These pages offer occasional news items of interest to book industry practitioners, especially the book professions in Africa.
Colleen Higgs is a publisher, a publishing activist and a writer, and the founder of the Cape Town based Modjaji Books, the publishing company which she founded in 2007, and which is now widely recognized to be one the leading independent feminist presses not only in Africa but in the world. In a recent blog posting, Publishing and Money, she says “money has been at the heart of my work as a publisher. Not enough money. Not ever. But somehow I’m still here eleven years later. Nothing is certain. Nothing is guaranteed, even for those who have financial reserves, which I don’t. However, coming clean about the money side of how I’ve operated as a small independent publisher feels important, even if it feels more awkward than talking about some sexual fetish or predilection I might have.” Publishing is a cost intensive business, and this is a cautionary tale for any would-be small publisher, and from which one could well conclude that life as a small indie publisher isn’t much fun! However, while independent publishing with only modest financial resources can be a nerve wracking, anxiety filled enterprise and is not for the fainthearted, “the non-financial rewards are immeasurable” Higgs says.
Note: this article is also accessible at http://www.modjajibooks.co.za/my-first-column-for-bookrepublic-why-modjaji-books/
In an engaging sequel to the above, Publishing as a Zen Practice, she continuous by saying “publishing is not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes I wonder why I decided to go into publishing, using my own money when it’s a business that is fraught with so many hundreds of possible places where you can go disaster. Some cost money, some cost face. It’s a business that keeps you humble and on your toes.” She goes on to say “I think publishing is teaching me a kind of Zen practice, of doing my best to make sure there are as few mistakes as possible and trying not to repeat the same ones and forgiving myself and others, and taking it in my stride and learning not to allow a publishing version of ‘road rage’ to get the better of me.” Helpfully, and candidly, she then sets out the nature of “a few of the errors” – no less than 33 of them – during her eleven years in publishing thus far. This could well prove to be a very useful checklist of the pitfalls to avoid for small independent and/or novice publishers anywhere!
In the second of a series of interesting interviews with speakers at the recent International Publishers Association (IPA) Lagos Regional Seminar Ama Dadson, CEO and founder of AkooBooks, Ghana’s first publisher and digital distributor of African audiobooks, says It’s an Exciting Time for Publishing in Africa. The audiobook industry, Dadson asserts, is worth over US$2 billion, and while the bulk of that market is in the West, “with the explosion of African writing talent and the advent of new digital technologies for distribution, comes the opportunity for Africa to be part of that revolution and to offer new digital publishing services to a global community. Affordability of mobile data/phone ownership is key here. Our customers may be unable to afford our audiobooks if the costs of mobile data are too high. However, there are now audio speakers that are voice-enabled which are able to be used in a group or classroom setting, e.g. the Echo dot.3. Awareness of ‘Audio literacy’ is a new concept and we will have to drive the adoption of it and the benefits of audiobooks among young Africans.” The AkooBooks programme also promotes audio literacy and pilots it in local languages, “bringing a wealth of ideas and experiences to people who are illiterate in English. Written text is derived from oral storytelling, so it follows that audiobooks are capturing the enthusiasm of old oral traditions.”
In an earlier IPA interview, Make Authors Rich Again, Okechukwu Ofili, Nigerian entrepreneur and founder of the book reading/publishing platform OkadaBooks, offers some rather provocative or at least contentious views: “At OkadaBooks our information motto”, Ofili says, is to “make authors rich again”, and so this piece should perhaps make happy reading for authors who want to get rich quick and find fame and fortune. Unfortunately the fact is of course that, apart from the top bestselling authors, most writers don't get rich writing books. Actually most writers can’t even earn a living from their writing. (Various recent surveys have revealed that about 54% of traditionally-published authors and almost 80% of go-it-alone self-published writers are making less than $1,000 or ca. £770 a year). Ofili also says the IPA “can help Nigerian publishers by going past the layers fluff we like to put up and getting us to focus on what is key. And what is key is ‘money’, publishers want to know how to make money. A lot of publishers are not making as much money as they should be making.”
Could it be that some publishers, in many parts of the world, while running their operations with strictly business-like efficiency, have a slightly different ethos than that of Mr Ofili, and for them publishing is perhaps something more than just making loads of money?
New forms of literature are emerging in African megacities, outside the established publishing industry. The Uppsala-based Nordic Africa Institute Library African Street Literature Project aims to make such material accessible through the NAI library, and to explore how the urban context is affecting literary form. Seeking to break new ground, this innovative project covers emerging literary forms such as digital and spoken word poetry, blog fiction, street theatre and graphic novels, as well as alternative ways of publishing novels and short stories. The NAI library has been instrumental from the outset in developing ways of categorising and making searchable a very diverse range of material, which also includes Internet links and YouTube clips. The collection ranges from small photocopied collections of poetry to foto-novelas (illustrated novels), comic books, literary magazines and plays. The NAI’s chief librarian Åsa Lund Moberg says “collecting African street literature at the NAI library creates new opportunities for literary works to reach new readers and researchers. The process is also a bibliographical challenge that could break new ground for making different kinds of literature accessible.” Find out what is already in this growing collection at this link.
James Murua’s lively Literature Blog offers not only a steady stream of news and reviews from the African literary scene, but also reports about book awards and prizes, as well as including interviews, podcasts, author profiles, and more. A categories menu facilitates quick access, by country or by topic/genre. There are also regular postings about book and journal publishing, book fairs, and news about book industry-related conferences, seminars, and meetings. For example, it recently reported about the “Lettres d’Afrique: Changing the Narrative” programme held during the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair, an extensive series of events and panel discussions designed to promote international networking between African publishers and those from elsewhere, and intended to provide visibility for the hugely diverse range of current African publishing output from throughout the continent.
These posts have included:
Frankfurt Book Fair 2018: Sights from the African Contingent
Frankfurt Book Fair 2018: African Book Fairs and Literary Festivals
Frankfurt Book Fair 2018: Rights in African Languages
Frankfurt Book Fair 2018: Tsitsi Dangarembga (in conversation with Ilija Trojanow)
Edited by Ulrich Talla Wamba, Publishers & Books is a new monthly book trade magazine (print and online, subscription-based) from the African Observatory of Professional Publishers in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The first four issues of the magazine – sub-titled ‘Mensuel d’Afrique-Magazine Spécialisé & Professionel-Livres et Éditions’ – contain a variety of informative news, interviews, reports about book fairs and other book promotional events, as well as short articles (primarily in French) about the book world and the publishing industries in Africa. In the first issue there is an insightful interview with Kenyan e-book entrepreneur Alexander Nderitu, a profile of Cameroonian publisher Editions CLE, together with a special section of contributions on the e-book in Africa, and the new opportunities now offered to African publishers keen to exploit the digital markets. A list of recent content can be found here.
In African Books Collective’s informative series of opinion papers and interviews Readafricanbooks, Stephanie Kitchen of the International African Institute is in conversation with Ernest Oppong, Acting CEO of the African Publishers Network which, after being dormant for several years, has recently been revived and launched a new website. In this interview he talks about the ‘new’ APNET’s plans for the future and their immediate objectives, one of which is “creating a national book policy and determining action plans to formulate those policies, and to implement a legal framework within which local governments and the publishing industry can work together.” Longer term objectives include “establishing mutual collaboration among African publishers and their respective governments; strengthening and consolidating training resources in Africa; partnering with some African universities and running publishing training programmes.” African publishers, he asserts, have “a number of challenges with their respective governments due to the following reasons: African government see indigenous publishers as a threat; there is non-adherence of national book policies and procedures by government; [and there is] the attempt of governments to take over textbook publishing in most countries.” He says that “the solution to these unfortunate occurrences is to establish legal backing for national book policies so that no individual in any government office can unduly manipulate the policy against publishers.”
Analysing Law and Policy, and the Contributions of Government Sponsored Institutions to Publishing Development by Anatu Kande Mahama is an outstanding and meticulously documented recent PhD thesis presented at Loughborough University, which examines law and policy in the book publishing industry in Ghana, together with an evaluation of the success of government-sponsored institutions that have been established in support of publishing and book development in the country. It seeks to provide an understanding of the socio-cultural and economic conditions under which policies were formulated, and as such it is probably the first qualitative content analysis of book publishing law and policy, which, although vitally important to publishing development, is an area that has been neglected in the research on the African book industries. Issues concerning publishing development in Ghana and in other countries in Africa, the author says, have attracted considerable debate and coverage in the literature, but the focus of the debate has mainly centred on challenges confronting publishing development in the continent, and the promotion of sustainable schoolbooks provision. While there is quite a substantial body of existing literature on the historical development of book publishing in Africa and its challenges, the role of law and policy, and the contributions of government-sponsored institutions to publishing development, has not adequately been investigated. This thesis therefore provides the first analysis of law and policy in one African country as it relates to the book sector.
The research examines the rationale for policy formulation, the policy-making process itself, the experiences of various stakeholders in the formulation of these policies, and issues relating to the implementation of policy. It also assesses the success of government-sponsored institutions by examining how their work has influenced book development and publishing in the country. The data for the research comprised legislation, policy documents, and recorded interviews, which were analysed using the framework that was developed for book policy analysis. In offering a range useful recommendations for good practice, Mahama says “the findings of this thesis should prompt government and other stakeholders in the book publishing industry to review the existing textbooks policy towards the formulation of a national book policy that properly positions the book publishing industry as a strategic national industry that would contribute to the general development of the country. … A comprehensive National Book Policy is essential and requires the political will of both publishers and government for it to be achieved.”
African University Presses and the Institutional Logic of the Knowledge Commons by Thierry M. Luescher and François van Schalkwyk and published in a recent issue of Learned Publishing (v. 31, issue S1, 2018, free access; also at https://www.academia.edu/37359038/African_university_presses_and_the_institutional_logic_of_the_knowledge_commons) investigates the current status and the challenges faced by university presses in Africa, looking particularly at the institutional perspective. Four case studies from Ethiopia (Addis Ababa University Press and Wollega University Press), Kenya (University of Nairobi Press) and South Africa (Wits University Press) show how different presses adapt their practices and adopt new technologies. “Interpreted through an institutional logics perspective, the status of the university presses is described according to established editorial and market logics, to which a third, hypothetical logic of the knowledge commons, is added.”
Several key points emerged from the study, namely:
(1) African university presses are constrained by their institutional support and outlook.
(2) Younger, emerging, African university presses are more able to adopt the logic of the knowledge commons rather than presses that follow the older editorial or market models.
(3) African university presses are well aware of opportunities afforded by new technologies, but are not making full use of these opportunities.
(4) Technological opportunities are mainly understood in terms of creating marketing and distribution channels complementary to the existing print‐based model focused on local markets.