These pages offer occasional news items of interest to book industry practitioners, especially the book professions in Africa.
An article by Henry Chakava, Chairman of one of Kenya’s leading publishers, East African Educational Publishers (and nowadays frequently referred to as ‘the godfather of African publishing’), My Life-Long Involvement in African Indigenous Languages sets out the motivation behind his life-long involvement and commitment to promote and publish in indigenous languages. In his conclusion he says “Research carried out internationally by linguists has scientifically proved that learners weaned in mother tongue in the early years of their education have a better grasp of concepts in other subjects (and languages) later in life. Mother tongues also confer cultural pride, belonging and awareness to the user. However, in the case of Africa, these languages were stigmatized, declared socially inferior, and foreign languages such as English, French and Spanish marketed as languages of immense opportunities and development. The time has come for African languages to take their rightful place in society.”
Chakava calls on the Kenya government to enforce policies relating to the teaching and learning of mother tongues in the early years of primary education, and “to sensitise the public on the cultural and social benefits of this approach, as it instils pride and confidence in the learner. Kenyan publishers are urged to be more enterprising and “to invest some of the profits they are currently making from these schemes into the neglected areas of general and indigenous languages publishing.”
The International Publishers Association has released its report and highlights of the IPA’s Nairobi Seminar in June 2019 Africa Rising: Realising Africa’s Potential as a Global Publishing Leader in the 21st Century.
The Seminar was jointly organized with the Kenya Publishers Association and attracted more than 200 delegates from some 40 countries. Also included here are extracts from the welcoming and keynote speeches, and the various panel discussions. The next IPA regional seminar in Africa will take place in Marrakesh, Morocco, in December 2020. Video recordings of some of the Nairobi panels, as well as those from the earlier IPA Lagos Seminar of 2018, can be found here.
Also from IPA are a series of interview The Voices of Publishers in Africa with seven African publishers who were participants at the recent IPA and WIPO seminars in Nairobi in June 2019. Here they respond to a set of questions relating to the issue of publishing in African languages, what they view as their main challenges as a publisher, the threat of piracy and the new digital environment, and how they see the impacts of cross-border exceptions to copyright in the online environment, and the likely adverse effect it will have on local authors and publishers.
A useful report and round-up of the current state of the digital publishing landscape in Africa, The State of Digital Publishing: Facts and Figures from Ghana, Kenya,and Nigeria, by Rachel Heavner and Nancy Brown published by the Worldreader organization, seeks to demonstrate that publishers in African countries have started to experience the advantages of digital: “Publishers in the three focus countries (Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria) have started to realize small but increasingly significant revenue streams and other advantages of digital, like learning from data and reaching broader and more diverse audiences across borders. This reflection on the current state of digital publishing marks a baseline for future growth and collaboration with our global network of publishers.” In order to better understand the publishing ecosystem and potential for digital in three of Worldreader’s partner countries, a survey was sent to 65 publishers in these countries with a range of questions that aimed to outline the digital publishing landscape, from a publisher’s production costs in print, to perceived barriers and opportunities for digital growth. When analysing the results of the survey, the report says, “there were themes that existed across all three markets, like reduced production costs and shortened timelines through digital. Digital is making it cheaper and easier to create and produce content. Other themes were large educational publishers maintaining a stronghold on the market, and economies of scale for production of physical books making it prohibitive for smaller trade publishers to enter the market. However, publishers are beginning to embrace digital to strip away the need for minimal print runs, thus diversifying the types of books brought to market that would not have been possible before. Publishers across the board see the potential for digital books. All respondents identified new markets and a wider audience as the greatest reward for going digital, but publishers also identified reaching these new audiences as digital’s greatest challenge.”
In its conclusion the report states “Digital changes are coming, and coming at scale. Those publishers who are ahead of the curve and ready to support the digitizing market will be a guiding force through this transition and can help guide local e-book policies and drive their local book supply chains into the future.”
In a paper entitled Decolonisation and Co-publishing Mary Jay and Stephanie Kitchen describe how in 2018 the African Books Collective (ABC), the African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK) and the African Studies Association (ASA, US) launched an initiative to draw attention to the need for a more equitable playing field in co-publication between publishers in the North and in Africa. At this time, the authors say, barriers to expanding co-publishing include small local academic markets, prices, frequently high manufacturing costs, lack of distribution channels, lack of subsidies to support African editions, and the weak state of university presses on the continent. With notable exceptions, in West Africa neither Ghana nor Nigeria have significant active university presses able to co-publish academic work. As practitioners, the authors argue, “we can say that despite some modest progressive efforts outlined above, the book publishing model that is skewed against African publishing will not change in the foreseeable future without, (i) serious participation and investment in African publishing by the continent’s universities (including in university presses), funders of research and policymakers; (ii) serious engagement with African publishing from agencies in the North, including funders and those setting policies for research, publishers, academic authors themselves and their representative bodies.” The purpose of the ABC initiatives described here, as well as those by the International African Institute (IAI), “is to kickstart what’s possible, making research available where it is carried out and most relevant, and strengthening African publishers, whilst drawing attention to the wider problems.”
With a steadily growing market for audio content in Africa, the founder and thus far the only distributor of African audiobooks in West Africa, the Accra-based AkooBooks (Akoo meaning “Parrot” in Ghana’s Akan language) is hoping to capitalise. In this Interview with Ama Dadson she sets out the background that motivated her to launch AkooBooks, the range of services her company offers and their working methods, the potential market in Ghana as well as Africa-wide, and her views on the opportunities and challenges for the African audiobook market. The global outlook for the audiobook publishing industry is very good, she says “the industry is on the rise but African voices are absent from this digital publishing space. The explosion of African writing talent, the advent of new mobile technologies and the emergence of ‘voice’ as an important commerce platform (e.g. smartphone and smart speaker voice assistants), bring the opportunity for Africa to offer digital African audio publishing experiences to a global community. … We believe that cultural diversity contributes to the vitality and quality of life throughout the world. Through the dissemination of African audiobooks and audio programming, we seek to strengthen people’s engagement with their own cultural heritage and to enhance their awareness and appreciation of Africa’s cultural heritage.”
A paper by Justin Cox and Stephanie Kitchen, African Books Collective: African Published Books in the North, presented at the 2019 SCOLMA annual conference 'Decolonising African Studies: questions and dilemmas for libraries, archives and collections', describes the activities of the Oxford-based African Books Collective, which for close to 30 years now has distributed African-published academic, literary and children's books around the world. It offers some insight into how books published in Africa are making their way to libraries in the countries of the North with collections on Africa. The authors also talk about issues relating to marketing and distribution, current and future trends in publishing such as e-publishing and digital technologies, and the major challenges facing African publishers. In terms of support for African publishers, Cox and Kitchen state that "it is important that libraries recognise that by choosing to purchase books published in Africa they can directly support the production and publication of more knowledge on the continent and bolster its growth and ensure its ideas are heard." They add that, by considering issues of decolonisation in relation to their acquisitions, "the ball is also in the court of scholars to use and cite content produced on the African continent more; meantime librarians can highlight the availability of such content to their communities, and prioritise its purpose in the same way as they do with knowledge produced in the North."
Top 50 African Literature Blogs & Websites to Follow in 2019 is a useful, regularly updated ‘league table’ of the top 50 best blogs, podcasts, and websites (in English) devoted African literature, some of them also including occasional articles and postings on aspects of publishing of African literature, and author-publisher relations. Information provided for each blog or website includes a short ‘About Blog’ description of content and coverage, location/country, link, frequency, social media/social engagement followers, email contact, plus a link to ‘View latest post.
The African Street Literature and the Future of the Literary Form is a very interesting four-year research project focusing on contemporary African literature that circulates outside the traditional infrastructures of the global book market, and offers alternative modes of publishing. The project is based at Uppsala University in Sweden, and is working in close collaboration with librarians at the Nordic Africa Institute, where a small collection of ephemeral, often self-published texts is being established. A recent article about the project in SCOLMA’s African Research & Documentation, no. 134 (2019):12-21 is accessible online here.
Co-authored by one of the researchers and two of the librarians, the paper is organized in two sections: one is written from the perspective of the researchers who collect and study the material, describing the project, setting out its scope, issues of copyright, piracy, plagiarism, and how texts have been collected. The second part is written from the perspective of the librarians, presenting some of the possibilities and the challenges involved in cataloguing the material, and the ways it differs from the rest of the Nordic Africa Institute’s extensive library collections.