Inaugural Digital Publishing Seminar Held In Ghana
By Dani Zacarias
The sun was shining and our publishing partners were filing in the door. Every single publisher we work with in Ghana was represented, most of them by more than one person. I was about to lead the inaugural Worldreader Digital Publishing Seminar, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
All this started six months ago when a number of our publishing partners in Ghana expressed an interest in learning more about the digital world and its implications on the publishing industry. Prior to joining Worldreader, I worked at Pearson, and I was eager to share this knowledge with them.
Whether large (EPP ) or small (Woeli), all our publishing partners share something in common – a social conscience, a passion for educating the young, and a desire to embrace the future. Many publishers – whether in North America or Africa – are apprehensive about digital publishing, fearing that it may cannibalize existing income streams, open them up to piracy or otherwise ruin their businesses. But our publishers decided to run towards the future instead of away from it – they partnered with us, and through us, have made their digital books available to the world.
When I was in Uganda helping to launch our Worldreader Kits Project at HUMBLE school, I saw that a quick favorite was Meshack Asare’s The Magic Goat, published by Sub Saharan. I passed this anecdote along to our publishers, but many of them saw the hard proof of the international readership they were receiving in the statements Joseph handed out to them.
Now that many of them saw their books were getting a wider reach than before, our publishing partners are interested in ways to incorporate digital publishing into their organizations. It wasn’t enough for them to be the Kindle-owning, e-book loving CEOs – rather, they wanted every member of their teams to be well-versed in the field and ready to tackle the future of publishing.
As such, we had designed the workshop to address not just CEOs, but also design and technical specialists. We exposed them to e-book design, digital rights management, digital archiving and some of the basic tools they could use to self-publish digital books.
On my first visit to Accra, I realized that if local publishers were to embrace digital publishing, it could revolutionalize reading in the developing world and beyond. Digital publishing might well be what democratizes the global publishing scene. In the digital world, poor paper quality and high transportation costs no longer matter, and even publishing houses that are strapped for start-up capital can still publish quality content without incurring the often-crushing costs of printing and distributing books.
The seminar got off to a good start. Joseph, the operations manager for Ghana, kicked off the seminar by talking about our existing projects. Since I’d last been in Ghana, Worldreader had expanded into Uganda and started a second project in Kenya. The publishers were interested, as they always are: our Ghanaian partners were the first to sign on to our mission. For them it’s more than a way to reach new markets – they are also passionate about the positive change they are bringing about.
After Joseph finished, I gave a short presentation on international trends in publishing. I also talked about how to transform files into .mobis and .epubs and the best software to use. Then, just as Sofia, our in-country fellow, was about to begin a discussion on digital rights management a tropical storm began and the light bulb from our projector exploded.
For a moment, I had no idea what to do. We had more than half our presentation to get through, and we hadn’t brought a second bulb for the brand new projector. I looked around at the expectant faces and then counted the number of laptops in the room. A few minutes later, we had the presentation on every laptop and publishers grouped around laptops following along while Joseph went and scrounged up a second projector.
I was excited when no one seemed to mind the temporary arrangements and when a lively discussion on digital rights management followed.
Being there reminded me that we’re in this for the long run. We are about providing kids with access to books, yes, but we are also about creating a reading culture. Part of that is rooting for the success of our publishing partners. If Ghanaian publishers succeed locally and internationally, then children in our projects will only benefit from having access to more quality local material. Maybe some of them will grow up to become writers, which can only happen if there’s a thriving literary scene. I could see how dedicated our publishing partners were to foster a reading culture in Ghana and to contribute by building capacity and sustainability, with the shared goal of a society that is increasingly literate and more passionate about the written word.