Digital Publishing in the Developing World

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.