Mampoer: e-books, South African style


    13 February 2013

    South Africa is not short of exciting, complex current events to be explained, issues to be unpacked, characters to be analysed … stories to be told. Nor is it short of writers with the skill to do this.

    What it has been short of, up till now, is a platform for them to give their readers the story in full – not in book length (we’d have to wait too long for that), but in greater length, and so in greater depth, than a newspaper or magazine article will allow.

    It is this gap that new publishing venture Mampoer aims to fill, making South African long-form journalism regularly available to South African (and other) readers for the first time.

    (Mampoer, pronounced “mum-poo-er”, is a home-distilled fruit liquor with a distinctively South African flavour and potency, usually made from peaches, sometimes marulas.)

    Not too short … not too long

    Mampoer’s mini-books – non-fiction stories of between 8 000 and 15 000 words – are, as puts it, “short enough to read in a sitting, long enough to tell the whole story … Long enough to satisfy, short enough to grip your attention.”

    Too short, though, to be found individually in a bookshop. Which is where smart devices come in. Mampoer’s mini-books are e-books, downloadable from the website and readable on iPads or Android tablets, Kobo, Kindle, Gobii, smart phones, Macs or PCs. Or on paper, if you still prefer it that way.

    For $2.99 a shot (around R26, at the current exchange rate) – 30% of which goes to the writer of the story.

    “I think the time is ripe for journalists to sell direct, and I think the time is ripe for this type of length,” Anton Harber, head of Wits University’s journalism school and one of the founders of the venture, said at the time of Mampoer’s launch in August 2012.

    Speaking to The Witness newspaper, Harber noted that US magazines such as The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Harpers and Vanity Fair had created a space for long-form journalism. “In South Africa, that kind of magazine is not financially viable - not enough readers and buyers,” he said.

    Of course, readers will always be able to find longer material for free on the internet. “But the global trend is that we are going to have to pay to find the quality stuff easily,” Harber said. “This site is for those who want to cut through all the muck and find the best South African stuff quickly.”

    ‘A hefty punch in a small package’

    Mampoer’s initial list of writers supports Harber’s claim, including the likes of award-winning investigative journalist Mandy Weiner (best known for her first book Killing Kebble), Douglas Foster (After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa), Fred de Vries (Rigtingbedonnerd), Kevin Bloom (Ways of Staying), and Justin Fox (The Marginal Safari).

    And Mampoer readers certainly won’t be bored, judging by the site’s current offerings. Richard Poplak takes a close-up look at Johannesburg’s sex industry post-Lolly Jackson in Fifty shades of Jozi, Amy Green documents how the drug ritalin, “crushed and snorted like cocaine, has become a campus craze” in Snorting Rit, and T.O. Molefe spells out how white South Africans still “don’t get it” in Black anger and white obliviousness.

    Firdose Moonda examines the life of perhaps the most private of South Africa’s sporting superstars, cricketer Hashim Amla, in Bearded Wonder, Fred de Vries takes a hard and humorous look at how Australia’s Afrikaner immigrants are doing in The Great Trek, and Justin Fox chronicles “one man’s insane quest to save the near-mythical Cape mountain leopard” in Unspotted

    Mampoer has published 17 “shorts” in the five months since its launch, and according to Irwin Manoim – whose collaborations with Harber started with the pioneering Weekly Mail – the next five are currently in production.

    The other brains behind Mampoer are Noko Makgato, MD of Big Media Publishers, writer and analyst Anthony Altbeker, and former Exclusive Books CEO Fred Withers.

    Smart devices on the increase

    Will the venture succeed? Many factors will decide this, of course, but as Makgato points out, one of the most important determinants looks positive: judging by various reports, sales of tablets are on the up in South Africa.

    New media analyst Arthur Goldstuck reported late last year that more than three-quarters of a million tablets had been sold in South Africa by September, predicting that this number could reach one-million by the end of 2012.

    Local online retailers and both reported that tablets were the second most purchased electronic devices on their websites over December, outperforming PC sales, while tech retailer Incredible Connection reported that, while PCs were still outselling tablets, the gap was closing.

    And last week, mobile giant Vodacom, reporting a 2.2% increase in its South African revenues to R15.5-billion for the fourth quarter of 2012, said this had been driven by a 27.2% growth in equipment revenue from smartphone and tablet sales.

    Shift in how we consume content

    This trend is supported by increasing broadband access in the country, coupled with a shift from fixed-line to mobile access that, according to research outfit World Wide Worx’s Internet Access in South Africa 2012 study, “represents a profound shift in the way South Africans consume content.

    “The 9-5 internet peak, along with the traditional desktop publishing and advertising model that has become the South African standard, will become increasingly irrelevant,” the study found.

    “Coupled with the availability of cheaper mobile devices, this presents an opportunity for smaller publishing and tech companies to enter a market traditionally dominated by a few major players.”

    Which is exactly what Mampoer has done, taking the lead locally in a publishing game whose rules, globally, are radically changing.

    Lovers of quality South African writing will be hoping they succeed.

    SAinfo reporter