OverDrive - an e-commerce, software conversion and e-publishing applications leader - has just expanded an e-book technology centre by adding 200 e-book editors. This happened in Montego Bay, Jamaica - one of less privileged spots on earth. The centre now provides a vertical e-publishing service - from manuscript editing to conversion to Quark (for POD), Adobe, and MS Reader ebook formats. Thus, it is not confined to classic sweatshop cum production centre so common in Less Developed Countries (LDC's). It is a full fledged operation with access to cutting edge technology.
The Jamaican OverDrive is harbinger of things to come and outcome of a confluence of a few trends.
First, there is insatiable appetite big publishers (such as McGraw-Hill, Random House, and Harper Collins) have developed to converting their hitherto inertial backlists into e-books. Gone are days when e-books were perceived as merely a novel form of packaging. Publishers understood cash potential this new distribution channel offers and value added to stale print tomes in conversion process. This epiphany is especially manifest in education and textbook publishing.
Then there is maturation of industry standards, readers and audiences. Both supply side (title lists) and demand side (readership) have increased. Giants like Microsoft have successfully entered fray with new e-book reader applications, clearer fonts, and massive marketing. Retailers - such as Barnes and Noble - opened their gates to e-books. A host of independent publishers make good use of negligible-cost distribution channel that Internet is. Competition and positioning are already fierce - a good sign.
The Internet used to be an English, affluent middle-class, white collar, male phenomenon. It has long lost these attributes. The digital divides that opened up with early adoption of Net by academe and business - are narrowing. Already there are more women than men users and English is language of less than half of all web sites. The wireless Net will grant developing countries chance to catch up.
Astute entrepreneurs are bound to take advantage of business-friendly profile of manpower and investment-hungry governments of some developing countries. It is not uncommon to find a mastery of English, a college degree in sciences, readiness to work outlandish hours at a fraction of wages in Germany or USA - all combined in one employee in these deprived countries. India has sprouted a whole industry based on these competitive endowments.
Here is how Steve Potash, OverDrive's CEO, explains his daring move in OverDrive's press release dated May 22, 2001:
"Everyone we are partnering with in US and worldwide has been very excited and delighted by tremendous success and quality of eBook production from OverDrive Jamaica. Jamaica has tremendous untapped talent in its young people. Jamaica is largest English-speaking nation in Caribbean and their educational and technical programs provide us with a wealth of quality candidates for careers in electronic publishing. We could not have had this success without support and responsiveness of Jamaican government and its agencies. At every stage agencies assisted us in opening our technology centre and staffing it with trained and competent eBook professionals. OverDrive Jamaica will be pioneering many of advances for extending books, reference materials, textbooks, literature and journals into new digital channels - and will shortly become foremost centre for eBook automation serving both US and international markets".