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Jamaican Writers Gear up to Go Digital

Amazon Kindle rests against a stack of print books

Over the past few years digital books have risen from being the underdogs of the print sector to commanding a significant portion of the publishing industry, with digital book sales sometimes outstripping print. So, recently, the Book Industry Association of Jamaica and ConnectID collaborated in the staging of the ‘bookjam’ From Script to Sales: How to Become an eBook Success Story which brought writers, independent publishers and industry hopefuls to the Spanish Court Hotel, New Kingston hoping they would learn more about the phenomenon and how to get in on it.

Ingrid Riley co-founder of ConnectiDThe ensuing discussion was more akin to a Google satellite image than a roadmap, but nonetheless provided useful information about the benefits of going digital, ensuing trends and useful tips toward reaping success in digital sales. The panelists, were drawn from various related areas of the digital publishing and affiliated sectors. It comprised tech-trepreneur David Mullings (Random Media), Amanda Hanna (Kindle author), Lloyd Laing (Jamaica Data Mining Project), Leon Robinson (Insight Studios) and Dr. Franklin Johnstone (Ministry of Education).

Mullings said that digital books bring writers and publishing the same thing it brought music (along with the fear of piracy and a revolutionary technology that ran right over those resistant to change and left them dazed and confused). It breaks down many of the international trade barriers. “It allows you to become instantly international,” he said. He explained that with no additional costs a digital book can be made accessible in multiple territories without the costly hassles of crating anDavid Mullings of Random Mediad shipping.

Much of the discussion centred on the plans of the Ministries of Education and Industry. Dr. Johnstone explained that through the telephone cess, the Ministry of Industry has millions of dollars that it intends to spend on tablets to be used in the schools, and that the MOE recognizes digital books as the way forward. Numerous questions from the audience and even a few of the panelists pointed out, however that there is much to work out regarding the content to be placed on the devices. Dr. Johnstone also admitted that the Ministry had not yet worked out all the kinks.

“Be prepared to write the books but the Ministry has some work to do before,” Mullings advised potential writers and publishers.

One of the major criticisms of the MOE has been that the majority of the nearly $1billion spent on text books by the Ministry goes to overseas publishers. Dr. Johnstone noted that Minister Thwaites is very keen to see a shift, with most of the content being provided by local publishers and writers. He also noted that price will also be a key factor in the content negotiations.

Writer Amanda Hanna and entrepreneur Lloyd LaingIndeed, it seemed that price of digital books is a key factor beyond the education sector. Hanna, who has authored five books, the latest of which is the Mid-life Wife, explained that price is a significant part of her strategy. She explained that all her books are priced at between US$0.99 and US$1.99.

“I’m not Tolstoy. I’m not writing the kind of books that you’re gonna leather bind and put away. I write pop fiction,” she said. “I doubt I’ll ever write anything that’s worth US$2.99.” However her witty relationship driven books have been listed on the Amazon bestselling list and have managed to earn her thousands of US dollars per year, even after Amazon takes its hefty cut.

It was also noted that marketing was critical to the process. Robinson pointed out that writers and publishers need to remember that a digital book is a product just like any other.   He drew on examples of success from different techtrepreneurs highlighting the importance of building an audience.

Overall, it was a worthwhile evening that explored the ongoing courtship of books and digital technology. Ingrid Riley, co-founder of Connectid and moderator of the panel discussion explained that the event was staged to ark Global Social Media “It’s a part of how we actually live, work and play.”

From Script to Sales took place on Thursday, September 27, 2012.