Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Intellectual Property

‘I have nothing to declare except my genius.’ - Oscar Wilde

Not too long ago, Britain’s J.K. Rowling was a penniless[1] single mother with a dream to be a writer. She conceived the idea for her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, during a delayed train ride in 1990 and finished it in 1995. Her fortunes changed in 1997 when she published her first Harry Potter book.

Demand for her tale about an orphan (Harry Potter) who has inherited magical powers set the world on fire and she went on to make publishing history! It wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling and the film deal that the single mom made (with Warner Bros.) catapulted her to the highest financial circles. Today, her net worth is estimated to be $1 billion US dollars, making her one of the richest private citizens in the UK (and some say richer than the Queen of England). According a Bloomberg GameChangers documentary, the Harry Potter movie franchise is now the biggest of all time (spanning movies, home videos, toys, clothes and a theme park).

The Chronicles of Narnia blockbuster films based on the novels by Lewis C. Clark also spawned a multi-million-dollar franchise (the creator was dead by the time the movies were made so deals had to be signed with his estate). The movies in the series include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008), and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010). As of 3/9/11, the third Narnia movie had made $104,029,149 (Source: Box Office Mojo). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was made by Walt Disney while the songs from the movie were distributed by EMI Music Group. According to Wikipedia, the series has now grossed over $1.5 billion, making it the 19th highest-grossing film series of all time.

‘Intellectual Property’ is real property, just like land, cars or houses, and - as you can see from the above examples - can be quite lucrative. Intellectual Property is protected under international law. It is also subject to protection according to the Kenyan Constitution (The
Copyright Act, The Trademarks Act et al).

Copyright (basically ‘right to copy’) is branch of Intellectual Property. It refers to a set of exclusive rights to regulate the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. Under international copyright law, a new idea, artistic work or other copyrightable work is automatically copyrighted after being expressed. A book, for example, is an expression of the author’s ideas. If the author/publisher of the book comes across a pirate infringing his copyright, he can make a citizen’s arrest and take the suspect to the nearest police station with the pirated books as evidence.

Copyright subsists in a work from the instant it is expressed (eg. when a book is written) and is enforceable by International Law. The symbol for copyright is © ; in some jurisdictions (c) is also accepted; and is usually followed by a year and the name of the copyright holder eg.

Copyright © 2011 Alex Nderitu

It’s a good idea to place this kind of copyright notice on your poems (eg. when posting them online) and all other literary works (even if you’re giving them away for free). It allows people to know who to contact in case they want to use your work elsewhere or make a derivative work/product from it.

The Kenya Copyright Board keeps a database of Intellectual Property works registered with them. To patent something, contact the Kenya Intellectual Property Institute.

Copyright may subsist in a wide range of creative, intellectual, or artistic forms or ‘works’. These include poems, plays and other literary works; films, choreographic works such as dances, musical compositions, audio recordings; paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs; software; radio and television broadcasts and industrial designs (eg, a design for a new car, new ship or new airplane.) Copyright law covers only the ‘form of expression’ of ideas or information, not the idea/concept itself. For example, some years ago, pop singer Madonna was successfully sued by a European photographer for some poses that she struck in one of her music videos. The poses included the entertainer sitting atop a running TV set with her legs splayed all the way to the sides. The photographer could prove that those poses were taken from magazine pictures he had previously shot, featuring a female model. The photographer could not have sued Madonna for sitting in a chair or walking down the street, since those are not new ideas that he had expressed. But the concept or image of a woman sitting atop a TV that's on, with legs splayed wide, was unique (unless you’re some kind of freak!) It was an idea from a creative mind and by directing a model to assume that pose while he took pictures, the photographer expressed the idea and therefore had copyright over it.

With so many derivative products now being made from literary works (especially novels), it is paramount that young writers learn all they can about Intellectual Property and know exactly what they are signing away when they get published the traditional way. It might shock some people to learn that if you’re published the traditional way, they publisher might own your copyright (until your book goes out of print in which case copyright reverts to you). What this means is that if a film company wants to make a movie based on your book, or if a foreign publisher wants to publish your book in another language, you might not have any say in the matter!

Admittedly, that sounds rather unfair, but it happens. A book can be successful but the author doesn’t seem to be doing well in the money stakes, especially when you consider that an author usually gets between 10% and 12% as royalties on his Intellectual Property. I once decided against entering a local short story competition, where the prize for the winners was publication and thereafter royalties, because they made it clear that they would own the ‘first rights’ for the stories. I am in touch with a local filmmaker who likes my short stories, especially the humorous ones like the Konkodi articles, and I’d hate to be in a position where I would have to buy back my own Intellectual Property in order to make derivative works. A local poet got a rude shock when she asked her publisher if he could give her several copies of her books to sell during a Spoken Word Poetry session she was performing at, only to be told that she would have to buy her own books – at the same discounted rate as the bookshops!

This issue of rights/Intellectual Property makes self-publishing/independent publishing ever more attractive to the creative writer. If you write on topics such as gardening, interior design, gadgets, motivational or self-help issues, Bible studies/companions, textbooks etc, then a traditional publisher is still the best option for you. After all, no board games, video games, movies, TV shows or other derivative products will ever be made from your work. But a creative writer is different since there are so many rights that could come into play as far as his or her work is concerned. These include:

- Paperback and Hardback rights
- Film and TV rights
- Software rights (video games, computer games etc)
- E-book rights
- Stage rights (Theatre)
- Translation rights (To other languages)

…and so on. And with e-books and independent publishing (such as Print-on-Demand) growing in leaps and bounds, some novelists are starting to wonder why they would need a bricks-and-mortar publisher.

[1] She went on welfare after being fired from a couple of jobs for writing instead of working! (Source: Bloomberg GameChangers)

Future Shock: Where Are the New Technologies Taking Us?

‘Right now, the book industry consists of authors, publishers, agencies and retailers. Thanks to people like (bestselling e-book author) John Locke, one of those last three categories is going to cease to exist and the other two are going to absorb its functions.’
- Jeff Bercovici, Forbes magazine writer

There’s quite a bit of innovation and experimentation going on in the world of publishing today. Apart from the aforementioned inventions like the Kindle, here are some more creations:

Vook, founded by Bradley Inman is a platform for e-books that seeks to combine text, video and social networks such as Twitter. Inman is also the founder of TurnHere, a production company that creates author videos for publishers. Exploring the potential of such e-book devices as the Amazon Kindle, Inman wrote his own thriller, The Right Way to do Wrong, and used TurnHere to create two dozen short videos to promote it.

WE-Book, a New York Based startup, allows people to collaborate on writing books and is looking for ways to let readers give writers real-time feedback on their literature.

Wattpad, based in Toronto, Canada, is among several startups soliciting the work of unpublished authors and distributing it on the Internet and on mobile phones – completely bypassing traditional publishers.

Innovations like these have turned publishing on its head. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. The demise of Borders shows how serious the challenges facing bookshops are. In a Deutsche Welle (German) TV magazine show some years back, a young man was shown walking past a bookshop, his hands buried deep in his trench coat. A translated voiceover said, to wit: ‘When I need to buy a book, I don’t go into a bookshop…’ The next scene showed him sitting in his house, surfing the Net. ‘…I can get any book I want on the Internet.’ Cut to the computer screen. Lists of authors and titles scroll upwards.

To make matters worse, some online booksellers like Amazon are so successful, they inspire upcoming entrepreneurs to follow them into the online world (not invest in traditional tried-and-tested book-selling methods). Not only does Amazon sell physical books, it's also the biggest seller of e-books. Five authors including Steig Larsson (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo),
Stephenie Meyer (Twilight series) and James Patterson have each sold more than 500,000 digital books via Amazon (James Patterson over 800,000 via Amazon and over 1 million in total). John Locke is an American e-book writer said to generate a six-figure annual income purely off Amazon sales. J. A. Konrath, another American author living off e-book sales, recently had the honour of having his thriller, Shaken, picked by Amazon’s printing arm, AmazonEncore. Why is it an honour? Amazon has the e-mail addresses of everyone who has ever purchased an item from them. That’s millions of (book) buyers’ e-mail addresses! Imagine if you’re an unknown writer and Amazon decides to promote your book – you’ll become a bestselling author overnight! And their method of picking writers to promote is virtually full-proof: they check the reader reviews on your Amazon e-books.

Unfortunately, no bricks-and-mortar bookshop has that kind of mega tonnage. Traditional bookstores and book publishers don’t even have the contacts of the individual readers who have bought their books, leave alone the contacts of buyers worldwide. One of those two entities may have to adapt or die, most likely the bookseller. If online shopping is the way of the future, then the publisher can simply add an e-commerce section (shopping cart) to his official website and buyers can order from the catalogue and pay via credit card or mobile phone credit. We call this mixture of traditional and computer-age business practices ‘clicks-and-mortar’. The new Barnes & Noble is the perfect example of a clicks-and-mortar business.

Should bookshops become redundant, the author and the publisher will be no worse for wear because bookshops take massive commissions in order for their role in the book chain to be profitable. A bookshop’s commission is usually 30% – 35% while the author’s royalty is usually 10% – 20%. Sans middleman, there will be more revenue for the writer and publisher to share.

One of the new buzzwords floating around these days is ‘Book 2.0’. It is shorthand for an ongoing revolution that will change the way readers read, writers write and publishers publish. Book 2.0 takes into considering such powerful market forces as Amazon. Billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame:

‘This (launching the Kindle) is the most important thing we've ever done. It's so ambitious to take something as highly evolved as the book and improve on it. And maybe even change the way people read.’

Overall, the book industry is growing. Literature is not in danger. According to BookStats, a comprehensive survey conducted by two major trade groups, US publishers generated a net revenue of $27.9 billion in 2010, a 5.6 percent increase over 2008. US Publishers sold 2.57 billion books in all formats in 2010, a 4.1 percent increase since 2008. However, the nature of the book business is changing. Some players, like book chains or traditional publishers, might have to evolve into something else or go out of business.

All of publishing has been on shifting sands over the last twenty or so years. Music publishing has also seen drastic changes, most occasioned by modern technologies like the Internet and mobile phones. Back in the days of cassette tapes, pirating or ‘dubbing’ was done by means of a stereo player with two cassette slots. Stereos that could ‘dub’ were not very common but they still gave record labels a headache. The Compact Disk, or CD, was supposed to end the piracy. This was a new, advanced, technology. The music was ‘burnt’ onto a shiny, durable, disk and read by a faint laser. Wow! That would be hard for the pirates to beat, right? Wrong. The Personal Computer began to gain currency in the 80’s and really caught on in the ‘90’s. As the ‘90’s wore on, new, sleeker and faster versions of PCs were released. Computer software also took a quantum leap. The music industry was caught with its boots off. With so many computers in homes and offices, pirating CDs became easier than ‘dubbing’ could ever have hoped to be. It was the Internet, however, that wrote finis to the old-school music industry.

Napster was the main villain of the music revolution. It allowed Internet users worldwide to download music for free. It was eventually sued and stopped the illegal file-sharing but the damage was already done. Other, smarter, file-sharing networks like Kazaa and iMesh emerged and continued distributing music for free. And then Apple invented the iPod and iTunes. Songs were now being sold for as little as $0.99 and the worst part was that the invention had come from outside the music industry. Industry players like Sony tried to make their own devices but they could never catch up to Apple’s iPods. Mobile phones also made their mark on the music industry with ringtones and ring-back tunes. Some musicians make more money from ring tones than from any other revenue stream. Live events are also key now because any song they ‘put out’ can be pirated in various ways.

Whereas there were many prominent record labels in the past, today there are only 4 major labels left in the world. These are: Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, EMI Group and Warner Music Group. Most of the small labels you see credited on music videos are under these four.
Even previously prestigious record labels like Arista, Atlantic, Reprise, Epic, Columbia, RCA,
Geffen and Motown are now just imprints under the Big Four. The biggest record label is Universal Music Group which accounts for about 25% of all music sales and handles such artistes as Eminem, the Black Eyed Peas, Mariah Carey, 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani and Kanye West. Speaking in Jerusalem not long ago, the CEO of Universal Music Group confessed that he could not predict the future of the music business! That’s the head of the biggest music conglomerate in the world and he also doesn’t know where the business is headed!

The same goes for book publishing. I challenge any publisher to paint a picture of the print industry ten years from now. You can’t. Nobody can. We don’t even know what will happen in the next few months that will turn publishing on its head. Will Barnes & Noble go bust? Will Amazon go out of business like so many ‘dot com’ companies before it? Will Amazon purchase Barnes & Noble? Will Nokia allow all its phones to purchase and download e-books like Kindles? Will Apple come up with an ‘iReader’ or something that will rival the Kindle? Nobody knows the answers to these and similar questions. But one thing’s for sure, technology will make some of the current arms of the book industry redundant.

Remember Borders.

E-book Formats

E-books exist in various electronic formats and each format requires a special kind of software to enable the human reader to view the pages. The software in question is simply referred to an ‘ebook reader’. The most popular kind of e-book reader is the Adobe Acrobat Reader that opens books saved in Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format). Another common e-book reader is the Microsoft Reader. E-book readers are distributed over the Internet free of charge. They can be downloaded from their makers’ official sites, eg. www.microsoft.com/reader and www.adobe.com/products/acrobat, or from e-book sellers such as www.ebookmall.com and www.enovel.com.

Adobe PDF is the de facto standard for electronically published books and it best illustrates the evolution of the printed word. A PDF book looks like a conventional book except that it is not tangible and its Acrobat Reader comes with all the electronic wonders you except from e-book readers. You can zoom to a particular page, insert electronic bookmarks, consult a digital Thesaurus, adjust the font size, click on live hyperlinks, turn the leaves by either scrolling or paging and so on. PDF books can also be read on most computer operating systems, including Macintosh, Linux and Unix.

Digital books are written using word processors such a Microsoft Word and then converted into e-book format using software generally referred to as e-book compilers. The compilers, such as Adobe Acrobat for Windows are NOT given away free. Other E-book creators include Activ Ebook Compiler, E-Book Edit Pro, E-Book Generator, Pro Compiler and Calibre.

EPub - This is currently the best format and is fast becoming the standard for the industry. To view EPub files on a computer, use Adobe Digital Editions, which is free from Adobe.com.
Other players for these files include: Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, Amazon Kindle (with conversion), the Firefox browser (with an add-on), and various free programs. One advantage of the EPub format is the option for an author or seller to use Digital Rights Management so that the person you send the file to can't just attach the file to a bunch of e-mails and make your book available to other people by standard e-mail. E-books published on the Amazon Kindle also have the option of Digital Rights Management. What I liked most about the main EPub reader – Calibre E-Book Management software – is that if you close it somewhere in the middle of perusing an e-book, the next time you open that ebook, the program automatically scrolls to the last page you were on - how clever! The fonts on EPub files are also very clear – reminiscent of Microsoft ClearType™ technology.

Adobe Acrobat Files - For these files, use Adobe Reader, which is free from Adobe.com. This format is the grand daddy of e-books, and is widely used for other applications. (Technically, its beauty has always been that it uses print formats, not word processor formats, so it has been a leader in cross-platform uses - meaning that it can be used with Mac, Windows and many other Operating Systems.) Most browsers and many other programs also permit you to view Acrobat files.

How E-Books Work

‘My revolution will not be televised – it will be downloaded.’ – Alexander Nderitu, Kenyan e-book pioneer

E-books are written works that exist in digital format. Because their production does not include such expenses as printing, paper, binding, warehousing and distribution, they are sold at a fraction of the cost of physical books. Some websites, such as www.free-ebooks.net, give e-books away free of charge. Being online products, they are best marketed by ‘word of mouse’ ie. Internet channels.

E-books are sold or otherwise distributed over the Internet at high speeds. They can be downloaded onto a PC, a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) like Palm Pilot, a Smartphone or an e-reader (palm-top device that is dedicated to e-books) such as the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader. Hand-helds and e-readers are gaining currency around the world for their convenience. Some of them can store hundreds of e-books at a time, so book lovers can carry a virtual library without lugging around much weight. The glowing of the screen means that you can read your books in total darkness (If, say, you are out camping). The small size of the device allows you to read your novels in restaurants, vehicles, leisure parks and almost anywhere else – day or night.

One of the most popular e-book reading programs is the Microsoft Reader. This nifty software comes with ClearType™ technology that makes the text very crisp and easy to read. The program also has a ‘Play’ button on a bar at the foot of the page that, when clicked, activates a voice feature that reads out the text for you until it’s stopped! The voice is rather mechanical and would not be confused with a human reader but who knows what the future holds? Software is upgraded all the time. Maybe in future, a user will be able to choose narrators from a range of voices (male, female, British accent etc), in a number of languages, and the machine narrators will be as eloquent as humans.

The Amazon Kindle is an e-book reader, an embedded system for reading electronic books, launched in the United States by prominent online bookseller Amazon.com in November 2007. The Kindle uses an electronic paper display, reads the proprietary Kindle (AZW) format (as well as several public formats), and downloads content over Amazon Whispernet (Amazon sends the e-book to your Kindle much like a friend sending an SMS to your mobile phone.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

E-BOOKS: It’s a Book, Jim, But Not as we Know it

‘E-books are the literary world’s version of fast food’ – Alexander Nderitu, Africa’s first digital

‘An eBook is considered by the industry intelligentsia to be a book that is in electronic form. It is instantaneously distributed over the Internet within seconds; Gutenberg would be impressed.’ - How E-books Work, www.enovel.com

‘Where the electronic novel really scores is in the features that elevate it beyond the limitations of a traditional printed book: at the click of a key, it will go into Large Print format, a boon for the poorly sighted and for tired eyes. Ultimately the reader, not the publisher, will select the font and size with which he or she is comfortable reading …Electronic books are smart. They can remember where you got to, so no more dog-earing, or losing bookmarks. They have all the search and find features of a word processor – enter a word or phrase and you will find the passage instantly.’ - Horror writer Peter James speaking at a conference. (See Ray Hammond’s DIGITAL BUSINESS: Surviving and Thriving in an Online World, www.hammond.co.uk , Published in book form by Hodder & Stoughton)

In 1998, history was made when the e-novel Angels of Russia was chosen as one of the five finalists for the prestigious Booker Prize. Angels of Russia was a historical novel written by
Patricia Le Roy and distributed over the Internet by Online Originals. This marked the first time that an on-line (Internet-published) book had been nominated for a major literary prize.

In 2000, Stephen King’s first e-book project experienced a hiccup when the servers were inundated with orders, stretching them to 100% capacity. The book, entitled Riding the Bullet, had had been made available only in e-book format on such websites as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Stephen King’s initial impression:

‘While I think that the Internet and various computer applications for stories have great promise, I don’t think anything will replace the printed word and the bound book.’

Stephen King went on to participate in other e-book projects. His next e-book, The Plant, was sold in installments through an ‘honour system’ whereby downloaders promised to pay for their copies. 76% cent of readers fulfilled their promise.

In 2001, my first thriller, and probably Kenya’s first e-novel, When the Whirlwind Passes, was published online. Initially, it was a free download.

Also in 2001, India released its first e-novel, a collaborative work entitled The Motive.

Let’s fast-forward to a few years later:

October 25, 2007: Article entitled ‘Internet a Boon for Books’ appears in the Daily Metro (Nation Media House). According to it, the Internet has provided new ways of marketing, experimentation and reaching readers. Penguin has launched a web-based novel-writing competition in partnership with Amazon and Hewlett-Packard. Elsewhere, Pearson - which publishes travel books - has been digitally coding all its travel-related content so that said content can be utilized over Web and mobile phone applications.

2007: Journalist Otieno Amisi[1], secretary of the Kenya Association of Poets, launches a poetry e-book entitled Back to the Future at the Nairobi Book Fair.

November 2007: Amazon.com launches the Kindle e-book reader. Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos appears on the cover of Newsweek, holding up a Kindle. Headline: ‘Books Aren't Dead. (They're Just Going Digital.)’

December 2008: StoryMoja teams up with well-known e-commerce website Mamamikes.com so as to sell books to the Kenyan Diaspora (in addition to locally). Payments can be made via PayPal, credit card, MoneyGram, PostaPay among others. (StoryMoja later enables manuscripts to be uploaded to them directly through their website).

December 25, 2009: Amazon e-book sales overtake print for one day for the first time on
Christmas Day.

February 29, 2010: E-books become the single bestselling category in American publishing for the first time, according to a report from the Association of American Publishers, compiling sales data from US publishing houses. Total e-book sales in February amounted to $90.3 million, overtaking paperback sales which stood at $81.2 million.

2010: Sony - which also deals in e-books - announces that second quarter 2010 e-reader sales had tripled over the previous year.

March / April 2010: Apple launches the iPad and the iBookstore.

August 23, 2010: Amazon releases a statement announcing that, for the first time, the sales of Kindle e-books exceeded sales of hardcover books on its site in the second quarter of its fiscal year. For the period of April through June 2010, Amazon sold an average of 143 e-books for every 100 hardbacks; the figures for June were 180 e-books to 100 hardcovers.

January 29, 2011: ‘eBooks’ is one of the trending topics on Yahoo!

January 2011: Kindle e-books overtake paperback books to become the most popular format on Amazon.com. By May of 2011, the company announces that e-book sales are outstripping hardcover and paperback books - combined.

January 2011: Barnes & Noble shifts focus from hardcovers and paperbacks to e-books. The influential bookseller tries to re-invent itself as a seller of book downloads, reading devices and apps.

March 2011: ‘The future is digital,’ says Kenya Literature Bureau CEO, Eve Obara as KLB launches e-books into the local market ‘ahead of any of the other players in the business.’

In 2011, the rise of e-books is believed to be the main cause of the demise of the giant bricks-and-mortar bookseller, Borders (which took too long to join the e-retailing and electronic book markets). The liquidation of Borders Group sends shockwaves across the book world. Even its main rival, Barnes & Noble, gains little from the folding of the fabled Borders book chain. Barnes & Noble operates 717 superstores and owns the popular Nook e-book reader. Borders had over 400 stores.

2011: E-books become the hottest topic among major publishers, booksellers and other book industry stakeholders. Are e-books ‘cannibalizing’ print? Will bricks-and-mortar bookshops end up selling to the rats? Or are e-books overrated? Do traditional bookstores need to make some adjustments in order to survive in the eBook Age?

2011: E-book versions of popular books like The Da Vinci Code and Rich Dad, Poor Dad proliferate Kenyan computers. They are free, or very cheap, downloads. A blog known as Nairobi Ebooks (http://nairobibooks.blogspot.com ) sells e-books at just Kshs.10 a pop!

October 2011: When the Whirlwind Passes and The Moon is Made of Green Cheese make their Amazon Kindle debut.

2011: Amazon shakes the world of literature yet again by launching its own imprint, AmazonEncore. According to the online giant: ‘AmazonEncore is a new program whereby
Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Kindle Store, Amazon.com Books Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.  ‘Amazon gives the self-published a second life,’ says USA Today

Amazon's major rivals, Barnes & Noble and Borders, list AmazonEncore titles on their websites and say that, depending on demand, they may carry them in their physical stores as well.

2011? : Charles Karia, a Kenyan schoolteacher and blogger, publishes an e-book entitled A
Weed in Paradise. In related news Publishing Editor Barrack Muluka says e-books are picking up (in Kenya) as fibre optic cables improve local Internet experience (Quoted in Saturday magazine).

November 25, 2011: Article in The East African Standard newspaper talks of local government departments and libraries digitalizing their documents (‘Libraries and publishers go digital to increase efficiency’). Digitalization involves scanning books, reports and other documents and placing them in an electronic retrieval system. With e-books, libraries will be able to offer e-lending services.

Late 2011: A school in Kilgoris, rural Kenya, is featured on Citizen TV for its use of electronic ‘tablets’ (e-book reading devices). The devices (a donation from an NGO) are being used alongside traditional textbooks but according to one teacher there, a single tablet can hold an entire library of books, making the textbooks potentially irrelevant.

December 9, 2011: Article entitled ‘Smart phones to drive up sale of e-books’ appears in the Daily Nation. According to it, affordable smart phones could enable a boom in e-books sales.
Internationally, e-book sales grew by 116.5% while print fell. By 2014, the article went on to say, 50% of all phones sold are expected to be ‘smart’. Ministry of Information to procure cheap tablet for high school students. Former Apprentice Africa contestant Joyce Mbaya’s e-book, Gibebe, to sell on Amazon Kindle. Master Publishing MD, Agatha Verdadero, is quoted as saying e-book trends as seen in the West are expected to reach Kenya circa 2014.

[1] Died on January 16th 2008

The Thing With Publishers

‘Kenyan publishers are not that bad: at least when they reject your manuscript, they write the rejection (note) personally.’ - Alexander Nderitu

‘Publishing must tread the tightrope between art and commerce. Publishers want books they can publish with pride and with passion but to survive, they must publish books that sell.’ – Michael Larsen, American literary agent

I used to be very critical of publishers when I was younger but I have since mellowed. The thing with publishing is that it’s lucrative but risky, hence the much talked-bout ‘air of caution’ that blows throughout the business. Speaking on TV a few years back, a Macmillan Kenya Publishers[1] official said that to produce a quality book, from start to finish, costs about Kshs. 1 million. If that is the case, then obviously no publisher is rich enough to risk a cool million on every scribbler with a manuscript – hence rejection slips.

It’s true that Kenyan publishers have sacrificed many a good pop fiction novel on the alter of text-book manufacture (I told you I’d find use for that expression!) but it’s equally true that schools/schoolchildren are the biggest buyers of books. I got that information from a self-published novelist who realized that the copies he gave to bookshops would never move as fast as the copies he sold to schools. For one, a school would by several copies for its library while an individual would only buy a single copy. He now bypasses bookshops and chases headmasters all over the country with copies of his novel.

The most common reason for rejection slips is sending your manuscript to the wrong publisher eg. Mailing a novel manuscript to a textbook publisher, or a secular manuscript to a publisher who is only interested in Christian works. Even if it’s a good piece of fiction and the editor likes it, he still won’t forward it for further consideration since it falls out of the publisher’s sphere of interest.

The best way to choose a publisher is to analyze their current titles. The book reviews are a good place to start. If a book being reviewed is up your street, then you check out who the publisher is. Some publications even serialize works of fiction eg. for kids. Since the author and publisher are always credited, you can build your own list of publishers dealing in children’s fiction. For the record, those publishers include:

  • The Jomo Kenyatta Foundation
  • East African educational Publishers
  • Oxford University Press
  • Heinemann
  • Word Alive
  • Story Moja


Let me make it very clear that there is a big difference between publishers and commercial printers. Printers (the people who ‘do’ your business cards, letterheads, calendars etc) don’t publish anything. Neither does your computer, despite the misguided term ‘desktop publishing.’ That’s just ‘printing’. A real publisher does a lot more, including Editing, Cover Design, Illustrations, Handling Legal Issues, Marketing, Distribution etc. In fact, the word ‘publish’ actually comes from ‘publicize’/‘to make public’. If you distribute literature to the public, then that literature is said to be ‘published’. Now that we have the Internet, a document that is being viewed by a large number of people (like those Yahoo!, Daily Nation or e-zine articles) is ‘published’ (albeit ‘Internet published’). On that front, the best example I can think of is the Kenneth Starr Report.

Kenneth Starr was the man who tried to impeach US President Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair. When all was said and done, Starr posted his entire report online for free. Such was the frenzy as millions scrambled for the report that it broke a world record for number of people accessing a single document at the same time. The Kenneth Starr report is therefore ‘published’ and was read by more people than would read your average best-selling novel. In contrast to Kenneth Starr, a person who is sitting on top of all 500 copies of his memoir that he had ‘pressed’ by a local printer is not ‘published’. At best, he’s ‘printed’ (or ‘printed and bound’) but he still has a long way to go. Here’s a final illustration, this time from The Holy Bible. On hearing that Saul and his sons have been massacred by the Philistine army, King David cries: ‘Tell it (the story of the tragedy) not in Gath, publish it not in Ashkelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice.’ (2 Samuel 1:20) As the Gutenberg Press had not been invented, he obviously did not mean: ‘Don’t let that story appear in the Daily Nation’ or ‘Don’t send the manuscript to Oxford University Press.’ He obviously meant: ‘Don’t relay the news (of the tragedy)’, or simply ‘Don’t publicize it’.


Every writer needs an editor. They are the unsung heroes of the book world. The reason why self-published books often come up short is because they’re not professionally edited. They usually have typos, logical errors (eg. A character driving a 2011 S-Class Mercedes in a story set in 2008) and weak points (that could have been improved on or done without). The good thing with traditional publishers is that they have editors who can help you prepare the manuscript for the next step. An editor explores issues of plot, theme, characterization and language. He notes the ‘strong points’ and the ‘weak points’ of the manuscript. Some publishers have what they call an ‘in-house style’. It basically means conforming to a certain standard but can involve such small details as the fonts used, single or double quotation marks and the level of detail they want in descriptions. Again, the Editor sees to it that the manuscripts conform.

It has been said that a local editor has about six manuscripts on his desk at any one time. I tend to think that it’s ten or more. It appears that they are usually swamped and that’s why they take so long to get back to you on your manuscript. Some publishers are now hiring ‘readers’, the way Hollywood movie studios used to. This helps the publishers move faster through the ‘slush pile’ looking for publishable material. When Yusuf K. Dawood won the 2011 Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature for his book The Eye of the Storm, his publisher came under fire for having ‘sat’ on the manuscript for years. In a swift rejoinder, through the press, another writer defended the publisher, East African Educational Publishers, saying that the win was actually proof of EAEP’s professionalism in not ‘rushing’ the book (but doing a good job of developing it instead). EAEP has a long history of winning prizes. The inaugural Wahome Mutahi Prize for Literature, for example, went to Onduko Bw’Atebe for Verdict of Death (EAEP, 2006). The secret to their success, according to EAEP’s head of publishing, is in ‘manuscript selection and editing.’

All editors are not created equal. Take magazine editor Wayua Muli, for example. She helmed the ground-breaking Saturday magazine pullout in the Daily Nation. It was definitely a game-changer with its spicy stories, lots of colour and layer of glamour. When she left, the magazine changed (for worse). It later morphed into a woman’s magazine. But if you could get your hands on one of the original issues, you would see the difference. Ms. Muli was also initially at the helm of the E. A. Standard’s youth entertainment magazine Pulse. When she left, there was a noticeable change. She has since taken her magic touch to glossy magazines such as Eve Girl and others. It reminds me of movie director Stephen Spielberg (Jaws, E.T., Schlindler’s List, Jurassic Park, The Lost Word). While the scripts/stories are written by others (Jaws was based on the novel by Peter Benchley; Jurassic Park and The Lost World were novels by Michael Crichton) and acted out by some of the biggest actors in Hollywood, there’s no denying that Spielberg makes every film his own. The effect can’t be defined; it’s just some kind of ‘Spielberg magic’.


A lot has been said about self-publishing. Most people self-publish their books when they can’t get a publisher or they have a book that is unlikely to appeal to a mass audience, like a memoir. Many Kenyans have gone the self-publishing route, which is encouraging because, as we shall see, self-publishing will be much more affordable in future. Kenyans who have no regrets about self-publishing include Anthony Gitonga (For This Cause, Made For Greatness) who mainly writes motivational material.

There’s what is commonly referred to as ‘vanity publishing’ or the ‘vanity press’. This is a situation where a person has a manuscript (probably not publishable material) and simply pays a printing press to produce a certain number of copies. The problem with these invoice-the-author vanity presses is that they offer no ‘book development’. It’s all mechanical. They may as well be pressing restaurant menus or next year’s calendars. Once the author gets his copies, he realizes that the hard work is only beginning: he now has to seek his own publicity; approach bookshops, schools and libraries; handle arising issues (like poorly bound copies being returned); do his own sales tracking and so on. If only he had a publisher!
There’s another more professional approach to self-publishing:

The author approaches a self-publishing firm that charges more but offers further ‘author services’ eg. Editing, Getting ISBN numbers and Marketing. Locally, such outfits include Big Books Ltd. In the digital age, these ‘author services’ firms can be found online and they offer a ‘menu’ in order to fit the author’s pocket. For example, an author may want 500 paperback books with an ISBN number but he can’t afford to take the Marketing option. The best known such company is iUniverse. Others include AuthorHouse, Infinity Publishing, Llumina Press and Aventine Press. If they handle all aspects of publishing, one might ask, then why aren’t they publishers? ‘Author services’ firms do exactly that – they offer services to authors. They don’t analyze/reject manuscripts, they don’t ‘sign you up’, they don’t promote you (eg. Submitting your book to award contests), they take no responsibility for your content, they don’t own any of the rights (you’re even free to engage other author services) and so on. A traditional publisher is more caring; they invest in your work and can be sued over the publication. Once they’re in, they’re in. You can’t order them to just print out a thousand copies and slap on an ISBN number and barcode. It has to be a committed relationship. And anyone else publishing the same book as the first publisher is a pirate and can be arrested. In addition, there are many websites where you can send a manuscript for review. These include BookConnector and Bookpleasures.com.

Another option for the would-be author is the Print-On-Demand (POD) system that has been made possible by digital printing technology. Remember when if you needed to print something commercially, you had to order a certain minimum or incur losses? All that is gone. With POD (next-generation publishing) you can order one copy of anything! Welcome to the future.

POD (a branch of the larger Manufacture-On-Demand paradigm) is not another passing cloud. It’s a new economic model that helps eliminate waste (of money, resources, storage space etc). It’s especially good for specialized books that aren’t expected to sell very many copies eg. biographies, photo albums, books on gardening, interior design etc. Even traditional publishers can make their out-of-print titles available via POD.

Print-On-Demand does not refer to e-books. A POD book is a real book with glossy covers, printed pages and so on. The only difference is that a copy is produced only when a customer places an order. There’s no initial ‘print run’, no inventory.

I am deeply involved with POD systems. In my view, POD is the closest we have come to a ‘Promised Land’ for writers. Almost anyone sitting on a manuscript can now be published, as long as he or she is willing to do their own marketing. You can also buy ISBN numbers and barcodes which enable your book to enter the mainstream book market and may be made available at Amazon.com (by far the world’s biggest seller of e-books) and Barnesandnoble.com.

The first book I ever placed on a Print-on-Demand system was The Moon is Made of Green Cheese but there’s a story connected with how that came to be:

I am a prose writer but I’ve always loved poetry, especially the classics. Occasionally, I pen a poem, usually following a burst of inspiration (For example, I wrote Remember the Lions after watching the movie The Ghost and the Darkness). Since my job as Web Designer compels me to spend almost the entire day online, in the mid-2000’s, I started posting individual poems online to see what other people thought of them. After getting encouraging comments from such websites as Authorsden.com, I started thinking of looking for a publisher instead of posting for free. I downloaded the poems (14 at the time) and sent them to Sasa Sema Publications. I had seen the Sasa Sema founder, Lila Luce, (a wonderful, wonderful, lady) on TV some years earlier talking about her business and calling for manuscripts. Some time later, I received a letter informing me that they could not publish my manuscript. Not long afterwards, however, Lila (who I only recently discovered is the grand-daughter of Time magazine founder, Henry Luce) called me up and said that Sasa Sema would be interested in publishing the material. She liked the poems even the first time, she said, but back then they were not considering poetic works. I asked if I could write more poems so that they would be enough to make a book and she agreed. Alas, my poetry muse visits about as often as Haley’s Comet and I took too long to complete the manuscript. One night, I was watching the news when I learnt that Sasa Sema Publications was being absorbed by Longhorn Publishers. I knew that was bad news for me. I have a very experimental way of writing (‘Rules are what the artist breaks’ – Bill Bernbach) and I doubted that the larger publisher, which deals mainly in textbooks, would take to the poems. Lila forwarded my manuscript to Longhorn but, as expected, they did not proceed with publication.
With about 50 poems in my collection, I returned to the Internet to look for other publishing options and discovered Print-on-Demand for the first time. My poetry book, The Moon is Made of Green Cheese, is currently available on the POD website Lulu.com, both as an e-book (cheaper, faster to get) and a bound copy. Potential buyers can read the first ten pages for free. Free samples of the poems are also available on my official website,   www.alexandernderitu.com    

As of late 2011, The Moon is Made of Green Cheese is also available on the Amazon Kindle.

Lulu.com is a US-based company that provides a robust online sales and distribution platform for a wide variety of products, from photo albums to comic books. Once a buyer orders a book, Lulu prints, binds and ships the book in 4-6 days. US customers receive their orders faster since they’re in the same country as the publisher. In 2006, Lulu.com received a Web 2.0 Award for their Books category. In the Lulu system, the author sets the cover price, chooses the type of binding (stapled, perfect bound etc), designs his own covers (or chooses from group of templates) and retains all the intellectual property rights. You can even decide whether your book will be a hardback or a paperback.

[1] Now ‘Moran (E.A.) Publishers Ltd’

Out with The Old, In With the New

‘Congratulations to you
With sad regrets
I’m tired of the old shit
Let the new shit begin.’
- EELS, Old Shit/New Shit (song)

‘You cannot hold the past and embrace the future at the same time.’
– Pastor Randy Morrison, TV’s A Commonsense Approach

‘You need to break out of your mental prison
I’m the Free-man to give you your Shawshank Redemption.’

-          Alexander Nderitu, Demons 2 (song)

The end is truly here for the old generation of Kenyan writers whose heydays were the ‘70’s and ‘80’s (Notice that that was before personal computers changed the world forever). So much has happened in recent times that the old writings will have to be confined to the ‘classics’ section of the (online?) bookstores as the ‘dot com’ generation seeks more relevant material and more contemporary storytelling techniques.

Since the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, the Cold War has ended, Communism been eroded, political idealism
shrunk, democracy been eclipsed by ‘corporate-ocracy’, the Internet has been invented, e-books have emerged, entertainment options have multiplied, micro computers have become commonplace, cell phones are all the rage, new world leaders have risen, more wars have been fought (including some ghastly genocides) and the grip of oligarchy has tightened. Early African writing doesn’t touch on any of these issues and its relevance is now in question.

A novel like Things Fall Apart by Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe (about the effect of the coming of the ‘White Man’ on traditional African society) is so old, it is believed to be Africa’s first novel (1951).  When I wrote When the Whirlwind Passes exclusively for the Internet, it was one of Africa’s first digital novels (if not the first). The year was 2001 – exactly 50 years since Achebe penned his signature novel. And reflecting on how much things had changed, my ‘book’ wasn’t even made of paper! And yet, there are those reviewers who would rather discuss Achebe’s novel to this day. Talk of being ‘stuck in time’.

It’s time to turn a page, folks. Life doesn’t move backwards, it moves forward.

This year, I realized that many of the global superstar writers I looked up to as a teenager are now dead – S. J. Perelman, Mario Puzo, Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon, James Hadley Chase. It has come to my realization that we (the ‘dot com’ writers) are the new kids on the block. Even the living greats like Stephen King, Jackie Collins and Mary Higgins Clark are writing or have written their memoirs. It’s a tacit admission that their careers are drawing to a close.

So be it. I am a youth now (under 35 years of age). Soon – in the blink of any eye – I’ll be middle-aged, and then old, and then gone. There’s no profit in fighting the future – we’re going to get off the stage on way or another, whether we like it or not. ‘Everybody has got to die,’ US novelist William Saryan observed, ‘but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.’ Bestselling French novelist Frédéric Dard (himself now deceased) was closer to the point when he remarked: ‘(President) De Gaulle spent his life becoming immortal…and then he died.’ Earnest Hemingway had no misgivings about saying farewell to the world: ‘Let’s give my life a miss,’ he is quoted as saying.

It is with sheer and utter respect that I say, ‘Goodbye, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Francis D. Imbuga,
Micere Mugo…and all other living members of that generation.’ We, the writers of the future, give you a standing ovation for your lifetime achievements. Your place in literary history is assured.