We are slowly making our way towards publication of the first winner of the first Istoria Timor writing competition. If I am right (and I think I am) Maun Teo can publish this himself on commercial terms and can make a tidy little profit on the venture; not a huge one, but enough of one to make it worth his while.
At the moment we are looking at selling the books for a wholesale price of $1.50 per book with a minimum purchase of 100 books and a recommended retail price of $2.00. We figure that if we can convince different organisations to pre-order, in aggregate, 2,000 copies of the book then we can go to print.
Once we have these committments, we will be looking for a local bank to provide a working capital loan to fund the printing. Of course, I could provide the loan, but the more comfortable that we can make local financial institutions with this sort of risk, the easier future publishers will have it.
Now, I said that this would be done on commercial terms. Of course, the most likely institution to purchase a large number of the books is the government. Following that, it would be the NGOs with literacy programs. Following that, quite a ways down the projected purchasers will be private enterprises that sell books. In the rest of the world, that doesn't look much like a project run on "commercial terms", but I figure that - considering what a big part of the economy government and development spending is - this is as close as we're going to get in Timor-Leste in the short-term. Also, given how poor the private sector supply chains are out to the districts, government and NGO supply chains are the only way that we will be able to get books to those who need them most. There are over 400 junior and senior high-schools in the country, if we can convince the government to purchase five books per school (at a total cost of around $3,000), then we're in business.
Government and NGOs aside, it will be very interesting to see how willing local booksellers will be to take a punt on this. I suspect that Teo will find it pretty hard to find shops outside Dili or Baucau that will be willing to drop $150 on a package of 100 Tetum novels, but I've been pleasantly surprised many times throughout this project...