21 Working in Digital Publishing (Andri Nel)

Andri Nel, famed alumni took the time to pay us a visit and left us with some notes

What do you think or how have you experienced digital pub/ebooks?

Why Digital Publishing?

  • There are so many fields in publishing so why digital?
  • It is difficult to see yourself maybe going into it because it is also the field you cover the least in your whole course
  • But it’s such an exciting field
  • I don’t believe that digital publishing and eBooks will replace print (especially not in SA), its rather here to enhance print books – if we allow it to
  • Go read my interview with publish publisher and book enthusiast Stephanie Cox at https://wordsaremycraft.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/introducing-digital-publisher-andri-nel/
  • DP is ever changing
    • In my first year the first Kindle came to SA
    • Now almost all of you have tablets

How is DP exciting?

Asus Fonepad 7

  • This is a wonderful tablet which is very cheap and could work perfect for children in schools
  • Where is the eReader in this race?

Lego eBooks

  • Bringing to life some of the most popular lego characters.
  • Publishing is through Little Brown
  • Read http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/lego-builds-ebook-line-at-little-brown/

Marvel comics app

  • This app allows you to read first editions of a comic book series (something that is near impossible to find in South Africa)
  • The images are static but the quality is amazing

After Dark by Wattpad

  • A romance app for readres 17+ and writers based on fan fiction
  • This new field of publishing was made possible by the self publishing of 50 Shades of Grey
  • 50 Shades would not have been published if the option of self publishing digitally was not available.

Digital reading is opening up a new way for readers to communicate

  • Eg Whattpad – readers can leave comments in the books themselves
  • Goodreads – where books can be suggested to you by friends, reviews and discussion can take place

New ways of reading and learning

  • Blinkist app – the app condenses a book for you so you do not have to read the whole thing. This could work perfectly for educational purposes.
  • IT School Innovation’s (South African company) app allows kids to make a PDF summary of their highlights and notes from their textbook – this makes learning so much easier.
  • In the USA chunkable learning is the norm where different sections of what would be a traditional textbook can be downloaded at different times and in different orders by teachers.
  • As publishers we are giving a new generation and new breed of author the chance to publish their work
    • Eg Fan fiction
    • KliekClick – Afrikaans short stories
    • Iain Edwards book – a scholarly book which is much too thick for print but perfect for digital selling
    • 50 Shades of Grey – maybe not so well written but it sold amazingly
  • In South Africa we have a few exciting developments

The different sectors are exciting in their own ways:


  • More and more schools and moving to eBooks
  • eTextbooks provide enhanced learning
  • Videos, links outside and inside, interactivity
  • Dept of Education giving tablets to schools
  • USA – chunkable learning
  • There are Challenges such as internet and lack of page numbers – we are the key to finding ways around it


  • Much like educational
  • Linking to external sources
  • Also better packaging
  • Cheaper textbooks
  • It’s a field which is very under developed in Digital Publishing


  • More and more publishers are moving away from Amazon and selling on their own platforms – eg Hachett
  • Penguin’s “mistake” of putting the imprint page at the front of their best selling book of the month
  • KliekClick – publishing short stories in Afrikaans for children between the ages of 9 and15.


  • Publishers aren’t even ready to take their websites mobile – what to say books
    • We can guide them because we have the traditional publishing background that includes design, layout and text knowledge, but we also have the advantage of having an understanding of HTML
  • More or less the same as in any other field of pub
    • Lack of reading culture
  • Yes tablets are expensive
    • But you are not catering to the whole population
    • I think as publishers we should stop trying to convince everyone reading is fun, some people will never read, we should rather focus on our target markets and get more of them to read
    • Everyone should have the opportunity, but as publishers we cannot force reading on anyone
    • We should focus on getting those people who already have tablets to use them for reading as well as their other daily tasks
  • Internet connection is however a big problem

Why should you go into digital publishing?

  • The world of Digital Publishing is made up of 2 groups, the tech guys and the publishers
  • What I’ve found is that many publishers today do not have the skills, have very limited if any budget for digital and in effect are scared to go into Digital Publishing
  • They also don’t particularly like working with the IT companies
  • Many of these IT companies work mainly on websites and apps, and now also eBooks
  • They have the technical skills, but no idea about the look and feel of a book (which most readers still want some resemblance to in an eBook)
  • For them if the links work it doesn’t matter about the aesthetics, layout and look – function over form for them
  • The difficult part is that the IT companies at this stage think publishers know nothing about Digital Publishing
    • This is true for some older publishers and it does happen that these companies take advantage of publishers (and authors) because of their ignorance
    • But this is where we come in – as young publishers we have knowledge of both fields


  • Pose a big threat to South African Digital Publishing
  • They have cheaper solutions and work very fast
  • But their quality is not good in most cases
    • The problem is publishers don’t know if they’re being picky or if the quality really is not good because they do not know what qualities a eBook should have


  • Create style sheets for the developers
  • Proofreading and checking of the layout and look of the eBook against the print manuscript
  • Being the middle man between the publisher who still has a print layout idea in their head, and the developer who thinks clean and no frills
  • Creating digital strategies
  • As publishers we also know about marketing
  • We know readers and how and what will sell
  • We know the different markets and sectors
  • We know what readers of different ages want
  • Because of your digital publishing background you know more than the older publishers
  • You can use this to advise publishers and create a role for yourself in a publishing house
  • There are very few roles in SA such as a Digital Publisher
  • You have to create this role yourself
  • No one is going to teach you
  • You must read up, google, practice, better yourself
  • There is no course after this (except for your honours class) on digital pub in SA
  • You can better your coding skills through courses but that’s not the only way to go in this field – think broader and of more opportunities where you combine all of your skills and knowledge


  • It is not easy
  • You have to be readily available and sometimes work under a lot of pressure
  • Be dedicated
  • Sometimes work very strange hours
  • Be willing to go to the client, no matter how far
  • Sometimes there will be no work, other times you’ll be swamped
  • It is very uncertain, but also very rewarding when you get to work with so many different people and help create books and projects for people who are as passionate about their work as you.


  • Coding and Digital Publishing might sound confusing now but here are a few tips:
    • You can literally find any code online – google
    • Websites:
      • W3schools
      • Idpf validator
    • Tools:
      • Sigil
      • Brackets
      • Calibre
      • Readium


  • Test your eBook on a number of platforms
  • Email it to yourself and open it in iBooks etc on your tablets
  • You have to read up some more about the industry
  • Following the following on twitter
    • Follow Digital Book World on Twitter
    • Follow Publishers Weekly
    • Follow Just Publishing
    • Follow your favorite publishers – I knew about the Penguin/Random House merge before it happened from twitter
    • Follow Publishing_DP
    • Follow me @An3nel


Publishing in the Digital Environment Copyright © 2013 by University of Pretoria. All Rights Reserved.