Andri Nel runs a digital publishing company called Digi-Taal and is completing her MA in Digital Publishing. Before coming to the UK she completed her undergraduate and honours degrees in Publishing at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and worked on numerous digital publishing projects with both authors and publishers. She is driven by a passion for publishing and the process behind creating books.
1. What led you to setting up Digi-Taal and what do you hope for its future?
While I was doing my honours degree in Publishing in South Africa I was lucky enough to receive the opportunity to create an eBook for a friend who was working with a new publisher. I loved working on the eBook conversion and the freedom freelance work gave me. When I made the decision to come do my Masters in Digital Publishing at Oxford Brookes a year and a half ago I knew I needed to save up and along with my full time job I started doing freelance eBook conversions form referrals of referrals. Finally, a few months before coming to the UK I officially started Digi-Taal (which is a play on the word Digital Language in my native Afrikaans). The goal with Digi-Taal is to provide authors who would not normally be published by traditional publishers with the same freedom to see their work published, in digital form. I offer editing and proofreading services, eBook conversion and cover design. However, I realised that there was also a need for these authors to create a social media presence so I decided to offer an Author Publicising service as well. I really enjoy working with different publishers and from this love I started working with small to medium publishers to help them implement the best possible digital publishing strategies that can integrate with their current strategies using Digi-Taal.
My hope for the future for Digi-Taal is to create a place for authors who are willing to take a risk and want to be in control of their books. I also hope that Digi-Taal will become the leading service provider for publishers in South Africa on digital publishing strategies. With Digi-Taal I want to change the view of digital publishing from an intrusive one to a partnership which can take place between print and digital, hence our slogan, Turning the Page on Digital Publishing.
2. Tell us about the publishing scene in South Africa.
The publishing industry in South Africa is small compared to the UK, however it is a very innovative market. The exciting things are happening with small start-up mobile reading companies and independent publishers. Educational publishing and children’s publishing are the two biggest sectors as we still struggle with a high illiteracy rate and a poor reading culture. This is however changing under the younger generation. Afrikaans publishing is very vibrant as well with most of the local publishers publishing in Afrikaans. We have amazing authors, in English and our many local languages (South Africa has 11 official languages) and slowly people are starting to read more local content. However, international books are still the most widely read and are the biggest competitors for local publishers. The biggest challenge for publishers in South Africa is discoverability as big parts of the country are still very rural. Initiatives have been created over the last years to get the books to the people. Publishing in South Africa is a wonderful industry to be part of because of the many opportunities there still are to grow and be innovative.
3. You have several projects on the go at the moment, including KliekClick, a publishing start-up targeting children. What is your role in this company?
KliekClick was started by one of the legends of publishing in South Africa, Maritha Snyman, out of her passion for providing children with affordable reading material in Afrikaans. As I am now based in the UK I am not as involved in KliekClick as I was a few months ago. We sold short stories in ePub format through our online store for children in Afrikaans at less than 50p a story. The stories did not have any DRM on them and we encouraged readers to share the stories. All of our authors came from submissions to a writing competition we originally launched on Facebook that saw new stories streaming in each day. I was digital manager and created all eBooks as well as running the online store. It was a big learning curve to understand how people who are not native digital users find the online buying process (it is not yet that common to shop online in South Africa) and overcome the challenge of explaining how an eBook should be read and on what devices.
4. What interests you the most about the current state of publishing in London?
I have only been in the UK for 3 months now but I have truly learnt so much. I see a lot of similarities, especially concerning digital publishing and the sense of uncertainty surrounding publishers here and back in South Africa. My passion lies with digital publishing and start-ups and I am very interested in projects such as the Lost My Name start up, as well as the choices publishers here are making on what content to make available in digital formats. The importance placed on creating a digital first workflow is a big talking point I have found in the UK and I am very interested in how this has been implemented in publishing houses in the UK. I hope to learn more during the rest of my year in the UK.
5. Any advice for publishing students interested in conversion?
I was lucky because my undergraduate and honours Publishing degrees provided me with training in html coding, however there are so many courses available that anyone can learn to code if you just put your mind to it. eBook conversion does not have to happen through hand coding, however I think it is very important to at least understand html, css and the structures used in coding. It will take a while to get the hang of it, but if you sit down and work at it, it will be worth it (it took me two years to really become skilled in coding). There are online programs such as Code Academy which are really good for teaching yourself coding. Apart from understanding coding it is very important to know what is going on in digital publishing. Knowing the industry isn’t going to help you with the physical conversions but you need to stay up to date with changes in coding structures and well as getting tips to do some amazing things in eBooks. Follow Digital Book World, you will learn things that will literally blow your mind. Finally test out as many eReaders, apps and formats you can get your hands on. eBooks are not only Kindle, there is an amazing world of digital reading out there. And always remember when doing eBook conversions, if you don’t know how to do something, Google it, there is always an answer.
Follow Digi-Taal on Twitter here.