Digital Publishing in the Developing World

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In developed countries, the Internet provides a sufficient medium for digital publishing. The transition from print to digital has changed the way consumers receive and circulate different forms of content.  In developing countries, however, the transition is considerably slower. Constraints (e.g., pricing, government opposition, and limited readership) on publishers based in developing countries leave them to play catch up with rest of the world.

The shift from print to digital serves as a reminder that the progression of the digital market drives change in society that helps to shape “the future of publishing.”

The Publishing Market

Digital publishing is a lucrative business, if done correctly.  According to Jens Bammel, author of From Paper to Platform:  Publishing, Intellectual Property and the Digital Revolution, “the global book market is worth approximately 145 billion US dollars, making publishing one of the largest creative industries in the world.” Two-thirds of the world’s “global publishing business” is attributed to the six world’s largest markets.

Bammel writes that the largest publishing market is found in the U.S., worth more than $37.25 billion. China comes in at second, worth more than $22.25 billion. Third is Germany at more than $10 billion then the UK at $6.5 billion, Japan at $6 billion, France at $4.25 billion, and India at $3.75 billion.

The facade of large nations being able to support the publishing industry is uncanny, as the markets have been declining.  However, the substantial growth in countries, such as Brazil, China, and India shows the dependence on “the economic middle class” and their values in “education, reading, self-actualization, intellectual discourse and culture.”

Government Opposition

Governments, worldwide, control different aspects of the lives of the people they are meant to serve. The education system, for example, is an important aspect of a functioning country. Likewise, having adequate textbooks should be a priority. According to Bammel:

High-quality textbooks are vital to education in developing and emerging economies. Education is one of the first areas of investment for any emerging economy, but where resources are limited, qualified teachers are in short supply and classes are large, a good education depends on textbooks.

For some countries, such as Norway, Greece, Poland, and Switzerland, textbooks are published only for their exclusive use. The exclusivity sparks debate about a lack of diversity and how it can lead to the enforcement of the government’s agenda on young and impressionable audiences. Similarly, some countries alter history textbooks to portrays their country in a positive light, as can be seen in American textbooks.

William Wresch, writer of “e-Commerce Innovations in the Book Publishing Industry: Opportunities for the Developing World” states:

Governments can be significant aids to publishers by sending school textbook contracts their way, but they can also become quick enemies of publishing houses if local despots begin to feel the books being published threaten their lifetime reigns. 

Brazil, Africa, China, and several other countries are under strict guidelines for publishing.  Wresch notes that “The most significant barrier to publishing recently has been the imprisonment, exile, or murder of authors.” As a method of combating strict and unforgiving governments, some authors have taken to micropublishing.

In “What Is Micro-Publishing? A Thorough Definition,” Christina Katz writes, “Micro-publishing means that every person is a publisher.” In short, it is self-publishing. Though content will most likely only spread locally, producing several volumes should be relatively safe if the government of the nation is left unaware.

Limited Readership

Readership can be affected by poverty, illiteracy, and a language barrier. Countries that share one or more languages can guarantee a wider spectrum of people reading their content. In countries where the first or second language is English, it is easy to publish in English and know there will be a readership present, within the country and around the world. Wresch states:

Publishers in developing countries can follow suit and publish in English, but then they may have very limited local readership. Or they can publish in the local language and forego any chance at international sales.

A possible solution is teaching young children their mother tongue and another language, to increase readership and give publishing companies more business, thus promoting literacy. Technology continues to advance, giving way to the promotion of different textbooks and leading to a broader international audience.  

Though digital publishing in the developing world is temporarily stunted, the transition from print to digital shines a light on the developing countries’ prospect of growth.  For accessibility’s sake, developed countries should aid in the publishing endeavors of the developing countries, to encourage growth of the country and educational opportunities for its people.

Multilingualism in the Digital Market

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Digital publishing offers authors access to far-off audiences, but fostering an effective international presence takes precedent once an author crosses that bridge. Many publishers implement multilingual translations to gain new clients and establish a global identity. Engaging people across the globe requires the publisher to speak their language.

Publishers diversify content with technology by “identifying and defining which aspects, desires and interests conform to your target customers,” State of Digital Publishing claims. Information drives the digital market. Promoting catered content guarantees the intended audience’s interest.

Why Multilingualism is Important

Providing e-books and other digital content in the native tongue, and on culturally relevant topics, ensures a natural, intimate relationship between audience and author. Multilingual editions not only promote access for communities often overlooked but also create authentic connections with a multicultural audience.

ThoughtCo defines multilingualism as “the ability of an individual speaker or a community of speakers to communicate effectively in three or more languages.” Experts debate this definition, though. Various factors, such as a person’s environment, can change what defines multilingualism in a society.

In an official capacity, programs such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) require multilingualism. According to the WHO website, “Multilingual communication bridges gaps and fosters understanding between people.”

Marianne Kay pushes for multilingualism in the publishing world saying:

At the end of the day, it’s companies that put the multilingual requirement at the heart of their strategy that reach the widest global audience. Google’s search page is available in more than 100 languages, Wikipedia has more than 300 language editions, and the most translated website in the world is Jehovah’s Witnesses (, with extraordinary linguistic diversity of more than 900 languages and dialects. If you want to engage with people around the world, you need to speak their language. There is no shortcut.

Both the UN and WHO sites publish in six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Fostering functional relationships with other nations, an essential resource, dictates the publishing language. As a result, the “decisions on what content to publish in which language(s) are made based on an analysis of the target audience needs,” WHO explains.

Organizations such as Multilingual Matters Publishers, Worldreader, and Mantra Lingua also tap into the multilingual demographic. Each brand tailors e-books and textbooks to the language needs in classrooms and communities around the world.

How Publishers Become Multilingual

According to Yousef Elbes, writer of “Why Multilingual Communication is Important,” “Language is still the main instrument used to convey ideas and to communicate messages.” Translators use the mother tongue of an audience to tailor the language of the content to consumers who, in turn, become devoted clients due to the accessibility and security of reading literature in their language.

Translators help authors and publishers access a multicultural environment. Effective translators ensure publishers portray an accurately represented message to their audience and maintain a professional image. Translators provide multiple translations to ensure as many languages as possible are accessible to the audience.

What Multilingualism Means for Translators

Multilingualism breaks down into three categories. According to Kay, author of “Changing the World Wide Web, One Language at a Time,” dividing Multilingualism into three broad categories “doesn’t reduce the amount of work involved, but it creates structure and emphasizes the need for a range of skills required for successful delivery.”

Global content refers to languages translated for different regions; regional content, specific, regional areas or items, such as currency; local content, a local setting. Digital publishers must pick the best translators to guarantee the message will be well-received.

Multilingualism in a Truly Digital Environment

ThoughtCo’s Richard Nordquist stretches the idea of multilingualism even further. “As computers communicate with humans—and with each other—the meaning of language may soon change.” He continues saying,

Language will still always be what makes us human, but it may also become the tool that allows machines to communicate, express needs and wants, issue directives, create, and produce through their own tongue. Language, would then, become something that was initially produced by humans but then evolves to a new system of communication—one that has little or no connection to human beings.

Though Nordquist describes a science fiction future, the relationship he portrays illustrates the transaction between users that occurs when the industry offers true accessibility. When full multilingualism enters the digital environment, the audience constraints placed on publishers disappear.

Multilingualism serves as an excellent tool for reaching multicultural audiences in the digital world. As the digital publishing market rapidly develops, more and more publishers are partnering with translators. International expansion determines the content relevancy for both audience and publisher. Refusing to engage in Multilingualism might mean failure for publishers.