Alert! The much-speculated-upon new portal for long-form non-fiction, Mampoer, is shortly to receive its christening and will set sail on the high, heaving seas of that quintessence of the web, content, within the next few weeks.
The captains of this experiment in publishing reaffirmed their hardiness and bravery last night by inviting some eighty writers to the Troyeville Hotel for a sneak preview, serving them alcohol (wine and, yes, mampoer) – and then taking questions, some of them tough.
Mampoer, which will be found at www.mampoer.co.za, is a collaboration between noted author Antony Altbeker, publisher and academic Anton Harber, and various personalities from Big Media and elsewhere, including Irwin Manoim, Noko Makgato, Liana Meadon and Fred Withers.
Their object will be familiar to all entrepreneurs who have ventured forth on the digital flood: create a platform that survives by dint of its quality and innovation; attract hundreds, then thousands, then millions of eyeballs; set new standards for its genre (which it possibly invented); gain irreversible momentum; and change the world.
It’s no short order – for the web, of course, is a casino. Mampoer’s founders have placed their bets, after careful consideration, on what Harber called, referring to the ideal size and shape of a piece of writing in the digital age, “the length of the future”: a one-sitting read of roughly 10 000 to 15 000 words, available in multiple formats for consumption across all devices and media forms (including the lowly printout), at a not-quite-rock-bottom price of $2.99 per download.
“We’re not going to publish boring writing,” said Altbeker. Mampoer will cover, inter alia, politics, society and sport, and has a compelling lineup for its initial public eyeing: Kevin Bloom writes on “why Jews hate Richard Goldstone – the nature of Goldstone’s heresy”; Richard Poplak peers into “the rub and tug industry in Johannesburg” following the demise of Lolly Jackson; Jacob Dlamini writes on the biggest disaster to befall the Kruger National Park – a veld fire that killed 24 people, but which happened just before 9/11, and so is lost to history; Andrew Feinstein poses the “ten questions that the arms industry needs to answer”; and Harber himself proffers a profile of Koos Bekker.
There will also be Mampoer Shorts (shots?) on land redistribution, playing cricket against Sachin Tendulkar, the life and times of MaKhumalo – Jacob Zuma’s elder wife – and the world of rugby stars Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis.
But Altbeker, Harber & Co hadn’t called the meeting at the Troyeville Hotel to boast about the depth of their stack of commissioned work: they were busking to add to Mampoer’s stable. “Writers are at the core of this,” said Harber. It won’t work if it doesn’t work for writers.”
So they told the gathered writers what they would get out of publishing with Mampoer: namely, 30% of the net sales, less VAT – roughly R6 – R7 per download – a “royalty” structure derived from a business model that sees Mampoer take on all traditional publishing costs, including editing, design, marketing and PR, plus, of course, all costs associated with the digital infrastructure (hosting, development, paywall maintenance, and so on).
Articles on Mampoer will be published without anti-piracy measures to encourage widespread reading and seeding. Whether this strategy will interfere with the rather stiff sales targets the founders have set – 5 000 downloads per piece – is a question only time will answer.
Other questions – delivered, in several cases, with the sting of skepticism – were answered on the spot. Why a paywall? “Paywalls are going up everywhere – people are becoming accustomed to buying quality content online, and I absolutely believe that the only way to create quality journalism is to get people to pay for it”. (Thus Harber.) Will authors be able to publish their work on other platforms? In theory, no: Mampoer wants long-term exclusivity on the pieces it commissions; in practice, however, everything is subject to negotiation. (Thus Altbeker.) How many Mampoer Shorts will be published per year? Roughly 25, or one piece every fortnight. Will the site, or the pieces, carry advertising? It’s not contemplated that they will at this point. Will Afrikaans articles be accepted? Yes, and will be published both in Afrikaans and in translation. Is Mampoer working with traditional book publishers? Yes – watch this space!
Finally, why the name “Mampoer” – ? The word saw much debate, but was ultimately deemed to fulfill the main requirement of being memorable, as set out in a much-read article on how Blackberry got its name, which appeared last October in the pages of another purveyor of long-form non-fiction, The New Yorker.
Writers interested in contributing to Mampoer should send their pitches to email@example.com; here is more detail from the founders – apologies for the poor scan; I lifted the leaflet out from under a bottle of perske mampoer:
Books LIVE wishes the founders of Mampoer good fortune and looks forward to seeing the debut of the website later this year!