Andri Nel, South African Digital Publisher
Please introduce yourself! What is your personal and professional background, and how did you get into publishing?
I am Andri Nel and I live in Pretoria, South Africa. I completed my Publishing honours degree at the University of Pretoria, the only University of South Africa where you can study publishing, at the end of 2014 (our semesters work on full years not half years) and I will be furthering my studies at Oxford Brookes University on September when I start my Masters in Digital Publishing.
Digital Publishing is my passion. I fell in love with it 3 years ago in my final year of my undergraduate degree and have been working in as many fields of digital publishing as I can here in South Africa. During the years in which I completed my honours degree I entered the world of freelance digital publishing, doing both conversions and drawing up digital publishing strategies for publishers. Digital publishing is a very young field and one that is even more daunting to most publishers in South Africa where we are still struggling with a very bad reading culture, poverty and very little access to the internet in the rural areas. My personal goal is to help break the ice in this field and make digital publishing accessible to all publishers and use it to enhance the reading culture in the eleven official languages of South Africa.
Tell us about the company you work for. What type of publishing do you work in?
I am involved in a number of projects in the field of publishing, all focussing on digital publishing. As a freelancer I am currently working on the implementation of a digital publishing strategy for a nature publisher, Briza Publications, as well as the conversion, selling and launching of an independent author’s book on the compilation of prison letters by Ghandi’s son in law during Apartheid South Africa.
To keep the bread on the table I work on projects in educational digital publishing and have perfected the art of editing eBooks on screen. It was a learning curve as this is not a field which has been practiced a lot in South African publishing.
My passion lies with a venture called KliekClick which I started with three other women. KliekClick is an independent digital publisher publishing original short stories for children between the ages of 9 and 15 in Afrikaans (one of South Africa’s national languages and my mother tongue). We have a website and online store where children can buy stories in ePub and mobi format for as little as R5 (£0.25c). We also encourage children to write to us. The bulk of our stories came from a writing competition we launched on Facebook and the response was overwhelming. KliekClick is venturing out into educating learners about digital reading in 2015 with visits to schools and encouraging more children to write in their mother tongue. It is a venture I am extremely passionate. Our site is in Afrikaans, but please give it a look at www.kliekclick.co.za as well as our online shop at www.kliekclick/winkel.co.za
Who is your target audience?
As a freelancer my target audience is publishing houses looking to venture into digital publishing and independent authors wanting to self-publish in digital format.
KliekClick’s target audience is children between the ages of 9 and 15, but also their parents as they are the ones with the money (of course).
What excites you most about digital publishing?
The possibilities digital publishing holds for publishing and especially publishing in South Africa. It is still a challenge for publishers in South Africa to understand that eBooks are not a replacement for print book (especially not in South Africa’s economic climate), but rather an extension. What excited me about working with publishers is teaching them new skills and seeing them get excited about the new ventures. What excited me about KliekClick is the opportunity we are giving short story authors, who are mostly turned down by big publishers, to have their stories published and the positive response we receive from both parents and children about the stories and the new experience they are having by buying and reading digitally.
KliekClick, the independent digital publishing company started by Andri Nel and three colleagues.
How well received is digital publishing in South Africa? Is there a large publishing industry and a lot of publishers where you live?
Publishing in South Africa is mainly monopolised by the group NB Publishers, who own most of the smaller publishers, and then a lot of international publishers with branches here such as Penguin Random House, Oxford University Press and Pearson. Smaller publishers in South Africa focus on the niche markets such as language or nature. The industry itself is very small in South Africa though and is very female dominant, it really seems everyone knows everyone.
Digital publishing is still very new to South African publishing and many publishers are reluctant to venture into it. There are almost no South African publishers that publish in digital first format or even bring out a digital edition along with their print edition. Most eBooks are only backlist titles. Educational publishing has been more willing to enter into digital publishing as the Department of Education is pushing for digital learning in schools. The reluctance of most publishers is understandable as there are not real publishers with the necessary skills in digital publishing here yet (the digital publishing program was only added to the publishing curriculum 4 years ago) and because of the lack of internet infrastructure we have in the country. Most people cannot afford eReaders and tablets and despite internet connection being relatively good in the cities, some rural areas do not have any internet connection. Some publishers have started the transition, but there are still many obstacles to overcome for digital publishing.
Do you agree with the view point that is being widely discussed at the moment, about how all publishing professionals will soon need digital publishing skills to stay ahead in the game?
I think all publishers should have an understanding of all skills and fields in publishing. For example any publisher should have at least a minimal understanding of copy editing and proofreading. I think the same goes for digital publishing. Everyone in publishing should understand how it works and understand the “lingo” but not everyone needs to be a developer, not everyone needs to know how to code and create the eBook from scratch. It is a matter of understanding the field and how it fits in with your field of publishing.
eBooks are not a replacement for the print book, but rather an extension.
What do you feel are the advantages of digital publishing?
There are many generic advantages such as lower environmental impact, lower production costs (sometimes) and readers always being able to have their books with them. However I think the biggest advantage of digital publishing is the enhancement it can give to publishing. Not all books should be eBooks, I truly believe that, but those that are should not simply be a print book in digital format, what is the use. eBooks, in my opinion, should be advanced with media overlays, videos, links inside the book and outside the books. For publishers I think the biggest advantage of digital publishing is that for the first time in a long time, we can be completely creative, almost crazy, again and think outside the box. It makes for an exciting new chapter for publishing in general.
I think all publishers should have an understanding of all skills and fields in publishing.
What are the challenges facing digital publishing at the moment?
I think one of the biggest challenges is the platforms we are currently reading eBooks on. There is such a variety, but at the same time no real standard. Not only does this confuse readers and in many cases make them turn from eBooks all together, but it also makes the publisher’s job very difficult. Each platform it seems uses its own format and own DRM (which is a challenge in its own right) and it is becoming increasingly difficult to create one file which can work on all platforms. Even though productions costs might not be as high as print, they are pushed up because compatibility tests now need to be done on all different readers. Maybe it will never happen, but ultimately I think it would be best if there was one true standard for all eBooks which could allow easy reading and even sharing amongst readers.
Cartoon of Andri and her publishing colleagues.
In your point of view, will digital make print obsolete, or compliment it?
I don’t think digital will replace print, but rather enhance it. Some people will always read print books (no matter their age) others will prefer digital. Some books will always be better in print, others in digital. I compare it to paperback and hardcover, the one enhanced the other, neither one overshadows the other.
What do you read in your spare time?
I love reading classics (over and over again), biographies and Afrikaans novels, as I still love the way the Afrikaans language has evolved on the writing front.
You can follow Andri on Twitter @An3nel