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[Posted by Tom Wilson for Phil Davies]

It was interesting to read Elena’s comments about the whole issue of e-book publishing in ‘small languages’

I find it significant that languages which have far more speakers and readers than Welsh are also considered ‘small’ in this context. In the case of Welsh, I am tempted to say that I only wish we were in a situation of ‘relative isolation’ as far as the publishing environment is concerned. Sharing an island, however, with arguably the most powerful language in the world has meant that the publishing industry in Wales has had to respond relatively promptly to the e-publishing revolution, and we have had to abandon our initial ‘wait and see’ position. Every Welsh-language speaker is also able to speak and read English and able to access the whole range of products in that language, if he or she so wishes. These users are, therefore, fully aware of what is available and understandably put pressure on the book trade in Wales, and organisations such as the Welsh Books Council, and our public libraries, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged because they wish to use the new media in their chosen language, namely Welsh.

I am Director of Information and Promotions at the Welsh Books Council (which celebrated its 50th birthday last year). The Welsh Books Council is a national body, funded by the Welsh Government, which provides a focus for the publishing industry in Wales. It provides a number of specialist services (in the fields of editing, design, marketing and distribution) with a view to improving standards of book production and publication in both Welsh and English. It also distributes grants to publishers. The Books Council actively promotes reading and literacy in Wales, and sells Welsh-language and Welsh-interest books on-line through its www.gwales.com website.  With these roles in mind it was natural that the Welsh Government, the book trade, public libraries and members of the public expected us to give a lead on the issue of e-book publishing.

I’ll summarise the steps we have taken so far and note some problems which have arisen. I can elaborate if anyone is interested, but it would be useful to hear if other languages have faced similar issues.

Our initial intention, if resources were available, was to set up a digital repository in cooperation with the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth to provide secure storage of digital files, and a unit at the Welsh Books Council to provide publishers with practical assistance in the task of creating ebooks.  Our efforts to secure the necessary funding in order to allow this vision to be fulfilled proved unsuccessful and, as a result, we  decided to proceed with a short term solution which could be adapted in future as the financial situation improves. This solution involved:

  • Commissioning the Language Technologies Unit at Bangor University to prepare a report on e-publishing in Wales.
  • After considering the report, deciding to adopt the open source EPUB solution which would allow users to read the e-books on a wide range of devices.
  • Deciding to only make available on the gwales.com site those e-books which had Adobe DRM encryption.
  • Further commissioning the Language Technologies Unit at Bangor University to produce technical instructions and guidelines, in order to assist those publishers wishing to  proceed in-house with the task of converting their print pdfs into EPUB files. Other publishers were already starting to use e-book agreggators or external conversion services. Both Bangor reports can be accessed from the Welsh Books Council site.
  • Coming to an arrangement with Gardners, the largest book and e-book distributor in the UK to source e-books through them. This allowed the Council to take advantage of the fact that Gardners stores the e-books on a secure server and applies DRM to the files before they are sent to a customer.
  • Implementing technical and interface changes to the WBC’s  Gwales.com website enabling customers to order and download e-books as they become available.   This was made possible following receipt of financial aid from the Welsh Government .
  • Using  Gardners meant that the WBC did not have to negotiate individual arrangements with a host of suppliers. For example, we would not have been able to access Faber Factory books directly without installing an Adobe server. Using Gardners means that Faber Factory titles became available to Gwales customers.
  • Also, by using Gardners, any bookshop in Wales with an e-commerce website was able to sell exactly the same e-books as Gwales, should they so wish.
  • At the same time as the WBC were moving along these lines Welsh local authority libraries were exploring ways of making e-books available to their readers. A consortium of library authorities was set up and commercial suppliers invited to tender for the work of supplying e-books to libraries. The contract was won by Askews but one of the main concerns of the participating authorities was the fact that no Welsh-language e-books were being offered by the company. Askews, however, is owned by Gardners, and as a result of the WBC’s arrangement with Gardners, the Welsh-language e-books as they become available are also being offered to library users in Wales.
  • Publishers were offered financial incentives to convert their print titles to EPUB format, and so far 88 Welsh-language e-books have been made available as a result of this scheme. The total number of e-books, including Welsh-language and English-language books of Welsh-interest available on the gwales.com site is 476.
  • Both the research conducted in advance and the practical experience of the publishers has shown that converting Welsh-language content to EPUB files which can be successfully opened once DRM has been applied is not as seamless as converting English-language files. The problems revolves around the programme Adobe supplies to enable users to open and read DRM encrypted books, namely Adobe Digital Editions. Here is a description of the problem as outlined by a colleague of ours at the Welsh Government who has been trying to get a response from Adobe.
    Digital Editions is needed to read Adobe DRM-ed EPUB books on Mac or PC desktops, but apparently DE doesn’t ship with a font that has the ‘glyphs’ for certain UTF-8 characters, e.g.  ŷ and ŵ. (y and w with circumflex). This means that publishers of Welsh-language eBooks have been shipping their books with embedded fonts that do contain these missing characters. Or else, these characters would be substituted by ‘?’ But, this swells up the filesize from 100k up to 500k.
  • In addition to following the route described above, one publisher has attempted to place Welsh-language eBooks with Amazon, in order to take advantage of the popularity of the Kindle device. After initially accepting the titles, the Amazon verification process is now rejecting Welsh-language titles. The fact that the word ‘Kindle’ is synonymous with e-reading meant that we were initially criticised for not following the Amazon route.  From initial criticism that Welsh-language e-books were not being made available on Amazon the climate is now changing, however, due in part to Amazon’s perceived status as tax avoiders and their lack of concern for the Welsh language.

I hope this gives you some idea of the current situation in Wales.

D. Philip Davies phil.davies@cllc.org.uk
Cyfarwyddwr Gwybodaeth  a Hyrwyddo/Director of Information and Promotion

Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru/Welsh Books Council,
Castell Brychan, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 2JB
Tel:01970 624151 Ffacs/Fax:01970 625385
http://www.cllc.org.uk http://www.gwales.com