Identifying new markets has become a crucial sales strategy for publishers, as traditional markets for content become increasingly saturated. From Sao Paulo to New Delhi to Beijing, PCG has guided publishers along the treacherous journey across new borders for many years. It is in that spirit of adventure that I recently embarked on a sales trip along with my colleague Manisha Bolina on behalf of our client BioOne around the Republic of South Africa, a complex nation with a history of deep-rooted socioe734px-Flag-map_of_South_Africa.svg copyconomic and political problems yet an emerging economy with a developed higher education system that serves as an often over looked opportunity for scholarly publishers.

It should be no surprise to anyone that decades of apartheid segregation adversely affected nearly all areas of South African society, notably higher education and scientific research. Twenty years later, a visitor sees a country very much in transition, with high crime rates and extreme poverty on one end of the spectrum, yet with areas of relatively rapid economic development on the other, bringing with it heightened interest in strengthening new research initiatives at academic institutions. According to labor market specialist Adcorp, while close to 360,000 high-skill South Africans have returned to the country from foreign work assignments since the global financial crisis in 2008, this influx is still not enough to fill the number of empty positions currently in the market. While this impetus to invest more in education is certainly multifaceted, there’s still no doubt that a rising population of highly-educated individuals could help supply the professional talent much needed in South Africa.

On this journey, we set out to explore the library market in more detail by first attending the South African Online Information Meeting (SOAIM) in Pretoria, one of the country’s two biannual information-focused conferences, the other being the South African National Library iNformation Consortium conference (SANLiC). Our second objective was to visit a number of universities and explore new opportunities for growth from Johannesburg to Durban to Cape Town,taking us to the Tshwane University of Technology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of South Africa and University of the Witwatersrand, among others.

A distinctive feature of the current market in South Africa is the large role the government plays in funding institutions and deciding where that money is allocated. The newly appointed Science and Technology Minister, Naledi Pandor, recently stated that South Africa plans to invest heavily in science, technology and engineering programs in order to “attract and retain research excellence and create career pathways for highly skilled young researchers.” This is great news for publishers; government-funded resources will soon trickle-down into universities and attract a greater number of researchers, which could result in increased demand for content in a number of the sciences.

Also a factor is the new South African VAT and how it might affect the way business is conducted. Prior to June 1st, 2014, foreign suppliers were able to sell electronic services to consumers in South Africa duty-free, which is no longer the case. This crackdown attempts to remedy the trending international concern of tax leakage in the digital economy by “evening the playing field” between local and international business and service providers.This means that universities will now be taxed 14% for big purchases of electronic content originating from outside of the country, presenting challenges to universities already facing tight budgets. As if that weren’t enough, the purchasing power of South African libraries is further limited by unfavorable exchange rates for both US and European content. The South African Rand has declined38% against the dollar and a full 48% against the Euro over the last three years, making it increasingly difficult for libraries to sustain their current subscriptions, let alone add new ones.

Between pursuing new sales and navigating the unique complexities of the market, we also managed to find the time for a little rest and relaxation. On an off day we enjoyed a Saturday of touring and tasting the wines of the region and the diverse local cuisine—not the least of which included brunch at a fruit and berry farm. As visitors in South Africa, the undercurrent of inequality was only made more apparent by this indulgence, as leaving the farm we traveled by cab through a number of sprawling townships. These underdeveloped areas were contrasted by an array of gated communities, most of which were surrounded by six-footwalls topped off with coils of barbed wire fencing, whether due to the perception or reality of high crime across the country.

Traveling around the world to South Africa was an invaluable and enlightening experience, both professionally and personally, even if it did take one of us 24+ hours to get there from the US! This trip offered us the chance to forge face-to-face relationships with the librarians and stakeholders who are directly invested in providing premium content for their institutions, and we look forward to putting these connections to work for our clients in this fascinating and evolving country.

Donna Loews is PCG’s BioOne Global Sales Director and Manisha Bolina is BioOne EAME and Australasia Sales Manager.