Briza Publications is an independent publishing house based in Gauteng, South Africa. It was started in 1990 with the sole purpose of publishing an identification guide on grasses and now this book, Guide to Grasses of southern Africa is in its third edition as a perennial bestseller.
From these humble beginnings as a seedling, Briza has blossomed into a leading publisher of natural history and botany books in South Africa.
Our logo, the Briza seed, is a visual representation our growth and also a constant reminder to keep adapting and growing alongside our wonderfully diverse natural heritage.
What we do
Briza specialises in publishing botany and natural history books for the local South African market. At Briza we place high importance on publishing indigenous knowledge of southern African fauna and flora and due to our comprehensive content and high-quality production, our publications also enjoy international appeal and have a loyal following overseas.
Briza strives above all else to achieve our goals with uncompromised honesty and integrity and to cherish our rich natural diversity, and to promote awareness for conservation, the responsible use of, and the appreciation of our natural heritage.
Briza strives to serve a niche market with image-rich, full-colour, comprehensive publications without sacrificing accessibility and readability. Briza specialises in maintaining a high–quality production value and in creating informative content with a practical approach. As a result, our books appeal to layman and the more specialist reader.
Over the years, Briza Publications has branched off and sprouted several imprints which operate alongside our flagship brand, namely Marula Books, Briza Academic Books and Self Sown.
What we publish
Since 1990, our publishing list has grown to include more than 200 titles on a wide range of subjects: natural history and wildlife, lifestyle and leisure, natural history, including books on environmental education, and children and young adult books.
At Briza, our authors are our pride! They are specialists in their fields and above all great writers, producing excellent books which educate us and lead us to a greater understanding of our world.
Briza turned 31!
We are celebrating 31 years of excellent nature publications here at Briza and the birthday celebrations are extended not only over the month, but over the whole year! There is so much to look forward to. Share your favourite Briza memories with us.
Briza's big 25 year celebrations
Briza Publications celebrated 25 years of business on 17 April 2015. Authors, suppliers, contributors, friends and personnel joined in the physical activities at the Milk Plum restaurant in the Pretoria National Botanical Garden.
Eben van Wyk, founding member of Briza took the guests on an interesting journey by sharing some memories and milestones over the years.
At the celebration event, Jaqui January from RSG Radio entertained the guests by interviewing three selected authors: Fritz van Oudtshoorn (author of the Briza’s first book, Identification Guide to Grasses of South Africa), Ben-Erik van Wyk (author of 17 local and several international titles) and JJ van Rensburg (author of the latest bestseller, Grow Your Own). The professional manner in which Jackie contacted the “live” interviews and the interesting stories related by authors, made this a very entertaining and enjoyable event.
The special atmosphere of the venue, the tasty food and the cheerful guests contributed to the success of the occasion – an event that will be remembered for years to come.
Read founding member and author, Eben van Wyk's speech from the big day
Good afternoon everyone.
Briza is 25 years old today and what an adventure it has been! I would like you to briefly join me in sharing some highlights of this adventure and to acknowledge the people that made it all possible and worthwhile. Christo thought that this would take me 15 minutes, but I am afraid that in order to cover 25 years of Briza history, I need at least one minute per year.
It all started with an idea to compile a Guide to Grasses of southern Africa. Frits van Oudtshoorn worked during that time as an agricultural adviser and noticed the lack of good materials on grasses. Spurred on by a fellow student, Piet Terblanche, or as we called him, Piet Ploeg, and an assignment on grasses, the idea started to take form. The concept was well-known and titles like Field Guides to Trees of Kruger National Park sold in their thousands. The topic there was somewhat less popular, which made us think “is it at all possible to publish a book on grasses commercially?”. Frits started experimenting with photographing grasses and soon realised that he would need some help. Frits and I were best friends since childhood, sharing wonderful memories exploring the Soutpansberg region and I also had a reasonable quality camera so I got involved.
For more than two years, all our weekends became taken over by the ritual of packing the kombi on Friday evenings, driving to the decided upon location, collecting grasses, identifying them, setting up the outside photo atelier, waiting for the right light intensity, and taking photos of the different grasses we could include in the book. Scientific names were Greek to me, but soon I was corrected by Frits that it was actually Latin. Through a method of association and keywords such as looks like, sounds like, a name like Aristida was not so difficult to master. Frits’s patience with me was out of this world even after the hundredth “dis Melinis repens” and not a grain of irritation could be heard in his voice.
This all sounds rather idyllic, but at the age of 25 when your whole social existence is overpowered by a project, it is likely to wonder if it is all worth the trouble. Nonetheless, Frits diligently compiled his list of grass species and ticked them off one by one. Hundreds of experimental photos later, we made a reasonably acceptable grass species list to use. We went to many farms and nature reserves and were greeted and accepted with typical small-town hospitality. Winter months were our book writing months; while Frits was writing, our secretary, Lola van Rensburg typed, I proofread and typeset, and Emsie du Plessis delegated and translated. And so, the pages were filled one by one.
We needed another engineer’s salary to fund all our expenses and so we got Stephanus Smal, my friend and colleague at the Department of Agriculture involved. He also got the task to create all the distribution maps on the newly installed GIS system of the Transvaal regional office of the Department of Agriculture and later on worked as the Financial Manager of Briza for many years.
Our project presentation to Struik and Van Schaik Publishers quickly introduced us to the world of publishing and to the fact that the royalties of the publication would hardly cover the production and development cost of the photography, let alone all the other associated costs. We started budgeting and planned to self-publish. However, we needed funding. Project proposals to the Plough Bank, Tree Bank, Greenbank were all rejected. Ideas are not security, and one needs security to obtain a loan. Luckily one person believed in us, Tersius Snyman from United Bank in Sunnyside. He could only approve a loan of R90 000 and said that if we could make do with that, he would give us the green light. Of course, that could not cover all the costs so we started putting together sponsorship proposals. Luckily, we had a lot of recent experience through the Agricultural Engineering Institute which we were involved in and with all the necessary inputs we started contacting institutions and companies. The ones that believed in us were:
- The Anglo-American and DeBeers Chairman’s Fund
- South African Druggist
- FBC Holdings
- Computer Foundation
- Kynoch Fertilizer
Lunch with the right person is as good as any game of golf and in this case, it was Mr Naas Steenkamp from Gencor who contributed almost half of the total sponsorships through his involvement. Another highlight was a single introductory phone call from Dr Ebedes to the Anglo-American and DeBeers Chairman’s fund which resulted in a R10 000 check received in the post, no questions asked – you can imagine our excitement.
With the sponsorships in place, we had enough money to publish. By this time, the book was almost complete and with a few double checks, we were ready. The rest of the story is well known. To date we sold almost 60 000 copies of this “rather dull” topic as one critic commented.
But one swallow does not make a summer and one book does not make a publisher. The second book, Stapkos Sonder Sukkel was probably as important as the first book, Guide to Grasses of southern Africa for the establishment of Briza as this book gave it a structure as a publisher. Soon after this, we knew what we wanted to pursue and made the decision to focus on publishing full-colour nature guides. We learnt quickly that we would more easily gain prominence by focusing on filling one bookshelf in bookshops, rather than having a book on each different shelf. Specialisation is even more important today as a survival method in the world of digital publishing where the average publisher disappears in the mass of other publishers.
Next, we published a Guide to Aloes of South Africa and decided to base our books on the following features and requirements:
- published titles should be scientifically prominent
- published titles should be accessible to a newcomer or a layman of the subject, and
- published titles should have high quality, beautiful photographs, and illustrations.
Guide to Aloes of South Africa fulfilled these requirements and was a huge success from the start. Since its publication, we have also completed a full revision and translation into Afrikaans.
With the foundation of the publishing house laid, new projects could follow – the rate of which to be determined by the natural growth of the business, conservative budgeting and constant re-investing.
Briza currently and and in the future
Briza has always been involved in using new technologies and the Briza Botanical Library, based on the LOGOS platform was our first “eBook” in which four of our most popular titles were produced.
We were involved with the SD card technology and several books such as Mammals of Southern Africa and Field Guide to Grasses of southern Africa were available in this format.
Several ebooks and apps are in the pipeline. And what will the income stream of these new products look like? This I do not know yet. Whether or not we will be able to generate an income and whether our intellectual property will be practically safeguarded, we will only be able to tell in time. What we well know is that the whole publishing environment is busy changing and that we will need to adapt in order to survive. As a Google consultant once said: “it’s all about catching eyeballs” – we need to be seen in the middle of an excess of endless content and ideas.
Several new opportunities have been made available through the establishment of the Callfinder®. This is something we will definitely work on continuously to produce more Callfinder® products that we could make available to the market.
To celebrate 25 years in any industry is only possible through the help of people. I would like to name a few of these people who touched my life. Naturally one could not name everyone, however I will try to.
To my colleagues, Stephanus Smal, Ben-Erik van Wyk, Christo Reitz and Frits van Oudsthoorn, the value of shared values and goals is invaluable in business and the connections and relationships that are established through the years remain our assets.
Therefore, I will like to give recognition to everyone who has worked at Briza during the past 25 years. Each person has left their mark on Briza. I’m thinking of:
- Jurita Pieterse, our first secretary who worked from her own home at the time.
- Ilse van Schalkwyk, our secretary, designer, layout artist, and everything in one who eventually became a van Oudtshoorn.
- Annamarie who from the early years managed Briza’s finances.
- Other stalwarts such as Elsa and Fransiena and newbies, Johan, Suzanne and Jamie as well as our brand-new colleagues, Magdelena, Lucille, and Valerie.
- Christo, who kept this organisation alive through his wonderful management talent.
- Renee Ferreira who is probably one of the people with the best instinct and feeling for publishing who extends these talents to others.
- Hendali Steynberg, Melinda Stark, Alicia Artzen, Ronelle Oosthuizen, Annalie Rautenbach, Jaqueline Huisman, and my daughter, Suzanne, a few of the designers who have continuously worked for Briza and still do. From PageMaker to our latest InDesign, it has been a great experience working with such talented people.
- Dawn Lundall who with an attitude that nothing is impossible, made a success of the Briza website and online shopping platform.
- Bert du Plessis, my very good friend and Briza’s accountant. For several nights, he was a sounding board for the happenings and ideas of Briza as well as one of our greatest supporters who enthusiastically purchased most of the books we published.
- Pippa Baker who an unconscious inspiration and role model as a result of the great books she produced throughout her career by Struik.
- Siegmar Bauer, who with his German precision and extremely accurate way of communicating, helped us learn a lot about the international publishing market after our first meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
- Jimmy Lin, our friend at Tien Wah Press with whom we built a special relationship over the years. The integrity, loyalty, and honesty in which they conduct business is an example to us all. Many a time they would suggest better options and absorb extra costs in order to make our book budget work.
- Charlie Chan from Craft Press Singapore who I am sure knows everything there is to know about printing and the business.
- Bernard Wee whom we initially got to know through Tien Wah Press saved the Sappi Birds project through establishing a new supplier of the Callfinder® and the associated technology. There are many dubious characters outside, but they all are filtered out by trustworthy people like Bernard.
- SANBI, early in the 90s began selling our books internationally. During the first few years of the South African Book Fair in Cape Town we also exhibited with them.
- Our sponsors who enabled the publication of titles with limited feasibility. These sponsorships make a huge difference, for example, with the title, Dictionary Of Names Of Southern African Trees. Thank you very much Sappi and Bayer, Problem Plants of South Africa would not have seen the light without your involvement.
- Our authors – you are the single most important contributors that we have. Your ideas and projects are published as a tangible and lasting celebration of your association with Briza. Thank you for building on the publishing foundation that we offer. Thank you for becoming part of this family business.
- Our families who all have made sacrifices on a regular basis to ensure that our ideals and goals can be met. Thank you very much, you all are always in our prayers.
I want to end off by acknowledging the grace that we have received by God for helping us to remain strong after 25 years. May the future years be blessed for Briza and all those associated with us.
Since Briza’s establishment in 1990, we have three decades of history, big company milestones and three decades of memories of the books which helped Briza Publications to become what it is today.
Guide to Grasses of southern Africa was the first book in South Africa made through desktop publishing. A wine magazine from the Cape had already been published in this way, but never a book. Briza bought and mastered the programme, Ventura to publish this book and 22 360K floppies were used to compile the outline of the book. This book has been a perennial bestseller and has sold over 40,000 copies.
Guide to the Aloes of South Africa was our first book printed through Tien Wah Press in Singapore which opened up a whole new dimension of international accounts, overseas shipping, insurance terms, importation and clearance.
Medicinal Plants of the World was the first book to introduce us to the world of co-editions, and language plate changes – a complete new world of co-edition agreements, translation rights, and accurate scheduling.
This book eventually had translations in Polish, Korean and German and distribution agreements in the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, South Pacific, and India. The first edition was reprinted seven times with more than 30,000 copies sold worldwide.
2008 – 2010
Recent highlights include the publishing of Sappi Birds of South Africa with the Callfinder® which was the idea of founding member, Frits van Oudtshoorn, who thought to incorporate bird sounds into a book. However, Briza couldn’t find any affordable and practical option to achieve this, until the arrival of the MP3 format. Initially there were concerns that this project would be a regression in terms of the history of technology, however today the value of this product has proved itself again and again and does not stand back for any digital publication out there. To date this publication has sold over 40,000 copies in English and Afrikaans.
Blinktand van Bosveldparadys was Briza Publikasies se eerste boek spesifiek gemik op kinders. Hieride boek is 'n unieke baanbreker lees- en leerervaring: jy kan dit lees soos ’n gewone storieboek, of met die Briza Klankleser® na die volledige verhaal in die boek luister. Dit is ’n storieboek, leesboek, luisterboek, leerboek, natuurboek asook 'n boek met sterk onderliggende opvoedkundige temas soos respek, eerlikheid, naasteliefde, nederigheid, leierskap, vasberadenheid, deursettingsvermoë, vergewensgesindheid en dankbaarheid.
Die storie word voorgelees deur die bekende akteur Lochner de Kock.
The Talking Dictionary® is one of the most valuable language reference tools available and was developed by Briza Publications in 2019. It is the only audio visual dictionary that links key words and phrases to detailed full-colour illustrations and incorporates Callfinder® technology where readers can listen to the pronunciation of terms and phrases in different languages. This unique language education tool assists in the teaching and learning of vocabulary and phrases from 7 South African languages, Mandarin, and eventually endangered San language N/uu which is currently in development.