The world has experienced several outbreaks of diseases in the past century. All these pandemics had their positive and adverse effects on the world, as well as the lives of individuals. The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is no exception.
This pandemic has brought about a total disruption in various activities. We are now experiencing what is called the ‘new normal’ even though the world seeks an escape from this pandemic. The publishing industry, like many others, has not been immune to the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, President Akufo-Addo imposed several restrictions on the country in order to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, all schools were closed down.
This was a big disruption to the operations of all major players in the book industry—such as authors, publishers, printers, bookbinders and booksellers—in the country since most of them generate their income from the production of educational materials.
After several months of economic downturn, restrictions are being eased, yet schools are not fully operational. The easing of the restrictions has not taken away the downturn of the book industry.
Looking at the brighter side, this pandemic has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. COVID-19 opened the gateway to explore other means where activities could go on virtually. There has been a wake of new technologies to reach out to customers or clients, work colleagues, church members, etc.
This is also the period for publishers to solidly embrace electronic book (e-book) publishing to reach various target readers and audience. Electronic book publishing has been heralded as one of the worldwide solutions for the dissemination of information. Indeed, much attention has been drawn to e-books in recent times.
Although internet usage in Ghana has increased to an appreciable level, e-book publishing in the country is still underdeveloped and lagging behind. COVID-19 should become an eye-opener for many traditional book publishers to advance towards harnessing the importance of e-book publishing, par with the traditional book production which involves printing and binding. It is therefore time for publishers to appreciate e-book publishing more and give it a significant level of recognition and acceptance.
The advent of e-books gives publishers the opportunity to broaden their readership even beyond the country. Since e-books are geographically boundless, it grants the publisher wider engagement and readership. The flexibility of e-books, coupled with its convenience, is one of the factors that should catch the attention of both local publishers and readers. Readers have the opportunity of storing a number of e-books on their e-reader devices, hence making it convenient to use.
Electronic books can be accessed on e-book readers or Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) such as smartphones, iPhones, iPads, and kindles. Interestingly, the use of e-books with PDAs are easy and interactive. Furthermore, the visually impaired are not left out when it comes to electronic books since the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) is available. DAISY is a standard technology for “digital talking” or audiobook, specifically designed to be used by people with print disabilities and the visually impaired.
Major concerns raised by some publishers in the country, which make them skeptical of electronic book publishing are the protection of their copyright and e-commerce of the books on online platforms. Publishers must be assured that their copyrights with e-books are protected through Digital Rights Management (DRM). Digital Rights Management protects the copyright of e-book authors and publishers by restricting illegal copying, sharing, and selling of the electronic book. For example, when an e-book is bought or downloaded on a particular device, that device cannot share the e-book to any other device. Hence the book stays on that particular electronic reader.
With respect to some difficulty in the e-commerce of electronic books on international online marketing platforms, there are organisations in Ghana, such as Azalia and Worldreader to assist publishers to sell their books. Azalia is a local online bookstore which serves as an online market for selling e-books. This platform was created to promote the works of authors and publishers in the country. It is easier for publishers to sell their books on this platform.
In conclusion, electronic book publishing is certainly a worthwhile consideration for authors and publishers in Ghana. E-book publishing has prospects; therefore, it is very expedient for traditional publishers in the country to upgrade their technical know-how in order not to lag behind this new technology. Publishers should embrace this new era of publishing with optimism.
The writer is the Production Services Manager, Ghana Book Development Council