Last week, I returned from the U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba. I was invited by the organizing committee (which included staff from Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit) to participate in a panel on the state of digital publishing trends in the U.S. Scheduled to coincide with the Havana Book Fair, the Mission included panels hosted by U.S. and U.K. publishing professionals as well as our Cuban counterparts. The goal of the visit, which included 30 publishing professionals from the U.S., U.K., Colombia, and Ecuador, was to share our experiences in different areas of publishing, including rights, digital production, operations, and distribution. The Book Institute of Cuba organized the presence of Cuban publishing professionals who provided a counterpoint by exploring the opportunities and challenges present in their industry, which is a combination of independent publishing houses and state run publishing operations.
As the only participating editorial/composition vendor from the United States, I was able to cover the trends of declining e-pub sales and increasing print sales in the trade market, the need for digital as a product in the academic and scholarly markets, as well as the myriad options for pre-editing content, final digital assets, online distribution, and more. My counterparts in the Cuban publishing industry provided glimpses into their own digital ecosystem, including one particularly inspiring platform – Claustrofobias. Claustrofobias is a digital platform for promoting books to readers in the Cuban market using websites and social media. What really made the platform sing for me was that they embraced the fact that many readers in Cuba may not have consistent access – or access at all – to the internet, and engineered a way around that. When they record a YouTube video about a book, they also take the audio of that recording and broadcast it via radio so readers without internet access can still avail themselves of Claustrofobias’ content. Genius!
Sometime later this Spring I’ll post in this blog a condensed version of the presentation I made during the Mission which you will be able to download. Until then, you can learn more about the U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba and its attendees in this Publishers Weekly article, as well as read about the censorship challenges which affected one Cuban author exhibiting with my traveling companions in this article.
Cuba is an amazing country, and as the historic tensions between the U.S. and Cuba thaw, I hope you too will have a chance to visit and experience the island and its wonderful citizens. After all, there are few places on earth where in one day you can meander through an abandoned Spanish fortress filled with publishers and 1 million attendees at the Havana Book Fair, tour a library containing the writings of José Martí, and cap off the day by taking a ride in a 1957 Chevy and seeing Hemingway’s typewriter in person at his estate. (Pictured below.)