Digital printing will create new opportunities for publishers to keep their content impactful, updated, and relevant
Notwithstanding the exponential growth of the publishing industry in Kenya in the last decade, its contribution to economic development of the country remains minimal.
However, this might change if digital publishing is anything to go by. Currently, the publishing industry is estimated to be worth Sh12 billion.
According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Goethe Institut, textbooks alone generated 95 per cent of the total revenue, which was approximately Sh30,780 million per year. Digital publishing provides an opportunity which, if exploited, can result in immense industry growth.
Against the backdrop of increased digital platforms, it is highly likely that digitisation will revolutionise the way Kenyans read, publish and even store reading material, say researchers at Kenya Institute for Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA).
“Digital publishing is rapidly changing and smaller companies that have more flexibility are able to take risks with smaller investments on newer platforms,” notes researcher, Hannah Wango’mbe.
She, however, says transformation of a digital publishing industry will succeed if the right policies and market structures are put in place.
“Despite the advent of new technologies for knowledge distribution, such as the Internet and other computer-based innovations, traditional books and newspapers remain a primary source of information,” she says arguing that publishing remains pertinent to the kind of reading material is produced and distributed.
Transition within the publishing industry from analogue to digital has been sluggish. Therefore, for electronic publishing to succeed, technological infrastructure should be in place,” says Wang’ombe.
Evidently, Kenya has made many strides and ranked top in championing digitisation in Africa. The number of digital platforms accessible to Kenyans is enormous, especially through the mobile phone.
However, the problem has been lack of a best practice model for Kenya to adopt but also in developing price setting mechanisms as well as applying digital rights. Price factors will form the foundation of, they say, if a factor for luring companies to venture into electronic publishing.
“The argument for digital publishing is that publishers have only to contend with fixed costs as variable costs are almost negligible in digital publishing. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Publishers will need to provide services such as maintaining subscriber records, sending renewal notices and billing. Variable costs will be inevitable as publishers will need to provide innovative services to authors and new readers.
What digital publishing is guaranteed to do is temper costs, which should improve publishing houses profit margins. On the other hand, market demand by readers and libraries for electronic publishing will determine the extent of penetration, uptake and even costing of digital publishing services.
This will only be informed by empirically establishing demand and supply factors; that is, the needs and expectations of local authors and readers on digital publishing.
Kenya’s publishing industry, well beyond its “Gutenberg” stage, was in the past dominated by subsidiaries of international companies due to high investment for print.
However, even with multinational companies’ influence on the publishing of local books, indigenous companies have emerged on a large-scale.
As the call is to have this year’s Nairobi International Book Fair go digital, the answers researchers are seeking is whether the publishing industry in Kenya is ready for electronic publishing.
While it remains a daunting task, opportunities in this digital age are numerous for the publishing industry. “No one really knows where publishing is heading, in my experience, passionate readers who read several books are the ones who embrace digital technology, like the Amazon Kindle, fast.
Ask some of them and they’ll tell you that the convinience that comes with having a portable book with them all the time, makes life easier for them,” Self-Publisher Anna Nduto says.
Although, Nduto believes instilling a reading culture through the digital platform might be harder, she notes that the mobile phone has taken over and it is with this that ebooks will flourish, regardless of the availability of ereaders