Transcript: 2017 Year-in-Review: Global Publishing News

Featuring (in order of appearance)

  • Brad Turner, Benetech
  • Ruediger Wischenbart, Global E-book Report
  • Kae Winters, TOKYOPOP

For podcast release Monday, December 31, 2017

KENNEALLY: Imagine a world without media – a place where written text, photographs, sound recordings, video and film all lie out of reach. You may think that, in 2017, there is no such vicinity. But think again.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book, looking back at the last twelve months of programs. This week, we take a global view.

The world of media and particularly digital media may seem to you and me as omnipresent as air. But millions across the globe live shut out from it. Some cannot see. Many have learning and developmental challenges. Addressing these and other barriers to information access is often considered too costly or too difficult, either by governments or by technology companies.

Palo Alto-based Benetech is a nonprofit with a single focus on developing technology for social good. Benetech’s global literary program builds tools that makes it possible for people with limited accessibility to reach the information they need to change and improve their lives. Brad Turner is Benetech Vice President in charge of that program.

TURNER: We run the world’s largest library for people who have difficulties reading traditional print, so people who are blind. People who have a physical – a mobility impairment that keeps them from turning the pages of a book or holding a book, and even people with dyslexia that affects their ability to read print.

We are a mission-driven organization. We’re nonprofit. And our main objective is to use technology to scale solutions for social good – for people that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do things like read.

KENNEALLY: At Benetech, access to knowledge is considered a fundamental human right. The Bookshare program is a virtual digital library with more than 550,000 titles and many ways to reach readers.

TURNER: We work directly with 850-plus publishers, who donate their titles to us. And then we turn around and provide those titles to people who have disabilities that affect their ability to read a traditionally printed book.

And we do that through electronic distribution. We take any one of those 550,000 titles, and we can put it out in an electronic Braille format or in a Braille format that they can take to an embosser to get a hard copy Braille book, but it’s also in an audio format. It’s in a large print format if they are visually impaired but not completely blind. And it’s in a what we’d like to call a karaoke-style reading, which is really the highlighted text moving along with the spoken word, such that someone, for example, with dyslexia can follow the text as it’s read to them.

KENNEALLY: For the book publishing industry, the 20th century was arguably the era of the paperback format. Inexpensive printing, rising literacy and a global mass media helped to put more books in more hands than ever before. The medium may be the message, but the paperback format was the business model.

In 2017, print remains a critical element of the book business, yet attention from editors and executives – and authors too – focuses on digital.

The annual Global E-book Report, an ongoing project from Vienna-based publishing consultant Ruediger Wischenbart, filters through conflicting story lines to better understand the current fortunes of the new century’s fundamental format.

As Wischenbart views the market in North America and elsewhere, success has followed when content creators build communities of readers. In this publishing revolution, the battles are largely fought by author. Indeed, I asked Wischenbart whether e-book publishing is just another name for self-publishing?

WISCHENBART: Both. It brought up self-publishing, but also it changed the way how the big publishing houses organized their thing, because they were the first to learn to make good money – really significant money – out of curated digital book content. The really challenged guys are those in the middle ground – the traditional high-fiction brands all over the place, in the U.S. like in Europe, because they are somehow trapped in the middle. They have all the cost, but they never really managed to get into scale and into that learning about the readers, being capable of interacting with the readers directly, so they have all the challenges and not really found a way out of it.

KENNEALLY: So the potential of e-books and digital publishing is the ability to target audiences, to customize the product in such a way that it really meets the need of the reader specific to him or her. Are publishers – are authors, for that matter – independent authors – taking up that opportunity in a way they could be, leaving much on the table, as it were? I guess my question is, is customization happening at the level it should be or could be?

WISCHENBART: No, not yet. Clearly, not yet – but again the strange thing is some authors are geniuses in catering – in building a community, getting in touch and in a connection with that community for their very specific books. And some authors even run two communities, because they write romance novels and, under a different pseudonym, they write crime novels, and they have two communities. They can do this. But a medium size publisher with something between 50 and 100 titles per year – that’s much more difficult, and they are very, very bad at this – but they should. And at the moment, outside of the English language, they don’t have the data available to them to really properly understand what makes a difference.

KENNEALLY: Dragon Ball, Naruto, and Golgo 13 – if you recognize those titles, then you may qualify as otaku, a rabid fan of manga, the quintessentially Japanese form of comics. Publishers like US-based Tokyopop have helped make manga a global media phenomenon. Fans, too, can take some credit, even if they don’t have the right to.

Scanlation is a species of copyright infringement native to the manga world that has shaped the business for better and for worse over more than three decades. Combining scanning and translation, scanlation is a fan-created translation of manga that first brought the form beyond the island of Japan in the 1970s. Then, in the early years of the 21st century, scanlations nearly destroyed the business.

Based in Los Angeles, Kae Winters works for manga publisher Tokyopop. She grew up in the suburbs of London, where her love of manga inspired her to study Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Kae spoke about the industry effects of scanlation at the annual International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations conference in Tokyo in October. She shared the story with Beyond the Book when she returned Stateside.

WINTERS: Back in the ’70s, it was a very different beast. Manga really wasn’t known outside Japan, and there were some people that found it, thought it was this awesome new form of media, and wanted to spread it around the world. So they would, from what I understand, literally take these books, scan them. They would write their own translation for it and actually used glue and scissors to stick these new translations in the speech bubbles, scan it one more time, and hand it out in zine form. Of course, now it’s a very different beast. It’s all computers and digital editing.

KENNEALLY: Right. So in the 1970s, it was all by hand and very much a physical object. How did the manga publishers in Japan and ultimately elsewhere receive scanlation at first?

WINTERS: It’s very interesting. Scanlation happens in Japan, too. Obviously, there’s no translation involved. It’s literally just scanning and uploading for use. I know that the attitudes towards scanlation in Japan until fairly recently have sort of been that it’s not their problem. It’s an international problem. It doesn’t affect them, because it’s not their market.

In the early days of Tokyopop in the late ’90s and early 2000s, we actually had a much more lax view of scanlation. It was a way to see what fans liked, what kind of translation trends they enjoyed, what they wanted to see. For a while, it was almost used as a tool to help us decide which books we should be publishing.

It was done as a way to bring over titles that were still unknown around the world to the English-speaking world. But there was a sort of unspoken agreement between publishers and fans that when we picked up a title that we licensed that we were going to publish, the fans would then take it down from their website and put up a message saying, hey, guys, this has been licensed. Go buy it.

At some point, that changed, and suddenly people weren’t responding to these messages. They were ignoring these cease-and-desist letters that they were getting. And the titles were staying up despite being licensed.

KENNEALLY: It’s a fascinating story – as I say, a really interesting aspect of copyright infringement that’s native to the manga world, and we appreciate you sharing it with us. Arigat?gozaimashita.

WINTERS: D?itashimashite. Thank you so much for having me.

KENNEALLY: Around the world, newspapers, books and manga face similar predicaments: even as they serve wider communities than ever before they must confront business challenges that threaten their survivals. I’m Christopher Kenneally, looking back at 2017 for CCC’s Beyond the Book.

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