Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 28, November 2001 


Community Publishing Project launched in South Africa

Colleen Higgs
Colleen Higgs is Project Manager at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town,
P O Box 15254, Vlaeberg, 8018, South Africa. 21 423 2669 (tel), email:

The Community Publishing Project (CPP) was launched in August 2001 by the Centre for the Book and NB Books in Cape Town. The CPP aims to make it possible for individuals, community groups and community-based organisations to publish books of interest to a particular community, but not cost-effective for a commercial publisher.

The CPP also aims to empower individuals and community groups to develop the necessary skills and capacities to enable them to publish, which in turn means that interesting and worthwhile books which would otherwise not be published will see the light of day.

NB Books has donated R150 000 (US$17,500) over three years to pilot this exciting new publishing project. It will open up entry points into publishing, making more openings for new and marginal voices. The new publishers who will participate in this project will need to learn marketing and how to be publishing and book-selling entrepreneurs.

Hannes van Zyl, Managing Director of Tafelberg Publishers, has been incubating this idea for several years. He believes that books have a beneficial and enriching influence in society, especially books which reflect a diversity of voices and experiences. Commercial publishers can't always justify the publication of books which would probably only have limited market, especially in a country like South Africa where the book-buying market is very small. A project such as this makes possible the publishing of these more marginal works.

Writers who have not been published are often critical of publishers' lack of interest in their writing. However, working as small publishers could make it possible for writers to understand the need for a collaborative relationship between publishers, writers, booksellers and other actors in the book chain. The project will offer mentoring of new publishers by established ones. Writers and community publishers will learn about the crucial importance of marketing and distribution of books. It is not enough to get a book printed; publishing also means marketing and selling. A key aim of the project is to develop new small publishers filled with enthusiasm and imagination in the marketing of the books they produce.

The timeliness of this project is evidenced by the theme of the recent Annual Conference of Women in Writing held in Johannesburg in early September, which tackled the publishing stalemate - whither African women writers, and promoting and enhancing current relationships with publishers.

The CPP was launched with a celebratory exhibition of books. Some were handmade; some were self-published; some had been produced by writers' groups or small publishing companies. The exhibition demonstrated in a lively way the great variety of forms that `the book' can take, and showed that the process of publishing may be more accessible than is usually assumed. There are many possible routes into publishing for those who may be venturing into it for the first time, all of which have their validity. Which method is eventually chosen will depend on the aims and objectives of each particular project, what is being said, who it is aimed at, and how it is intended to reach them. [end]  [BPN, no 28, 2001, p 6.]

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