Last July, Arthur spoke at TEDxCapeTown on the surprising power of the photocopier, and how he’s using the ebook revolution in publishing to deliver books using photocopiers in developing countries. The text of the talk is also available.
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At the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference this last week, Ramy Habeeb talked about digital publishing in the Arab world in this interview. In particular, he emphasises the opportunities presented by an industry that is infrastructurally a blank slate.
In an article on O’Reilly Radar this week, James Turner interviews Arthur Attwell and Ramy Habeeb on their work in the lead up to this year’s Tools of Change conference.
From Arthur’s interview:
Mobile is one of the keys to that, I think, for Africa because of the existing penetration of mobile devices, but there may be other ways of harnessing digital as well that will include distributing e-books through libraries and internet cafes, kiosks, any infrastructure that doesn’t require someone to be spending a lot of money on a device. I think print on-demand has got a massive future for Africa, and developing countries in general, because of the way it caters to people with low cash flow and who just need a book right now; they can’t afford to get an e-reader or even a netbook computer to read books in the long-term.
Ramy focuses on the challenges of digitizing Arabic works:
One of the problems with Arabic e-books is that there is no OCR. Google claims that they have cracked the OCR nut, and if anyone can do it, it’s Google. But I haven’t yet actually seen that with my own eyes, to see how it works. Part of the reason why we have issues with OCR is because there are thousands of fonts that are usually customized to local publishing houses. It’s almost like a signature of that publishing house to create their own font, it’s part of the culture in publishing. Also, there are so many dots and lines and other things that an automated OCR system can mistake for a letter or distort into another letter. And to complicate matters even more, because the industry is relatively poor, the quality of paper and the quality of ink used isn’t always the highest. All of these factors combined make OCR an extremely difficult endeavor.