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Wits University Press publisher, Veronica Klipp on the costs of losing local research to global publishers

Writing in the University World News, Wits University Press publisher, Veronica Klipp says local scholarly publishing faces the challenges of the small local market and that the costs of losing local research to global publishers is high.

South Africa boasts an impressive pedigree of scholarly publishing, beginning with the establishment of the University of the Witwatersrand Press, now known simply as Wits University Press or WUP, in 1922, the same year the university was formed.

Presses were later established at the University of Natal, now the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN Press) and the University of South Africa (Unisa Press) in the 1950s, and most recently at the University of Cape Town (UCT Press) in the early 1990s.

In addition to university presses there are scholarly publishers at research institutes such as the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC Press) and the Africa Institute of South Africa – AISA, which publishes mainly journals – as well as commercial publishers with agendas that at least partially overlap with those of university presses, such as SUN Media based at Stellenbosch, among others.

These presses are mostly located in the research arms of their institutions, and most publish in the humanities and social sciences. They are meticulous about peer review, adhering to international ‘best practice’ standards, and are known for the quality of their publications.

In recent years, book publication by local academics has been incentivised after the Academy of Science of South Africa or ASSAf lobbied for an increase in the subsidies for books provided by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

This has doubled the ‘points’ a book can earn, up to an equivalent of 10 journal articles. The funds are paid to the universities where authors are based, which have different policies on how they are allocated; usually they go to the authors’ faculties with a percentage allocated to authors’ research accounts.

It is estimated that the scholarly publishing sector produces 60 to 70 books per annum – more or less equivalent to the output of one small to medium publisher in the United Kingdom or United States.

Turnover from these books is less than half a percent of that of the entire publishing industry, which is dominated by educational publishing (65% of turnover). The general trade sector accounts for around 25%, the academic sector (including scholarly books) for 10%.

The state of play

The overarching mission of the university presses is to publish research for the public good and to grow the knowledge base of the country – a particularly important aim in a young democracy.

Yet this mission has had to be responsive to the increasing financial austerity universities operate in. What works in the presses’ favour is the fact that scholarly publishing here is hybrid: books are often aimed at general readers as well, and there is a huge appetite in South Africa for titles in the areas of politics, history and other cross-over non-fiction.

The early 2000s saw a publishing boom in South Africa, which resulted in greater market reach also for scholarly books. At this time our economy was growing and university presses benefited: print runs often exceeded 1,000 units and many bookshops offered an extensive range with serious scholarly work displayed alongside general trade books.

More recently, our records show that scholarly books sell on average 650 units (many sell less) over a number of years and the concept of the ‘long tail’ of small sales over an extended period also applies locally.

While the relatively small size of the local academy may be one reason for low sales, the fact that most local presses only publish on South African or Southern African subject matter limits the potential audience.

In this context it is also relevant that dissemination on the continent remains a challenge, though some co-publication partnerships have been established. Simply raising prices to international levels (which are geared towards library sales) won’t work in our price-sensitive local market.

Adjusting to a new world

To overcome the challenges of the small local market, presses have tried to maximise international sales through print distribution and export, and engaged in co-publications.

The establishment of digital publishing and distribution networks has, of course, radically altered business models and the possibilities for global distribution of content.

Digital aggregators, print-on-demand models and creation of ONIX metadata for greater visibility are the new dissemination tools developed by international commercial operations, yet many local presses seem not to have taken advantage of them.

It is important to try to understand what is holding them back, and it may have something to do with not being able to visualise the advantages offered by new technologies, especially as the local market has not taken them up.

However, there may a bigger structural problem at play.

University presses here function in a context of extreme austerity with little support from their parent institutions.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: in an attempt to save costs, presses are not capacitated in terms of staff or technology; but working in this environment means that its staff members have their noses to the production grindstone, they don’t get to travel, and their access to the global scholarly industry – with the potential to upskill technologically – is compromised.

Academics opt for international publishers

Perhaps this is one of the reasons many academics prefer to publish with international publishers – their reach and impact in the territories that dominate the knowledge economy is just greater.

The South African sector is, in fact, dominated by global North players, especially large commercial publishers.

The origins lie to some extent in our colonial history, but also in the managerialism that began to influence the academy in the early 1990s in an era of rapid globalisation, which saw a sell-off of journals to global companies and even of presses, such as UCT Press to Juta.

As a result, the overwhelming proportion of South African research is published by international publishers, and the academy is forced to buy back its own knowledge, often at exorbitant prices.

ASSAf has conducted research on the publishing patterns of local academics which is to be released soon. In the meantime, statistics for 2013 and 2014 from Wits’ research office show that only 30% to 40% of research published in books or book chapters was published by local publishers.

What needs to be done

As research output across the continent continues to grow, we will have to radically improve the capacities of local university presses if we want to have any chance of controlling our own outputs in the global knowledge economy.

Perhaps the first step universities should take is to value the contributions of local presses to their research missions. This would need to go hand in hand with capacitation, for example through the allocation of a percentage of state research output subsidies to the presses.

The presses, on the other hand, need to demonstrate their ability to disseminate and create impact in the global knowledge economy. In this way they can contribute to the prestige of the local academy, which must have been a key reason for establishing the first university press in the early 20th century.

In many ways, the contribution made by university presses since that time has remained unchanged – namely to disseminate important research from the global South, thereby contributing to international research agendas.

Indigenous Shona Philosophy aims to contribute to the dissemination of the thoughts of the Shona

Indigenous Shona PhilosophySome of the most provoctive questions confronted by philosophers in Africa are grounded in historical memory.

Among these are the experiences of conquest and the subsequent peripheralisation of most things African including its knowledge and philosophy. This book is in part a response to this nemetic experience.

The book is a critical reconstruction of indigenous Shona philosophy as an aspect of the African intellectual heritage. It aims to retrace the epistemic thread in the indigenous traditions of the Shona and to lay out the philosophy imbued in them. Every civilisation constructs for itself an intellectual heritage and archive from which it draws inspiration.

In this book the author argues that philosophy in Africa has a historical responsibility to help drive the unfinished humanistic project of decolonisation and to reclaim the African past in search of identity and authentic liberation. That entails, as the author points out, opening up those indigenous horizons of thinking and knowing that have been held hostage by colonial modernity and which now face potential extinction.

On this basis African philosophy will be able not only to set itself on the path to total self-affirmation, but also to repair the colonial wound and deal with various forms of epistemic injustices that afflict the continent. This book is one of the first comprehensive texts to be written on the philosophical thinking of the indigenous Shona – that group of people credited with the founding of the ancient Great Zimbabwe civilisation and for constructing the Great Zimbabwe UNESCO world heritage monuments.

The book aims to contribute to the dissemination of the thoughts of the Shona, whose culture and philosophical ideas have not been sufficiently explored, but which continue to influence the lives of its peoples to this day. Through this book the author seeks to confer this intellectual heritage with the immortality it deserves, and, therefore, keep those classical ideas alive for posterity. According to the author the ultimate goal of philosophy is to champion dialogue among the world’s different civilisations in pursuit of truth, knowledge, and justice.

In this globalised world, knowledge of each other’s cultures and the assumptions that inform our thinking and actions- including- inaction are fundamental to the future of humanity. By reconstructing the philosophy of one of Africa’s indigenous cultures, the author not only lays down the basis for dialogue across cultures, but he also opens the opportunity for scholars in Africa to dialogue with their past, critically analyse it and, where possible, appropriate its ideals to improve humanity.

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Book Bites: 24 September 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

Let Go My HandLet Go My Hand
Edward Docx
, Picador
****
Larry Lasker is dying. Louis, his youngest son, is taking him in a camper van on the kind of road trip they enjoyed as a young family. Except that this time, the destination is Switzerland, to Dignitas, to discuss ending Larry’s life. Lou’s two half-brothers join them, and together they rifle through the baggage of their collective past. It all sounds rather bleak, but in fact, while it’s poignant, the novel is often funny. It is thoughtful and inquisitive – how could it not be, in the shadow of death? – but it wears its philosophy lightly, with surprising and enjoyable detours through matters of love, duty, family and the big question, how to live and how to die. Perhaps as these men do, enjoying the simple pleasures of food and wine, music, connection and companionship – on their way to the inevitable end. – Kate Sidley @KateSidley

Operation RelentlessOperation Relentless
Damien Lewis, Quercus
****
Lewis’s latest book raises interesting questions about “The Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout, labelled as such due to his infamy as a global arms dealer. Was Bout simply a shrewd businessman who flew anything and everything, or was he indeed a Lord of War? And if so how did he obtain US government contracts to bring freight to Iraq? Lewis takes us on the mesmerising journey of Bout’s rise and fall – culminating in a 25-year sentence following a US Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation. Operation Relentless reads like a James Bond thriller yet it is also an intense look at one of the world’s most reviled personalities. – Guy Martin

Bad SeedsBad Seeds
Jassy Mackenzie, Umuzi
****
Fans of PI Jade de Jong will be delighted their kick-butt heroine is back. The security of a nuclear research centre in Joburg is under threat and Jade is called to investigate. But fate places her in the company of the No1 suspect. As the body count climbs, Jade finds herself running for her life alongside a potentially deadly criminal. Fans will adore Jade’s emotional arc along with the plot twists. But do not fear, crime fans, if you have not read earlier books in the series. Bad Seeds is a page-turner that can stand alone and be enjoyed by all who love thrillers. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

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I'm telling you - celebrate your South African English heritage with this book, my bru!

Besides recognisable characteristics of South African English, such as ‘Vrystaat’, ‘ou boet’, ‘eksê’ or ‘nogal’, speakers of South African English give clear indications – even if their accent is not marked – of their being South African. Many of our South African English structures have unexpected meanings or usages which are not found in General English.

South Africans are familiar with phrases such as threw the cat with a stone, or forgot her jersey at the restaurant or hot-hot chips. In South African English a situation is very, very dire and someone therefore needs an advice.

These may sound strange – or even incorrect – to some, but all of these are examples of the unique English elements of the English that is spoken in South Africa.

Written in an accessible style, each chapter features words and phrases from different aspects of life with actual examples of usage from written and spoken sources. Photos and illustrations enliven the text.

 
 
In 2002 Malcolm Venter was the recipient of the English Academy’s highest honour, the Gold Medal Award. He has been a teacher for 36 years, a part-time lecturer at the US and co-author of a number of English school textbooks. He holds a Doctorate in English Linguistics and is currently the National Chair of the SA Council for English Education.

Jean Branford holds a PhD in dialect lexicography from Rhodes University, with particular reference to South African English. She was the compiler of A Dictionary of South African English and Associate Editor of A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles. She is the author of numerous papers, poetry and verse translations.

‘I did finally buy a copy of Say Again? I am enjoying it hugely. It’s a real time-guzzler – ‘I’ll just check out the entry on XYZ’, and an hour later I’m still absorbed in it! Congratulations on a really fascinating social history as well as a lively linguistic record!’ – Robin Malan, author of Ah Big Yaws? A Guard to Sow Theffricun Innglissh

‘This is a book for every South African. It shows how South African English is changing as we speak. New phrases, words and expressions are being invented and coloured to express our variety and unique nature’. – Prof Rajendra Chetty, President of the English Academy of Southern Africa

‘Written by eminent scholars in linguistics and lexicography, Say Again will be a source of edification and delight to anyone interest in language.’ – Prof Rajend Mesthrie, Professor of Linguistics, UCT

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Watch: Daniel Magaziner discusses The Art of Life in South Africa on SABC 2 Morning Live

From 1952 to 1981, South Africa’s apartheid government ran a school for the training of African art teachers at Indaleni, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal. The Art of Life in South Africa is about the students, teachers, art, ideas, and politics that led to the school’s founding, and which circulated during the years of its existence at a remote former mission station. It is a story of creativity, beauty, and community in twentieth-century South Africa.

Daniel Magaziner radically reframes apartheid-era South African history. Against the dominant narrative of apartheid oppression and black resistance, this book focuses instead on a small group’s efforts to fashion more fulfilling lives through the ironic medium of an apartheid-era school. Lushly illustrated with almost 100 images, this book gives us fully formed lives and remarkable insights into life under segregation and apartheid.

Daniel Magaziner is associate professor of history at Yale University. He is the author of The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968–1977.

‘A richly suggestive and moving contribution to South African intellectual history.’
- Achille Mbembe, author of Critique of Black Reason

‘This book is as important for students of global modernism as it is for scholars of South African art, history, and politics.’
- Tamar Garb, author of Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography

‘A profoundly human story of the institutional and social constraints under which African artists operated and the different ways they sought to produce beauty in the midst of oppression.’
- Frederick Cooper, author of Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State

‘A meditation on what happens if we examine a past that is shaped by broader historical forces (in this case apartheid) but that cannot be reduced to them.’
- Clifton Crais, coeditor of The South Africa Reader: History, Culture, Politics

Here Daniel discusses his remarkable book on SABC2:
 
 

 

The Art of Life in South Africa

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Hostels in South Africa examines the transformation of Durban's KwaMashu Hostel from a single-sex men's hostel to family accommodation in community residential units

Hostels in South AfricaThis book is about the transformation of KwaMashu Hostel in Durban in the twenty-first century – from a single-sex men’s hostel to family accommodation in community residential units.

It presents the continuities and discontinuities that take place as hostel-dwellers grapple with everyday livelihood struggles.

The broader South African labour market does not make it easy for rural-urban migrants, who continue to make the same journeys their grandfathers, fathers and uncles, and later their grandmothers, mothers and aunts took, in search of employment opportunities, although the context for these journeys has changed immeasurably.

Hostels in South Africa engages with challenges and triumphs of hostel-dwellers, as they both resist and embrace the process of transformation, the clashes between men and women and across generations, and feelings of nostalgia for the past.

Because the author spent time living at KwaMashu Hostel during the two years of her fieldwork, this book presents an intimate view of hostels from the inside.
 
 
Nomkhosi Xulu Gama is a researcher at the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology and a senior lecturer in General Education. Her main interests are in formerly single-sex workers’ hostels, rural-urban connections, and gender and livelihoods. She is a Fulbright Scholar and is currently the deputy chairperson for the South African Sociological Association.

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