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Opportunity Knocks: Why ePublishing Should Open the Door to the African Market

By: Anthea Oosthuizen (Rubric)

06 June 2012

Anthea Oosthuizen of GALA member company Rubric addresses localization challenges in Africa and what ePublishing 3.0 and the localization company can offer.

The juxtaposition of ePublishing and Africa may seem odd to many.  On the African continent, Internet connections can still be very spotty.  Even in Cape Town or Nairobi, many people struggle to get enough bandwidth each day to do their work.  Important centers of commerce, such as Arusha, Tanzania or Aubja, Nigera, often still have power issues, greatly reducing the daily Internet consumption.

Despite the issues, Internet connectivity actually is improving.  More importantly, the mobile networks in Africa are streaming and reaching every corner of the land.  And regardless of government and infrastructure issues, business is booming. Ten of the 15 fastest growing economies in the world are on the continent of Africa. 

But the principal reason the ePublishing industry should look to Africa for growth is the ability to publish materials quickly in multiple languages.  While English, French and Portuguese may be spoken by the elite in Africa, many educated people do not use these languages regularly.  In fact, there are a number of languages in Africa that are spoken and read by tens of millions of people (for example, Amharic, Berber, Hausa, Igbo, Oromo, Swahili and Yoruba) that are virtually untouched by the publishing industry.  Moreover some governments are waking up to the need to educate in mother tongues.  For example, in South Africa, the government has now mandated the publishing of educational information in all ten official languages for grades one through three.  Visionaries in publishing can see that the need for multilingual content in Africa can be met through ePublishing using EPUB 3.0 tools and local translators who are trained in the latest technologies.

What ePub 3.0 Offers
Before exploring the opportunities in Africa further, we must first understand the current ePublishing landscape.  Late last year, the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), announced EPUB 3.0, the revised standards for ePublishing.  These standards act as guides for the entire industry. The updated standards herald a new age for multilingual publishing and, importantly, present localization companies with a real opportunity to influence the industry as it becomes truly global and reaches deep into Africa.

With EPUB 3.0 the standard for creating reflowable content adds much needed technical tools. As the IDPF touted upon release, the new version adds “video, audio, interactivity, vertical writing and other global language capabilities.” (IDPF PR) 

But all these extras are meaningless without the technical skills to use them to their fullest. And that is where publishing houses the world over suffer.  Arthur Attwell, an online digital publishing entrepreneur, recently wrote in his blog, “EPUB 3.0 has great bells and important whistles, but you’re going to need actual software-development skills in-house to use them properly. In other words, ebooks just took a big step towards becoming software, rather than elaborate text files.” (http://arthurattwell.com/2012/02/13/new-epub-spec-gives-tech-companies-the-edge/

The Role of the Localization Partner
That is where localization companies enter the picture. Language service providers that operate in the digital publishing space very often have much more sophisticated technology tools than the publishing houses. Their in-house technology and software expertise make them well placed to provide solutions to traditional publishers who are slow to take up advances in technology and who have as their core competency the creation of content, not its delivery via digital means (especially not to multi-lingual audiences).  

The outsourced model offered by language service providers is the most cost-effective solution for traditionally offline publishing companies whose margins don’t cater for investment into in-house software expertise. As a publishing manager at Oxford University Press Southern Africa, I saw the impact technology could have on a major multi-lingual publishing project. Using advanced technologies through our outsourced localization company, we were able to deliver the project to deadline and under budget. Now with the added tools afforded under EPUB 3.0, the impact of technology savvy language service providers can be even greater.

Addressing Localization Challenges in Africa
And nowhere can that impact be greater than in Africa where the need for information in multiple languages is great.  Take, for example, the South African mandate that children learn in their mother tongues through the Foundation Phase (grades 1 – 3). EPUB 3.0 could be the answer for publishing houses trying to fulfill those requirements.  With EPUB 3.0, educational materials in multiple languages can come to life quickly and affordably.  Government support for technology in schools, especially in some of the big African markets, makes educational ePublishing in Africa not only possible, but probably the most effective way to reach the multi-language audiences in schools and beyond.  Ultimately, it is a space that can be very profitable for publishing houses.

Yet many challenges do remain. The most significant is the actual localization process within African borders.  As mentioned above, publishing houses do not have sufficient in-house resources for multi-lingual content.  They must outsource to language service providers (LSPs) that are by nature experts in language.  In doing so, they also need to rely on the LSP’s project management services, which should be based in country.

I saw this very clearly when I shepherded a very large and time sensitive multi-lingual project at Oxford University Press Southern Africa. The only reason we were successful with that project was because project management and technology support were based in South Africa with project and technical staff who worked hand-in-hand with translators. 

In South Africa, and in most parts of the continent, translators typically do not work as full-time translators.  Most are professionals with full-time ‘day’ jobs who do their translating off hours.  They generally work offline on their home computers, downloading files and then uploading them when they have an Internet connection the next day at work.  Translators in South Africa also have traditionally worked in a vacuum, not using the technologies that are commonplace in other parts of the world, such as translation memories.

For the OUP project, we needed them to learn new technologies in order to complete the project quickly, and many needed regular help each evening to make the shift.  We were successful because project managers who understood the conditions under which they work as well as their level of computer literacy were right there with them, making sure issues were resolved quickly.

Through that process, 300 translators were trained in translation memories and XML templates. They now work as a European translator would work, if s/he worked offline: They translate right into XML or HTML and they use growing translation memories to improve overall quality.  As we work with them on new projects, we make sure they still have the relationships with local project managers who give them ongoing support.

That support will continue to be critical as we use a growing pool of African language translators for EPUB 3.0 content.  As we maintain strong ties with local project managers, we will be able to push the South African translators into new technology areas for ePublishing as quickly, or even quicker, than in more ‘developed’ parts of the world. In fact, there is no reason why the promise of EPUB 3.0 can’t be realized in Africa first and then pushed out to rest of the world.

Anthea Oosthuizen, Production Director of Rubric South Africa, is responsible for Rubric's African operations. A veteran project manager, Anthea joined Rubric in early 2012 from Oxford University Press Southern Africa.