“Open in order to…access and read”

Social Publishers

Social Publishers offer readers an open access reading library in their pockets

Social Publishers (SP) are open access publishers. They create reading materials for neglected audiences. Rather than operate on a profit basis, social publishers are driven by a mission. They see their books as a social goods, to be directed where they are most needed.

To celebrate Open Access Week (October 23–29), I thought that I would shift my gaze from scholarly publishing (which normally gets most of the attention during this week) to social publishing.

Social publishers are different from commercial publishers in three main ways.

  • A social mission (and not profit) is the main driver behind their book production.
  • They use alternate mechanisms (networks, social media, word of mouth etc) to accomplish their mission.
  • They rely on social subsidies / donations / grants / goodwill etc to support their efforts

Books, when they become bound hard-copies, become expensive. Social publisher steer away from large print runs. they invest their efforts in digital activities (layout, design, editing etc). They place digital versions of their books for readers to download. If books are purchased, they are bought in print format, but still are more affordable than a book that was produced traditionally.

Publishers offer quality. They build their reputation on what they select and publish. Social publishers have adopted different mechanisms to ensure quality. Sometimes the book production process is crowd sourced, and professionals contribute their design, authoring, illustrating and editing skills for free. Other times, the book is editable on the platform, and corrections can be made to the digital text. Some social publishers only take popular digital texts to print.

Posting a book onto the web does not lead to reading. Social publishers invest their efforts in growing a digital footprint. Social networks are often used to draw attention to campaigns and then reading materials are linked to these campaigns. Followers within these networks tweet, like and share and thus amplify the possibility for discoverability.

Social publishers can produce reading books that are usually

  • Affordable – the average storybook in a book shop is expensive and many caregivers / parents find that children’s books are priced beyond their means. SP books are usually priced at a low cost or are free
  • Diverse – storybooks often don’t reflect the multiple cultures, different family types and range of heritages. Book shops often don’t stock such stories but SP books set out to meet the need for a disparate audience
  • Prepared to accommodate first language speakers’ needs – for profit publishers work on economies of scale and cannot accommodate all vernacular languages. SP allows is inclusive and vernacular languages and their readers are considered in the storybook production process
  • Distributed using innovative methods – getting storybooks them into the hands of readers is a logistical challenge. SP use a range of alternative channels to make stories available
  • Funded – traditional publishers are sustained when the market is profitable. Social publisher have alternate business models or funding arrangements.

South Africa has a number of social publishers like African Story Book, Bookdash, Fundza, Nal’i Bali and Vula Bula Almost all have digital editions of their books available, formatted in PDF, ePub or as a webpage. Some of these storybooks are published under a Creative Commons licences. Sometimes they also have apps available for mobile devices are associated with these projects. Caregivers can freely install these apps, download the different books and store and read them from their mobile devices.

Beyond open access

October has been Open Access Week. It’s an event that I have been celebrating for the past five years. This year, my commemoration lies beyond the ivory tower.

Although I’m not an academic or a researcher, as an ed techie who is interested in evidence based practice, I value the many open contributions to scholarship that are shared by “intellectuals”. I am neither a teacher or a lecturer, but as person responsible for educational tools and resources, I am dependent on the generous sharing of ideas, manuals, images etc by peers, often enabled by Creative Commons.

This presentation has been put together post Wits. It is my attempt to articulate how “open” can straddle both research and teaching domains. Open Access is primarily about scholarship.  If we are to enable digital capability and teaching excellence in education, then we need to look beyond “access” and see a bigger OPEN picture. To do this, I suggest that we look at three broad domains.

  • Open content (OER, Open Access),
  • Open process (e.g. usually espoused by a particular open proponent ) and
  • Open infrastructure (distributed education, open universities)

If we are to understand what open enables in an education context, then we need a holistic understanding of the concept. The opposite of “open” is not necessarily closed. Binary thinking won’t help us understand what is meant by this commonly used term. To appreciate the value of a particular open initiative in an education setting, we need a broader way of looking at open.


Corrall, S. & Pinfield, S. (2014) Coherence of “open” initiatives in higher education and research: Framing a policy agenda. In: Breaking Down Walls: Culture-Context-Computing, 04 March 2014 – 07 March 2014, Berlin, Germany.