as a comment-enabled website in English, Spanish, or French.


Work in progress: Paperight

Categories: Africa, Articles - Tags: ,

For some time Electric Book Works has been working on their Paperight service, and they’ve recently started a blog to offer some insight into the process and what Paperight is about. The first post explains what Paperight is. From the post:

First, what problem are we trying to solve? In most developing countries, book stores are rare, especially in rural areas. And computing and Internet access are still not accessible enough for most people, so ebooks aren’t going to solve this problem soon. But, there are tens of thousands of photocopiers in businesses and institutions in these places. We can solve this problem by letting them print books out, and pay the publishers a rights fee to do so. Publishers have been selling print-distribution rights to businesses abroad for ages – Paperight just makes that process really easy and quick.

So, Paperight turns any copy shop into a book shop. Anyone with a computer and a printer can register as a Paperight copy shop and purchase licences to print and sell books. Publishers can add books and reach markets that conventional book distribution can’t. The publisher picks the countries they want to distribute to, and can set rights fees that decrease over time as a copy shop buys further licences.

Read the rest of the post here.

Five challenges and opportunities in emerging markets

Categories: Africa, Arab World, Articles, Latin America - Tags: ,

In a new post on his blog, DMN co-founder Arthur Attwell describes five key challenges, which are also opportunities, for educational publishing in emerging markets. These include the need for publishers to provide content digitally before they are completely replaced by other businesses that are moving more quickly:

… publishers need to provide content now: not for the market’s sake, but for their own. Every new technology needs content, and for a long time, publishers had a headstart providing it, because they already owned most of the world’s high-quality educational content. For at least ten years the inevitability of the ereading revolution has been a no-brainer, and yet many publishing companies wasted that time in uncertainty or wishful thinking. Now other players are getting better at creating their own content, and a decade’s headstart is almost up. Technology companies, retailers, non-profits, governments and small startups are all producing content, and under very different business models to traditional publishing ones.

On the website of his company, Electric Book Works, there is a new, free short ebook called Embracing Digital on change and opportunity in educational publishing, focusing on publishing in emerging markets.


The forthcoming Argentinean ebook market

Categories: Articles, Latin America - Tags: ,

In this article posted in Publishing Perspectives, Octavio Kulesz shares his views on the present and the future of the Argentinean ebook market. According to Kulesz, at this time, very few people in Argentina own e-readers, and suppliers have yet to develop a formal electronic market. Success in the e-book market is most likely to come from new companies with business models that are distinct from their U.S. and European counterparts.

The Argentinean publishing sector experienced an impressive boost in the aftermath of the country’s economic crash in 2001. However, at present the industry seems unable to adequately respond to the challenge posed by the digital era. The audacity that has always characterized the local entrepreneurs is pretty much alive, but has to be unleashed. (…)

In my opinion, given that the migration of the industry won’t come from analog publishers suddenly becoming digital but from new players joining the game, what we need now is a new generation of digital publishers entering the scene and taking over. This will require a big effort from that cohort, but the attempt will be worth making, since what is at stake is no less than the vitality of the forthcoming Argentinean (e)book industry.

The young digital generation of publishers will have to experiment with new formats and with new business models. From my point of view, there must be a viable and profitable pattern for digital publishing content, because of that unquenchable thirst for online texts that citizens have started to show. Certainly, we cannot expect replicas of the old commercial scheme to work as they used to. And I daresay that even some business models related to digital that may have proved successful in the U.S. or in Europe won’t work at all in our region, so the challenge will be twofold: disenthralling ourselves of old paradigms and also doing away with certain solutions imported from the North that as such may do little to improve the current situation.

Read the full article


How to stay valuable when everything’s automated

Categories: Africa, Articles

Arthur Attwell has posted the text of his recent talk at a meeting of editors in Cape Town, South Africa. He focuses on the effect that increasing levels of automation have on the publishing industry, and how editors can stay valuable in the face of that.

This flow, from human creativity towards automation, is like a stream that you must keep swimming against to stay valuable – to keep your job, that is. Only by continually moving your skills (and value-adding activities) up the flow towards its creative end can you keep your job in publishing. Any jobs at the automation end of the flow are quickly taken over by robots of one sort or another. In the same way, in order to add enough value to the publishing process to be able to charge money for their products, publishing companies have to offer creative, human input to the content they gather from authors. That’s where editors are invaluable. Publishing companies that skimp on this will operate closer and closer to the automation end of the flow, employ fewer and fewer highly skilled staff, and eventually become no more than data-scrubbing clearing houses.

He ends on a positive note, emphasising the opportunities for anyone involved in making digital content for developing countries, where demand for that content will grow quickly, given the print-based cost and distribution problems it solves.


British Council – “First Hand”

Categories: Articles

In this text, published on the British Council main website, Octavio Kulesz describes his experience as a finalist for the International Young Publishing Entrepreneur Award in 2006.

“In 2005, I was working as director of a small independent publishing house, which was quite successful but not advanced technologically. I thought we should be using more technology, but did not really know how. I heard about the IYPY award and applied. It offered an opportunity to participate in the London Book Fair and tour the UK publishing industry, both of which presented a chance to make contacts and learn about new technologies.

My participation in the programme in 2006 was a very beneficial experience. I made a pitch at the London Book Fair for work published by my company and visited publishers in England and Scotland. It was a huge boost for me – a very encouraging and motivating experience for a young publisher. It led to many changes in my professional life and changed my way of thinking.”

More information


The value of low-cost computing

Categories: Africa, Articles

Recently on my blog, I mentioned JCR Licklider, who wrote the 1950s about the revolution that low-cost computing could bring, particularly to politics:

The idea on which Lick’s worldview pivoted was that technological progress would save humanity. The political process was a favorite example of his. In a McLuhanesque view of the power of electronic media, Lick saw a future in which, thanks in large part to the reach of computers, most citizens would be “informed about, and interested in, and involved in, the process of government.” He imagined what he called “home computer consoles” and television sets linked together in a massive network. “The political process,” he wrote, “would essentially be a giant teleconference, and a campaign would be a months-long series of communications among candidates, propagandists, commentators, political action groups, and voters. The key is the self-motivating exhilaration that accompanies truly effective interaction with information through a good console and a good network to a good computer.” (from Where Wizards Stay Up Late)

That’s a powerful vision, and one that has not been realised in Africa even sixty years after Licklider wrote it down. Computing is just too expensive. So I’m very excited to see a large-scale commercial venture (that is, beyond the wonderful and worthy OLPC project) bringing down the price of computing, along with providing 3G web access. Simon Dingle posted about it today:

Telecommunications group Vodacom has launched its Linkbook into the SA market – a super-low price netbook that will go for R199 per month on a two-year contract, including a monthly bandwidth bundle of 300MB. The Linkbook is running a customised Linux distribution based on Ubuntu, and ships with OpenOffice, some games and other applications. It has 2 USB ports, WiFi, a 8.9″ screen, 16GB of embedded flash storage, integrated 3G modem, webcam and a microphone.

The R199-per-month is about $27, and represents about a day’s wages for an entry-level job in South Africa. Till now, content creators in South Africa have only been able to deliver rich media or long-form content to two or three million people, a fraction of South Africa’s population of 50 million. This device is likely to be the first of many that that will explode that market size. And if you think like JCR Licklider, the Gov 2.0 possibilities are even more exciting.

(Thanks to Michelle Matthews at Trialogue for pointing me to the news.)