Interview: Kerneels Breytenbach, Publishing Director, NB Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa
(1) What can you tell us about the Cape Town Book Fair (June 16-19, 2007)?
The Cape Town Book fair is organised with the cooperation of the organizers of the Frankfurt Book Fair. This year's fair is the second in this format (there have been a number of previous annual fairs). The fair will be held in the Cape Town International Conference Centre, within walking distance of several hotels, the city centre and the Cape Town Waterfront. Last year's fair, with Frankfurt's help, proved that there is a real need for such an event, not only for the sake of the trade, but because the general public is keen to support it.
(2) How would you describe the South African publishing industry?
The South African publishing industry driven in part by publishers who supply books for our educational departments. We have nine official languages, but most educational publishing is done in English and Afrikaans (a derivative of Dutch).
The general trade, though smaller in size, is vibrant and keen competitors for the mostly British imports. It is thought (but not proven) that one in four sales of general publications is locally produced, and the rest will be of imported British books. A number of British and American companies have publishing arms here (Random House, Penguin, Macmillan, for example), while others enjoy thriving sales through local agents (HarperCollins, Simon & Shuster, Hodder Headline, Time Warner, Orion). Local general publishers include NB Publishers, Juta/Double Storey, Umuzi, and Jacana.
Cape Town is still an important port for world maritime commerce. Above, you can see a portion of the docks just beyond the Cape Town Convention Center where the June book fair is held.
(3) Would you tell us about your own company, NB Publishers?
NB Publishers is an umbrella company for several well-known Afrikaans and English imprints: Human & Rousseau, Tafelberg, Pharos Dictionaries, Kwela Books and Best Books (the latter being an educational publisher). Apart from Best Books, which is based in Pretoria, all the others imprints share offices, marketing and sales from our Cape Town base, being the premises of the Naspers and Media24 media group. (Naspers is listed on the New York stock exchange.)
Some of our imprints are:
Tafelberg Publishers, one of the leading general publishers in South Africa, is best known for publishing Afrikaans fiction, authoritative political works, children's and youth literature in all the country's languages, and a wide variety of illustrated and non-illustrated non-fiction. Tafelberg was established in 1951.
Human & Rousseau is one of South Africa's leading general publishers as well. Established in 1959 with the aim to publish mainly Afrikaans books, it now publishes a large number of English titles. The focus is on quality Afrikaans literature, popular literature, children's and youth literature for the general market, as well as cookery, self-help and other non-fiction books in English and Afrikaans. Human & Rousseau also publishes educational books under the imprint Best Books.
The mission of Kwela Books is to make the South African book culture more inclusive; to nurture and promote exciting local writing talent of established as well as new writers; to spread a love of reading by producing books accessible and interesting to the broader community, while at the same time honouring as ultimate guidelines quality and integrity.
Pharos is the only dedicated dictionary publisher in South Africa.
All our imprints cater in part to the children and youth market. NB Publishers publish approximately 100 children's books per year. About 40 percent of these are co-productions.
(4) Approximately how many books other those for children do you publish annually?
Depending on the year, a minimum of 220. It must be kept in mind that Best Books frequently deliver 70 titles annually, while the fiction departments of Human & Rousseau, Tafelberg and Kwela Books deliver well over a hundred new or revised fiction titles.
(5) What types of books do you license from other publishers and can you give us several recent examples?
Both Human & Rousseau and Tafelberg licence nonfiction titles (cookery books, lifestyle, Mind/Body/Spirit, health, business, self-improvement, etc.) from both U.S. and U.K. publishers. The number of books we license depends on how favourable the exchange rate is. Most recent example will be The Shape Cook Book (U.S. source) and one on Aromatherapy (U.K. source).
(6) Are the books you license from other houses and authors published in both English and Afrikaans?
We frequently do publish simultaneously in both languages-especially when we manage to sell the titles to book clubs. The Afrikaans version in such a case would help to subsidise the English version. If we had to publish for the general trade only, the English version would outsell the Afrikaans version.
Thanks, Kerneels. After meeting with you for years at Frankfurt, we're really looking forward to meeting on your home pitch at the Cape Town Fair in June.
Just above is a variety of Cape Aloe Vera, quite different from that which we grow in Texas and use as a treatment for burns. South Africa has more than 20,000 different plants, or about 10% of all the known species of plants on Earth, making it particularly rich in plant biodiversity.
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