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October 2022



    General studies on African publishing and the book sector



  • The African Publishing Innovation Fund: Turning Talk on African Book Literacy, Publishing, and Accessibility Challenges Into Action by Bodour Al Qasimi, current President of the International Publishers Association (IPA) reflects on the IPA’s Lagos Action Plan. Quick Impact for the Future of African Publishing, its five "transformation goals", and its achievements and tangible outcomes to date [as at September 2022]. The IPA has made a strong commitment to the development of publishing in Africa with its annual African publishing seminars, capacity building projects, and other interventions, although only two publishing seminars have thus far been held (Lagos 2018, and Nairobi 2019), due to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. One pilot programme was ‘Pulse of the African Publishing Industry’, and the IPA and its Action Plan Committee reportedly worked with Insight Wells Research (Nairobi) on a comprehensive publishing industry public policy and advocacy survey. "The survey was an effort to gain insight into the most pressing issues facing African publishers for future seminar themes and to ensure policy and advocacy initiatives are needs-driven. Progress: The survey, which was completed at the end of May, attracted significant participation from the publishing industry, partners, and stakeholders. The results will be released in the near future as part of the Africa Seminar Series’ effort to become a supportive voice of the publishing industry in asserting its value to policymakers and highlighting its role in socio-economic development." However, as at September 2022, no such document appears to have been published.


  • In a rejoinder to the above posting, Bodour Al Qasimi and the Challenge of African Publishing – a TNPS Personal Perspective, Mark Williams, editor and publisher of the New Publishing Standard, offers his personal – arguably somewhat contentious – views on the current state of the African book industries. Distribution, he says, is still "a logistical nightmare, even within the wealthier countries, and pan-African is a concept that has yet to even be considered by African publishing. It’s easier for someone in London or New York, Paris or Frankfurt to buy the latest novel from a big-name Nigerian, South African or Kenyan author than it is for Africans in neighbouring countries to do so, and similarly books from the African diaspora are often hard, if not impossible to get hold of in the author’s homeland. … Digital is of course the obvious solution, but the reality is somewhat different. Where to buy? How to pay?" Of course, he concedes, "there are many other factors at play in the fight to make Africa a level publishing playing field."

    Williams also claims that "for much of Africa the list of publishing problems includes there simply not being any local content for children being produced, let alone readily available. And that in turn means there are no budding writers in our schools who will be tomorrow’s children’s authors or Booker prize winners." Moreover, "the big problems are not being addressed by the IPA and Co, are the mechanics of global book distribution. Alongside this we need – we desperately need – more digital platforms that do not originate in the West to serve Western interests. … If these problems could be solved, the global digital book market would become a meaningful entity and that in turn would allow and encourage publishers and authors in the developing world to digitise more. Just maybe the IPA could bring the digital distributors to their senses, and maybe, too, knock sense into the empty heads of the territorial rights departments at the mainstream publishers."


  • Also from the African Publishing Innovation Fund is a Podcast by Akoss Ofori Mensah, the founder of Sub-Saharan Publishers in Accra, during which she talks about her vision of publishing and book development in Africa, a struggling book industry in Ghana, the main challenges facing African publishers today, the need for new approaches, and the achievements thus far of the IPA’s African Publishing Innovation Fund, a $800,000 fund that seeks to support literacy, book access, indigenous publishing, and library restoration in Africa.


  • Hosted by the Global Book Alliance and the African Publishers Network/APNET is  an ‘Open Book Series’ Webinar Private Sector Book Publishing in Africa that examined issues relating to private sector book publishing in Africa. “A panel of expert publishers discussed challenges and opportunities in private sector publishing in Africa, and key themes such as access to books, language, copyright issues, book distribution, and the capacity-building of publishers.” Moderated by Henry Chakava, Chair, Global Book Alliance, panellists included Elieshi Lema, E&D Vision Publishing; Brian Wafawarowa, Chair Publishers Association of South Africa; Aliou Sow, Les Editions Gandal; and Samuel Kolawole, Chair, African Publishers Network.


  • A further presentation from the Global Book Alliance,  Publisher Elieshi Lema Discusses Private Sector Book Publishing in Africa,  is a video presentation with Tanzanian publisher Elieshi Lema of E&D Vision Publishing that offers her views on private sector book publishing in Africa generally and East Africa in particular. “The state of private-sector publishing in Africa has never been steady historically”, she says, “shifts have happened between governments between taking centre stage in publishing and distributing textbooks. And in other cases, there's been private-sector publishing, and government buying through tenders. And these two positions have shifted in most of the African countries in East Africa.” She also talks about the many challenges facing the book industries in the East African region; on the importance of getting books to rural areas, and the need for a sustainable book distribution model. “One of the most important things is the political will for governments to invest in sustaining a reading culture.” The situation is getting worse, she says, “because facilities like rural libraries, and community libraries do not exist, so people have no access to books. Access is only found in schools. And then the moment children graduate from primary schools, they get into communities where there's nothing to read. And within two to three years, they've fallen back into illiteracy or semi-literacy.”



    Country-specific studies


  • The history of the printed book in Africa is a relatively new line of inquiry, Massimo Zaccaria says in his study From Incunabula to Book History: Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Search for their Printed Past”. One of the most challenging issues that is confronting its practitioners, “will be to produce authoritative and comprehensive records of the national output of African countries, an essential prerequisite before venturing into more complex analysis. … In this panorama, Eritrea and Ethiopia seem to represent two happy exceptions.” This extensive and insightful article focuses in particular—though not exclusively—on bibliographies whose purpose is the mapping of the Eritrean and Ethiopian first print production, focusing mainly on the quantitative data, while the typologies considered include books, but also pamphlets, leaflets, and occasional publications of all kinds. Zaccaria maps out the cultural and political context in which the attention for Ethiopian incunabula emerged and traces the stages of the collective effort that has allowed the preservation of the traces of the early printed documentation in Eritrea and Ethiopia. He argues “that there are still significant margins of improvement in the retrospective coverage of the history of the printed book in Africa, especially since the arrival of digital technologies and the Internet that have offered a very effective set of tools for solving some of the problems that have plagued African retrospective national bibliographies since their inception.”


  • As we have reported in an earlier news item, UNESCO has named Accra as the UNESCO World Book Capital for 2023. The theme will be ‘Reading to Connect Minds for Social Transformation.’ The convenors and the coordinating team are putting together an exciting package of programmes around books, authorship and reading, for implementation during and after the title year. This 32-pp. brochure, sets out the schedule of programmes, activities, and special events – coordinated by the Ghana Book Development Council – which can be freely downloaded at the above link.


  • In his “Brewing Tensions: The Colonial Gaze of the German–Namibian Publishing Industry”, by Tycho Alexander van der Hoog, published in the June 2022 issue of Africa Spectrum, the author says the call to decolonize African studies can have a profound influence on the field, albeit with varying degrees of success. The paper “addresses this topic in relation to the author’s personal experiences in the publishing industry in Namibia. By describing the attempt to publish a historical book about Namibian beer with a well-known German–Namibian publishing house, the lingering power of German–Namibian settler colonialism becomes clear. The article “renders visible the power structures within the Namibian book market that perpetuates a whitewashed version of Namibian history and argues that decolonizing knowledge cannot succeed without paying attention to the (private) publishing industry.” In his conclusion the author states: “The years that I have tried to publish a book about beer have left me with a bitter aftertaste. Three decades since gaining Namibian independence and more than a century after the end of German colonialism, the tradition to write and publish books that celebrate ‘German history, heritage, and Heimat’ is alive and kicking in Namibia.”


  • In “Minority-Language Publishing. Challenges and Opportunities of Afrikaans Trade Publishing”, published in a recent issue of Logos. The Journal of the World Book Community, Samantha Miller explores the challenges and opportunities of publishing in a minority language in an international context, and discusses where Afrikaans fits into the global polysystem of language. She suggests opportunities that trade publishers could explore in order to improve the exposure of Afrikaans authors in the international publishing environment. Although some of the issues she identifies are unique to Afrikaans, owing to South Africa’s history, on the whole the challenges and recommendations could be relevant to many other small nations with small publishing industries and peripheral languages. The article includes a comprehensive literature review, and also discusses findings from interviews with trade publishers and observations at the Frankfurt Book Fair.


  • Publishers’ Association of South Africa/PASA South African Book Publishing Industry Survey 2019-2021.
    This comprehensive and minutely detailed analysis (supported by numerous charts and tables) provides information on the growth and development of the South African publishing industry for the period 2019-2021. The survey was conducted by an independent research team at the University of Pretoria, headed by Elizabeth le Roux and Laetitia Cassells. The report covers three key sectors: Educational, Trade and Academic. Data was collected from a survey of South African publishers, focusing on their turnover and production patterns from the previous financial year, as well as ownership and employment. PASA reports that the total number of active publishers in South Africa is unknown, but is thought to be between 150 and 200. The survey targeted both PASA and non-PASA members, from micro-enterprises to multinationals. However, the industry is heavily dominated by a small group of very large publishers, who together represent more than 80% of all production and revenue. PASA also reports that, in 2020/21, the South African publishing industry produced around R2.9 billion in revenue. The figures have dropped sharply from 2018/19, but show signs of a small recovery into 2021.


  • Book Clubs and the New Black Literary Scene by Outlwile Tsipane, is a presentation made at the African Book Festival in Berlin, held on 26-28 August 2022. Publishers in South Africa have long thought that Black communities do not read all that much, the author asserts, and that Black people have a negligible effect on the literary eco-system of South Africa.  “This failure to understand the requirements of Black readers in South Africa has resulted in a distorted picture of who the buying readership of books actually is. Important decisions by publishers and distributors have been based on this distortion.” Recently though, “book clubs have started to strip away some of these myths by creating a burgeoning literature culture which thrives despite the unfavourable circumstances. … With a literary industry that seems slow to reflect the changes of recent years – continuing to offer books and book events which do not cater for all readers, and which result in a skewed picture of would-be book buyers – it is the book clubs, and the passionate readers, who are changing the traditional narrative. They have become literature activists of sorts, re-shaping the book culture of South Africa.”


  • International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Simplicity, Flexibility, Equity – IFLA Submits Comments on South Africa’s Copyright Amendment Bill.
    Well over forty years since the last major reform in Africa, and five years since the start of a formal legislative process, South Africa continues to debate changes to its copyright laws. IFLA has responded to a call for comments on the South African Copyright Amendment Bill, "highlighting the need to reject proposals that will have a chilling effect on the work of libraries, and deepen divisions in terms of access to education, knowledge and culture."

    IFLA argues that "despite agreement of text by South Africa’s parliament, the Bill was returned for further discussion by the President on vague grounds, under pressure from rich country governments and dubious claims about the impact of measures such as introducing more flexible exceptions into the law. With a new draft of the law open for comment, IFLA therefore has made a submission, in support of South African colleagues, and the communities that rely on their services." In particular, "the submission highlights how a number of proposed changes to the legislation appear calculated to add complexity and confusion, with the effect that libraries are afraid to make use of the provisions in law for fear of making mistakes. Such complexity not only has a chilling effect, but can also be a driver of inequality, favouring those able to purchase the legal expertise necessary to negotiate the system. Smaller players – including individual educators, researchers and library users – are ill-placed to do this. IFLA therefore strongly hopes that South Africa’s parliament will dismiss all proposed measures which will only harm access to education, knowledge and culture."
    Note: The text of the full submission can be accessed here.


  • In another contribution to debates about copyright legislation in African countries – in this case Kenya – Porter Anderson, writing in Publishing Perspectives, IPA and Kenyan Publishers Blast ‘Unacceptable’ Copyright Bill, says alarming developments in Kenya’s progress toward a viable copyright framework has prompted quick statements of concern both in Kenya, as well as expressions of concern by the International Publishers Association (IPA) calling the Kenyan National Assembly’s Bill No. 44 of 2021 "unacceptable"; and stating that "under the cover of professing to support local creators, this bill will do exactly the opposite, setting Kenyan publishers on the back foot in the global digital market place". While Lawrence Njagi, former Chair of the Kenya Publishers Association is quoted as saying: "this bill will leave us exposed and unable to enforce our rights and those of our authors." The main issue of concern is related to the minimum standards of online copyright enforcement, including legal mechanisms about notice and takedown procedures; "the bill also proposes to repeal the section that enables copyright owners to file injunctions to deter infringement of their rights," the IPA stated.


  • What is an Author Worth in South Africa by Monica Seeber.
    The late Monica Seeber, founder of the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa (ANFASA) argues that the South African Copyright Amendment Bill was poorly conceptualised and drafted, and not backed by policy, "has pitted authors and book publishers against educational institutions – as if copyright law is bound to favour one at the expense of the other – instead of weighing the rights of copyright owners against the interests of society and creating a balance between them. Two parliamentary portfolio committees have grappled with the bill’s failings."

    The bill lacks a legitimate legislative background, she says, "no economic or social impact assessment to forecast its consequences in the future; no copyright policy to guide its ethos; a stop-and-start, drawn-out but biased process through Parliament; and the president’s doubts about its constitutionality. From the authors’ perspective, it seems as if we are teetering on the edge of a precipice, and we have to ask: What are we worth? Are we, as we thought, one of the driving forces in an increasingly literate and creative society, or are we merely providers of free content? We believe that authors, the producers of knowledge, have a major role to play in cultural and educational development. And we call on Parliament to acknowledge us and to reject the Copyright Amendment Bill."


  • The Status of Writing. Towards the Nurturing of the Book Industry in Zambia, by Gankhanani Moffat Moyo.
    This helpful booklet was born out of a research project embarked upon by the Zambia Textbook, Academic and Nonfiction Authors Association. Its objective was "to examine the writing space in the country", the level of interest in current publishing output by Zambian writers, and how that was being responded to by Zambian readers. It also sought to examine the relationship between writing and education, the question of language, to assess the relationship between writing and development, to analyse the availability of resources for writers, and to explore the relations between Zambian writers and their publishers. Interviews were conducted with readers, writers, publishers, and booksellers in different parts of the country.



    Topic-specific studies

    Book assistance and donation programmes


  • Book Aid International’s African Story Box Project "gives children the chance to discover stories from near and far, helping to spark a love of reading that will last a lifetime". According to BAI, each African Story Box contains 200 books – of which, importantly, 100 are locally published in Africa – together with "100 carefully selected English language [UK published] titles." BAI says "they range from picture books to poems and folk tales, and we include guidance to help teachers promote reading, too. To provide a diverse and engaging range of African stories, we build close links with local publishers and reading agencies, and we support our partners to run a live event to promote the power of reading in communities and in the media." Initial funding was provided by the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund and the UK’s People’s Postcode Lottery. The funds from the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund will target 24 primary schools in Uganda and Zimbabwe.


    Bookselling and book distribution


  • In her article in the latest issue of Ghana Book World no. 8 (2022), "Bookselling in Ghana: Challenges and Opportunities", Ernesticia Lartey Asuinura, Executive Director of the Ghana Book Development Council, examines the current state of the retail book trade in Ghana, which is increasingly coming across as an arduous venture. There are numerous challenges, with many booksellers experiencing dwindling fortunes as a result of a general poor reading habit, and a declining book-buying culture in many communities. However, she argues, "the reality is that there is a big underserved market which ought to be explored or tapped. In many homes today, there is a dearth of book stock which then presents an opportunity for booksellers to grab. Moreover, in many rural communities there are no or very limited bookstores available. This situation is compounded by the fact that the network of public or community libraries in the country is limited and largely skewed towards urban areas. … With effective marketing and business planning, booksellers can take advantage of the numerous opportunities in Ghanaian communities to increase book sales and readership. Notwithstanding the emergence of e-books, the printed book still appeals to many users, and so a proper blend of e-books and printed books in various categories of books will ensure that a bookseller enjoys a good market all-year-round."


    Children's book publishing




  • In Overcoming the Translation Challenges in African Language Publishing for Children by Christian Elongué, the co-founder and leader of the Muna Kalati, a platform promoting children’s books from Africa, reflects on the challenges of translation – and the "translation dilemma encountered by publishers" – as a way to increase the amount of appropriate reading materials for African children. "Many African publishers argue that, even though the languages spoken at home are African languages, there is little demand from readers for books in African languages, and that it would not therefore be financially viable for them to publish books in these languages. They feel that expansion into the trade market with African language books is unrealistic, citing reasons such as the pervasiveness of oral culture, lack of disposable income and low levels of literacy. However, this interpretation is overly simplistic, because Africans do read when the content is affordable, accessible and of interest." Moreover, the specialist skills required when translating for children are often underestimated. "Unlike translating fiction for adults, a wide range of other factors need to be considered when translating for children, such as who the reader is (a child or an adult reading aloud). Picture books, where words and images work to produce an inseparable whole, are by far the largest category of children’s books and create particular challenges."


    Digital publishing


  • In Save the Children: Promoting Digital Reading in Rwanda Catherine Uwimana describes and evaluates a pilot digital reading activity project which Save the Children - with the support of the African Publishing Innovation Fund - established to promote remote and accessible literacy and reading for children in rural or under resourced communities. The project seeks to boost childhood literacy using digital reading resources, and uses a multi-stakeholder approach working with eight community libraries across five districts, eight community radio stations, publishers, children, parents, and the Ministry of Education’s Kigali Public Library. Through this project, children used tablets and radios to enjoy books and explore other ways to interact with stories. In the case of one community library, young readers had a chance to use tablets to read children’s books in a language they speak and understand, Kinyarwanda.


    Journals and magazine publishing


  • Best Practices in Editorial Processes and Publishing for Open Access Journals. (Webinar, February 2022).
    An EIFL webinar offering best practices guidelines, tips, and business models for open access journal editors and publishers in Africa (and elsewhere). Susan Veldsman, of the Academy of Science South Africa/ASSAF, presents guidelines for best editorial practices for authors, peer reviewers and journal editors and publishers. The presentation covers best practices and tips on editorial and other policies, such as conflict of interest, confidentiality, ethical issues (including plagiarism), corrections (errata, corrigenda, retractions), copyright and licensing, advertising, preprints, digital archiving, preservation, peer review guidelines, editorial processes, and technical aspects of open access publishing. Louise van Heerden (ASSAf) talks about SciELO SA, criteria for inclusion and best editorial practices; while Susan Murray of African Journals Online/AJOL describes the activities of AJOL, open access business models, and the Journal Publishing Practices and Standards (JPPS) framework.


    Open access publishing


  • In Open Access Publishing in Kenya Arnold Mwanzu examines the challenges and successes of transitioning to ‘Transformative Agreements’, and opportunities for these agreements to continue benefiting Kenyan researchers; and contracts negotiated between institutions and publishers "that transform the business model underlying scholarly publishing towards a fully open access model." The Kenya Libraries and Information Services Consortium (KLISC) has been at the forefront of championing and spearheading open access initiatives in Kenya. As part of an effort to establish open access publishing trends and investigate the potential for and impact of transformative agreements in Kenya, the OA2020 Lower-Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) Working Group commissioned a survey in collaboration with KLISC in 2019. Its objective sought to establish where authors in Kenya publish, whether they receive discounts in APCs (article processing charges), and whether they would welcome the idea of transformative agreements leading to open access to resources vis-à-vis paying for both subscriptions and for publishing.

    Transformative agreements are a huge advantage to LMICs, the author asserts "simply because they spell free access to research information, equal to the developed nations. This will create a good environment of learning and research, leading to a bridged knowledge gap and a more informed society. As for the publishers, it will give them a chance to do things right and correct some wrongs from an increasingly costly and unsustainable financial model that relies on subscriptions to content developed by scholars and researcher in the same subscribing institutions. … It is important to create a balance between the roles of departments in the transformative agreement model, since with less or no subscription fees, the library budget and mandate on e-resources still needs to be maintained."
    Note: See also this helpful primer Transformative Agreements: A Primer by Lisa Janicke Hinchcliffe: "A contract is a transformative agreement if it seeks to shift the contracted payment from a library or group of libraries to a publisher away from subscription-based reading and towards open access publishing."


  • Also on the topic of open access publishing, in a recent paper published in the Journal of Electronic Publishing, Reggie Raju and Auliya Badrudeen write about "Social Justice Driving Open Access Publishing: An African perspective". The OA movement is generally considered to have been founded for the truly philanthropic purpose of promoting equity and inclusivity in access to scholarship. For Africans, "this meant the opening of the research ecosystem to marginalized research communities who could then freely make use of shared research to aid in the socio-economic development and emancipation of the continent. However, this philanthropic purpose has been deviated from, leading instead to the disenfranchisement of the African research community. Through systemic inequalities embedded in the scholarly ecosystem, the publishing landscape has been northernised, with research from the global north sitting at the very top of the knowledge hierarchy to the exclusion of Africa and other parts of the global south. … For this reason, progressive open access practices and policies need to be adopted, with an emphasis on social justice as an impetus, to enhance the sharing and recognition of African scholarship."

    In their conclusions, the authors state: "There are many challenges that the Global South needs to address in transitioning from being a marginalized research community to being an included one. There has to be a deliberate strategy to deconstruct the current dominant exclusionary research landscape and reconstruct a fit-for-purpose landscape that is driven by social justice principles. The example of UCT Libraries demonstrates collaborative possibilities to drive diamond open access publishing to strengthen a social justice–driven scholarly ecosystem that will be inclusive of African research voices."


  • Open Access in Africa – An Inequitable and Untenable Publishing Model by Adéle Strydom, Juanita Mellet, Jeanne Van Rensburg, and Michael S. Pepper.
    The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the unequal publication of global research outputs, the authors say. The contributions made by African countries to COVID-19 publications between November 2019 and August 2020 totalled 3%. South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria provided 65% of the COVID-19 articles written by Africans. Meanwhile, 20% of the African COVID-19 publications had no African authors, and over 66% of authors on African papers were non-African. "This raises the question: is open access publishing truly accessible and affordable to all? The answer, unfortunately, is no".

    The subscription-based publishing model allows authors to publish for free, "but readers need individual or institutional subscriptions to access the content. … With open access publishing, the responsibility of payment for access to research publications and associated resources has shifted from readers to authors. This approach results in significant advantages for citations, as well as freely available access to publications and other research resources; however, the article processing charges (APCs) requested from authors are very high relative to fund availability and currency conversions for many countries, and even more so for low-to-middle income countries." In summary, the authors argue, "it is critical to ensure that research from under-resourced areas gains adequate visibility, and while open access is encouraged to achieve this objective, resources must be provided to ensure that this is both equitable and tenable."


    Predatory publishing


  • Nigeria Tackles Publishing in Predatory Journals, by Jackie Opara.
    Nigerian authors are among the biggest contributors to predatory journals, the author claims, "but authorities in Nigeria have set up measures "to address the scourge." However, "keeping pace with fighting the predatory journals is a challenge because they are aggressive." Higher education institutions in Nigeria need to train academics to spot fraudulent journals, researchers say, while members of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) issued a communiqué "Combatting Predatory Academic Practices in Nigeria a Policy Roundtable", in June 2022 in which they recommended the strengthening of librarians to identify predatory journals, the creation of a list of reputable academic journals, "and incentivising publishing in reputable and highly rated journals."


    Reading culture and reading promotion


  • Why We have Poor Reading Culture in Nigeria, by Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera.
    One of the biggest and largely unresolved problems a stereotypical African society like Nigeria has faced over the last decades, the author says, is the decline in the reading culture of Nigerians. "Twenty-two years into the 21st century, it is pretty evident that the passion for extracurricular reading and the urge to satisfy the curiosities that lead to reading are on the decline, just like the quality of life of Nigerians. Even the act of buying books by the normal working-class Nigerian is proving expensive. … Yet sufficient concern is yet to be shown as to why the reading culture in Nigeria is on the decline. Some have often explained this disturbing trend by attributing this lack of enthusiasm towards reading as an African habit." The many issues relating to the question of the dwindling culture, "including the inclusive relationship between reading habits and socioeconomic well-being, are yet to be connected."

    Reading culture, like every other culture, "is not independent, but tied to a variety of other factors in whose presence or absence, its importance, is either elevated or depressed. Also, cultural growth is largely dependent on consciousness. … How do you foster a reading culture in a society where some of the best-known cities do not have standard libraries which boast half an impressive catalogue of books? … Extracurricular reading as a Nigerian in many quarters has become more of a loner’s virtue. This is one way Nigeria has deteriorated over the last three decades. … If the Nigeria of 2022 is likened to a sinking ship, one of the sinking treasures of the society as it grows decadent is its reading culture – whatever little it managed to amass in its days of more heightened curiosity. … Readers do not emerge from societies where there are no libraries with book-filled shelves, where there are no rewards for reading; or societies where people are unable to feed satisfactorily, and hence find books to be an expensive commodity."


  • "Changing the Poor Reading Culture in Ghana: Partnering with Law Makers and Schools."
    Writing in Ghana Book World no. 8 (2022) William Du Bois and Landyn Imagawa report about the activities of the Worldreader organization in Ghana, which promotes reading through the use of digital reading solutions. Worldreader’s free BookSmart Mobile App makes reading accessible for vulnerable and underserved communities in both English and local Ghanaian languages. Worldreader, the author says, "aims to promote digital literacy tools as a step towards accelerating reading development and aid in the supplementation of education. With the use of digital tools, teachers, parents, and students can have easy access to a variety of books to support learning. … Through events such as the MP ‘DigiRead’ train, the organization aims to change the culture of reading in Ghana by educating teachers, parents, and students on the importance of reading to a child’s learning development."


    Scholarly publishing


  • Best Practices in Editorial Processes and Publishing for Open Access Journals.
    This EIFL 2022 webinar offering best practices guidelines, tips, and business models for open access journal editors and publishers in Africa (and elsewhere). Susan Veldsman, of the Academy of Science South Africa/ASSAF presents guidelines for best editorial practices for authors, peer reviewers and journal editors and publishers. The presentation covers best practices and tips on editorial and other policies, such as conflict of interest, confidentiality, ethical issues (including plagiarism), corrections (errata, corrigenda, retractions), copyright and licensing, advertising, preprints, digital archiving, preservation, peer review guidelines, editorial processes, and technical aspects of open access publishing. Louise van Heerden (ASSAf) talks about SciELO SA, criteria for inclusion and best editorial practices; while Susan Murray of African Journals Online/AJOL. describes the activities of AJOL, open access business models, and the Journal Publishing Practices and Standards (JPPS) framework.


  • In Some Thoughts on How to Confront Bibliometric Coloniality, David Mills, Lecturer at the University of Oxford, asks what challenges do Africa-based journal editors and publishers face? "New opportunities have been opened up by digitalisation, online journals and open source publishing software. Yet a lack of sustainable funding and the struggle for academic credibility force the continent’s journals to compete on a very uneven playing field. … The great majority of Africa’s scholarly journals are not indexed in the major global journal databases and citation indexes. With the exception of journals published from South Africa, only around 40 of the 34,000 journals in the Scopus database are published from Sub-Saharan Africa." The future of African journal publishing, the author argues, "depends on strong national research ecosystems, multilingual publishing across a diversity of portals, and, perhaps most importantly, nurturing alternative circuits of academic credibility."


  • African Scholars Concerned Over Biases in Review Processes by Wagdy Sawahel.
    Citing from various studies, the author of this University World News post says that there are "ongoing concerns over geographical biases in the evaluation of scientific research that could be disadvantaging Africa scholars remain, and suggest the need for ongoing and targeted efforts to address inequalities in knowledge production and publication." Geographical biases could have a negative impact on academic endeavours. The author reports about efforts to counter unconscious bias, the impact of geographic bias. However, in tackling geographic basis (citing Professor Goski Alabi, President of the African Council for Distance Education, and Chair of the International Network for Internationalisation of Education), should be tackled by enhancing African journals’ research impact: African journals "must either enhance their research impact and value to find their way into indexed repositories like Scopus, ScienceDirect and Web of Science or create a strong, high research quality publication presence through repositories like the African Journals Online, which requires aggressive capacity-building."



  • "The Reality of the ‘Publish or Perish’ Concept, Perspectives from the Global South” by Tibelius Amutuhaire, published in the no. 38 (2022) issue of Publishing Research Quarterly, problematises the ‘publish or perish’ concept for African academics, especially those intending to make an impact in their society with a purpose of eliminating inequalities in academia: "Historically, educators in higher education (HE) were expected to educate, generate knowledge, and do community service. With some commentators arguing that an academic must ‘publish or perish’, the expectation to create knowledge through research became overemphasized. The concept is widespread in HE institutions around the world. … According to this viewpoint, research publications are the most important factor in determining whether an academic or an administrator gets employed, promoted, acknowledged, retained, or not hired. The idea of ‘publish or perish’, on the other hand, is based on the dominant Western knowledge creation realities, which largely misrepresent or ignore African realities. To avoid perpetuating inequalities in academia, it is critical to re-examine how this idea informs knowledge creation in Africa. For example, the enormous number of publications required for one to advance up the academic ladder comes at a hefty cost that is not always feasible to low-paid academics in Africa’s resource-poor countries. … We need to establish knowledge-creation processes that are tailored to African realities."

    African scholars and institutions need to stand their ground and resist unfair conditions set by North-funded agencies, the author argues, "each nation must set its developmental priorities and align scientific research with them. This will allow scholars to participate in projects beneficial to both Africa and the development partners."


  • In another post in University World News, “Academic Publishing Needs Creative Solutions to Grow”, Munyaradzi Makoni declares that the publishing industry in Africa as a whole, and scholarly publishing more specifically, is still weak: “There is a lack of distribution hubs and intra-Africa book trade, and curricula, pedagogy and learning processes are still rooted in the colonial situation, leading to the absence of a scholarship culture.” The exception, he says, is South Africa, which “is financially motivating for authors who earn a research incentive for their universities from the state. … South Africa is a country with numerous functioning academic presses that often work in collaboration with overseas co-publishers and distributors. Unfortunately, in the rest of Africa, there are few such presses and many are not functional.” In order to address the shortage of academic books written by African scholars, the author draws attention to the work the Academic and Non-fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa (ANFASA), which offers writing grants for books, and workshops on book publishing, authorship and copyright issues. ANFASA is not a scholarly publisher but works on behalf of authors’ rights and is involved in training both within and beyond the academic enterprise.


  • “Scholarly Publishing in Mozambique”, by Policarpo Matiquite and Rosângela Schwarz Rodrigues, published in Scholarly and Research Communication 13 issue 1 (2022), explores Mozambican scholarly research production by identifying journal articles indexed on the Web of Science database that include at least one Mozambican author. It describes and analyses journals indexed in the Web of Science from 2000-2015 featuring Mozambican authors or researchers. It seeks to identify Mozambican researchers and their affiliated institutions, describes the journals that publish them, and analyses access to the journals. The study sample included 1,536 articles in which 896 Mozambican authors and their institutions were identified. The analysis revealed that Mozambican authors publish primarily in subscription-based journals published in the United States and the United Kingdom. A Google Scholar search for the same authors yielded 423 documents, including articles published in 72 journals in 14 countries. The study found that Mozambican research is often published in English with an international partner in Western countries.


  • In “Can I Afford to Publish? A Dilemma for African Scholars”, by Addisu Mekonnen and Colin A. Chapman et al, published in Ecology Letters 25, 4 (2022), the authors state that with open-access publishing authors often pay an article processing charge and subsequently their article is freely available online. “However, these charges are beyond the reach of most African academics … Thus, the trend towards open-access publishing will shift the business model from a pay-wall model, where access to literature is limited, to a pay-to-publish one, where African scholars cannot afford to publish. We explore the costs of publishing and the ability of African scholars to afford to publish via open access in top journals. Three-quarters of the 40 top ecology journals required payment for open-access publishing (average cost $3,150). Paying such fees is a hardship for African scholars as grant funding is not available and it is not feasible to pay the fees themselves as salaries are low. We encourage funders and publishers to facilitate an equitable publishing model that allows African scholars to make their research available through open-access publishing.”


    Publisher profiles and interviews


  • Kiarie Kamau, the Man Who Wrote Himself into Job in Publishing Industry.
    Kiarie Kamau is the Managing Director and CEO at East African Educational Publishers and, since April 2022, the new chair of the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA). In this interview he talks about his career in the publishing industry, its many challenges, and its prospects in the future. Contrary to what some people claim about lack of readers, Kamau says, Kenyans are in fact avid readers: “There is a reason publishers in Kenya keep churning out general reading materials, including biographical works. Books are sold at almost every street corner in Nairobi; and this is in addition to the many bookshops spread all over. Those businesses would not exist had there been no readers.” He is also well aware of the frequent accusation, by authors and potential authors alike, that local publishers pay too much attention to textbooks, at the expense of general readership books. “While their concerns are genuine,” he says, “just like any smart entrepreneur, a publisher has to balance between realising immediate returns on their investment and long-term investment. Textbooks belong to the latter, while books for leisure reading take long to reach break-even point. In addition, publishers have business plans and strategies, which in turn generate work schedules and plans that have to be followed as per budgetary allocations.” On the digital vs. print debate, Kamau believes that the conventional hard copy is not about to be driven to extinction by the digital technology: “For most book lovers in Africa and beyond, nothing can replace the smell of a new book in their hands ... and this applies to both young and old. … The digital and print versions will continue to co-exist. I do not foresee the complete discarding of the physical book and a total embrace of the digital book.”


  • PublisHer: Sandra Tamele.
    Emma House talks to Sandra Tamale of Editora Trinta Zero Nove (ETZN), the first Mozambican publisher dedicated to literature in translation. Her start-up publisher enterprise seeks to give voice to debut, black, female authors, and writers with disabilities or from other minorities, to work towards a more inclusive, loving society. In this conversation she talks about her inspiration for setting up the publishing company, and the many formidable challenges it faces on various fronts.


  • A South African University Publisher Makes it to 100. A Rare and Important Event, by Beth Le Roux.
    Beth le Roux, Associate Professor, Information Science, at the University of Pretoria, writes about contrasting examples of the current state of scholarly publishing in African countries, and about the longevity – and significance – of a publisher like Wits University Press. Wits Press was established in 1922, the same year as its parent institution, and this account provides a short history of its early years, and its position and publishing output during the apartheid era and years of censorship. However, from the 1970s, “state repression could no longer be ignored and the Wits University Press publishing list increasingly featured studies of trade unions, labour and law, which served as proxies for overtly political books. Within a decade, the press could describe itself accurately as a ‘progressive publisher for a new South Africa’. … Will Wits University Press make it for another 100 years? The greatest ongoing threat has been there from the very beginning: visibility and relevance. Or rather, how a South African university press can make itself visible and demonstrate its relevance to often indifferent and highly competitive international markets. The press has actively explored co-publishing and distribution agreements in North America and Europe. The west continues to dominate published scholarship about Africa. The solution is more visible research from Africa. Wits University Press has long been part of this solution.”


  • Radical Publishing Futures: Mkuki na Nyota. (Podcast, Radical Publishing Futures, Episode 8)
    A conversation between Meg Arenberg, Managing Director of the Radical Books Collective, and Walter Bgoya, long time progressive African publisher; talking about his background and his early career in publishing in the 1970s as Director of the parastatal Tanzania Publishing House where Bgoya oversaw the publication of such influential anti-imperialist texts as Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Agostinho Neto's Sacred Hope, Samora Machel's Establishing People's Power to Serve the Masses, and Issa Shivji's Class Struggle in Tanzania. Halfway through the conversation then shifts to talk about the activities of his publishing company Mkuki na Nyota Publishers in Dar es Salaam, when he is joined by his son and successor at Mkuki na Nyota, who is now its Creative Director. Together they discuss the press's more recent projects, the challenges and opportunities of the digital age, the need for African book prizes, and their ideas for strengthening independent publishing and building a reading culture in Tanzania and across the continent. Walter Bgoya is also a founding member of the African Books Collective, the member-owned distribution and marketing organization for African publishers across the continent, and which has led to significantly enhanced visibility and sales for their books, and much improved reach in the major global book markets.




January 2022


  • Rather belatedly we draw attention to Publishing Collaboratives. Research Report by Richard Crabbe, published by the Global Book Alliance and its partner organization USAID, that has only recently come to our attention. Published in 2018(?), and for reasons unknown, it seems to have been poorly publicized. The 77-page report is freely accessible, although some pages are still a draft version. In order to achieve scale quickly, ‘African ‘Publishing Collaboratives’, the Alliance says, will seek “to support publishers in low-resource settings to identify and create high-quality titles, building and strengthening local publishing markets. … Regional and national Publishing Collaboratives will support local publishers as the cornerstone for local book development, creating the culturally appropriate titles that will populate classrooms.” The Collaboratives “may support writers’ forums and book fairs, websites to match talent with publishers, and/or training on quality standards and technology to support book development and adaptation across contexts and languages.”

    It is a very interesting, comprehensive, and meticulously documented study. In the Executive Summary of the document, Crabbe – a former Chair of the African Publishers Network/APNET, and formerly with the World Bank – states:
    “The book publishing industry in Africa is not a single monolith; it is growing, attracting young talent, willing to experiment, and producing more than just textbooks. The opportunities and challenges these businesses face reflect the larger dynamics of their countries and regions. Content and production quality have improved dramatically over the last 10 years. There is growth in digital content, particularly fiction in Nigeria, by a young cadre of publishers. There is increasing interest in the production of books in local languages, partly to support changes in school curriculum, as this gains ground. And there is growing interest in cross-border publishing. East Africa shows strong regional market operations by publishers – especially from Kenya and Uganda – in neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, South Sudan and Zambia. Meetings have been held and there is ongoing communication among industry players to revive the African Publishers Network to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information, and to assist in capacity building. Africa’s    demographics – in  2015 children aged 0-14 years numbered 474 million, about  41 percent of the population – coupled with ongoing improvements in literacy and education, should point to a bright future for the industry.”

    But many challenges remain, Crabbe says, some of which have persisted for decades, despite assistance programmes and various attempts at getting industry players to work together: “In addition to the challenges, reliable statistics on the book publishing industry are hard to obtain. Record-keeping at industry- and government-level is weak, a characteristic that hampers advocacy and strategic planning. Over the past 40+ years, many pan-African or regional organizations, programmes, networks, and other initiatives in the book sector have failed, despite their best intentions. So, what can be done to breathe new life into the African book publishing industry and make it sustainable?” Richard Crabbe sets out a number of recommendations how this might be achieved. The report also includes a series of informative country profiles, including responses to questionnaires mailed to gather information, from publishers and book industry associations in Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.


  • Accra named as UNESCO World Book Capital for 2023. Following an evaluation of the World Book Capital Advisory Committee. The citation states: “The city proposed to the committee a broad programme that targets marginal groups with high levels of illiteracy, including women, youth, migrants, street children and persons with disabilities. Measures to be implemented include the reinforcing of school and community infrastructure and institutional support for lifelong learning, in order to foster the culture of reading. By championing the publishing sector and other creative industries, the programme also aims to encourage professional skills development to stimulate the country’s socio-economic transformation.” Activities will also include the introduction of mobile libraries to reach marginalized groups, holding of workshops to promote reading and writing of books in different Ghanaian languages, the establishment of skills, and showcase Ghanaian arts and culture, and promote inclusivity.

    This is the third time that an African city has received this honour. Previous UNESCO World Book Capitals were Port Harcourt, Nigeria in 2014, and Conakry, Republic of Guinea in 2017.


  • While it was exciting to hear about Accra being named UNESCO World Book Capital for 2023, a report Publishers Turning Text Books into Toilet Rolls Following Reversal of Decision to Roll out New Curricula.” makes rather less happy reading. Ghanaian publishers have reportedly been compelled to pulp textbooks produced for the new school curricula at the lower levels, following the government’s failure to implement the new curricula. In this interview (and accompanying video) the current president of the Ghana Publishers Association, Asare Yamoah, states that “in our bid to empty our warehouses and create space for the new curriculum-based text books, we have sent all those ‘old’ books to the paper mills to be turned into toilet rolls”; on the grounds, reportedly, that the government’s National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NaCCA) did not proceed with its proposal to phase out the old curriculum books “since there isn’t much difference between the old and new curricula in terms of content.”


  • More unhappy news: the South African Book Development Council (SABDC) is to close down. In a press statement published on the organization’s website, the Board cites financial difficulty as the primary reason for folding up. A few years ago, there were active national book development councils (or their equivalents) in several African countries, in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, carrying out a diverse range of promotional activities in support of publishing and book development in their respective countries. The SABDC was prominent among them, and did some excellent and innovative work over the years. Yet in August 2021 the SABDC, starved of funds over a long period, was compelled to close its doors.

    This, lamentably, leaves just one functional African book development, that of Ghana, which enjoys measure of government funding.


  • Appearing in Publishing Research Quarterly (v.37, issue 3, 2021: 453-457, free access), Bodour Al Qasimi, the current President of the International Publishers Association (IPA) writes about the innovative Africa Publishing Innovation Fund (APIF): Ideas to Keep African Children Learning and Communities Connected. In 2019, an estimated 100 million African school-age children were designated ‘out-of-school’, the highest numbers in the world, Bodour Al Qasimi says; and COVID-19 has dramatically worsened that already bleak picture because school closures have cut off any children who cannot access education remotely. “The situation is further complicated by longstanding issues that have led to insufficient spending on social infrastructure, like libraries, which could have helped students remain in school. Between urban/rural digital divides and long-standing cracks prised wider by the virus, Africa’s abrupt shift to remote learning risks creating a generation of children whose inability to access education leaves them far behind or simply unschooled.”

    In 2021, its second year of operation, the IPA turned its attention to the remote learning challenges in Africa. A decision was taken to sponsor locally-owned projects to keep students learning and give disadvantaged communities ways to access books and premises for community cohesion, skills development, studying and reading. “The APIF is not the solution”, Al Qasimi states, “but it is a sincere attempt by publishers to address some of the problems within the overarching African education emergency.”


  • Toolkit - A Guide for the Formulation and Implementation of National Book and Reading Policies in Africa, by Aliou Sow and Lily Nyariki, is a useful and freely accessible toolkit, along with a series of supporting documents as PDF files (Continental Framework, Brochure, and Questionnaire). It is intended to “serve as a quick reference guide to stakeholders to easily understand the need for the policy and the process for systematic and coherent formulation and implementation of a National Book and Reading Policy (NBRP).”

    Unfortunately, the authors state, “government leaders in many countries do not fully grasp the critical role books and reading play in the cultural, social and economic development of nations, and that the book and access to relevant information is the transformative tool and controls a nation’s development. As such, many African governments lack a coherent agenda on books and reading, and do not have a national book policy.” The authors call for the establishment of national book policies, and urge African governments to provide tangible support for the book industries generally.


  • The Development and Accessibility of E-Books: Limitations and Prospects, an article in a recent issue Ghana Book World (no. 7, 2021: 35-44) is the text of a speech delivered at the World Book and Copyright Day 2021 celebrations in Accra, by Asare Konadu Yamoah, current president of the Ghana Publishers Association. Much progress has been made in the last few years to make e-books accessible to screen reader users on different platforms, Konadu says, and this has opened new worlds for readers, publishers, writers, and visually impaired people. It has presented “new opportunities for publishers by offering an alternative platform that mirror the traditional book production and distribution format. However, in Ghana, the development of e-books has not been encouraging, although a good number publishers are now considering converting their books into e-books, to be offered on various different platforms.“ Innovative platforms, such as AZALIA, “that were indigenous and promised to revolutionise the e-books experience in Ghana have not been successful, not because of inefficiency, but [quality of] content.”

    There are many advantages that have been listed by users in educational settings, but “all that has been said about the usefulness and convenience of the e-book comes with financial and other conditions.” In Ghana, the author argues “we need to pay attention to the infrastructure, and must increase Internet penetration and accessibility. We must incorporate the e-learning system into our curriculum, offering publishers incentives to convert and align their publishing infrastructure to the provision of e-learning materials. … There is every reason for publishers to be apprehensive in venturing into the e-book market, considering the potential of having pirates encroach on their works. This requires that our legal framework must be reviewed to offer more proactive provisions (the copyright and other intellectual property laws). … The initial cost for the development of e-books and e-learning resources is quite high, and any potential loss of investment should be addressed through policy. Despite all these challenges, I would encourage publishers to look at the various opportunities that the digital revolution portends.”


  • Also on the topic of digital publishing is Okadabooks, E-Book Publishing and the Distribution of Homegrown Nigerian Literature, by Temitayo Olofinlua, published in Eastern African Literature and Cultural Studies (v. 7, issue 1-2, 2021: 4-64), with a freely accessible pre-print version also available here. It examines the activities of Okadabooks, a Nigerian e-book publishing and reading platform – founded by Okechukwu Ofili in 2013 – and its impact on the Nigerian publishing industry; exploring the complex and overlapping relationships between writing online, self-publishing and e-book publishing, organizing innovative outreach programmes to foster and spread literacy. “Drawing on interviews as well as an institutional analysis of Okadabooks, the article traces the emergence and evolution of Okadabooks as a way of documenting an important and growing sector of literary publishing in Nigeria. By examining book distribution challenges in Nigeria, and exploring the ways e-book publishing offers solutions in terms of ease of publication, it shows how the platform enables writers to make money from their writing, and reach more readers. Consequently, it shows how that creates both cultural and economic value.”


  • African Books Collective (ABC), in the latest of its series of publisher profiles, offers a profile of veteran Kenyan publisher Henry Chakava, who is sometimes also referred to as ‘The Godfather of African Publishing’. Chakava is the former Chairman of East African Educational Publishers and a founder member of the Oxford-based African Books Collective (ABC), as well a member of ABC’s Council of Management for many years. In this interview he offers his thoughts and reflections about the early years of ABC, the opportunities it presented for African publishers to showcase their books in all parts of the world; the early challenges it faced, and the changes seen in the African cultural landscape since the birth of ABC. He also talks about the changes in the African knowledge production landscape, and the move to a new digital publishing environment. Chakava says “The terrain is clearly set for a vibrant future, especially in Kenya. Most publishers are embracing new publishing technologies very fast, new players are getting onto the scene, and partnerships with international players are also becoming a reality.” ABC can only get better, he predicts: “First, advancements in modern technology have tremendously eased the ABC model of operations. … ABC has been able to contain operational costs and hence consistently increase profitability, due to this futuristic mind-set that looks at the laptop as an office in itself, as opposed to having a physical office. This will continue to define its operations.”


  • Another icon of African publishing, Walter Bgoya, is profiled in Maria Suriano’s “Dreams and Constraints of an African Publisher: Walter Bgoya, Tanzania Publishing House and Mkuki na Nyota, 1972-2020”, published in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute (v. 90, issue 4, 2021: 575-601).
    It is also freely accessible here.
    An extensive article, it explores book publishing in Tanzania through the history of two pioneering publishing houses “and the charismatic man behind them”, Walter Bgoya, former General Manager of the Tanzania Publishing House (1972-1990), who pioneered an independent publishing model in founding Mkuki na Nyota Publishers Ltd in 1991.

    An extensive study, the author says that the article “represents the first scholarly attempt to put these two bodies of work in conversation, in that it brings together a focus on Walter Bgoya as a cultural innovator … the books he has helped conceive, and produce, the ‘habits and dispositions surrounding them’ and the obstacles faced by a publisher from ‘the neglected’. In so doing, I reconstruct and recount Bgoya’s intellectual formation, aspirations and motivations to work in an exacting sector, while simultaneously investigating the inner workings of two leading publishing houses and the consequences of austerity measures on book production and dissemination in post-colonial Tanzania, challenges engendered by state policies (or the lack thereof) and the shifting world order. … Bgoya’s resilience is charted through the lens of microhistory, an epistemologically fruitful historiographical perspective (neither a school of thought nor an orthodoxy) that has sometimes been misunderstood: the small scale was once discarded as ‘a trap’. Yet, reducing the scale and considering apparently insignificant facts and individuals’ idiosyncratic social relations allows us to grasp continuities and clues that can generate – not automatically, and not by analogy, but by anomaly. … With this theoretical backdrop in place, the author seeks “to demonstrate how concrete and intimate details about two publishing houses and the man behind them – i.e. the ‘micro’ dimensions (publishing model, individual choices, the social relations around them, entities constraining publishing) – are connected to the ‘macro’ national and the man behind them.”


  • In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of articles and studies on the important topic of publishing in African languages, including reports and evaluations of a variety of indigenous language publishing projects and programmes. Below are details of two such contributions:

    In Overcoming the Translation Challenges in African Language Publishing for Children Christian Elongue states that “most African publishers argue that, while the most spoken home languages are African languages, there is little reader demand for African language books, and that it would not be financially viable for them to publish books in these languages. They feel that expansion into the trade market with African language books is unrealistic, citing reasons such as the pervasiveness of oral culture, lack of disposable income and low levels of literacy. However, this interpretation is overly simplistic, because Africans do read when the content is affordable, accessible and of interest.”

    Knowledge Production on Eastern Africa. Its author, Godwin Sinudu, is the founding co-editor of the Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies (EALCS). Before its launch, no single journal published in the region had attracted the attention of such a publisher with global networks of circulation and a reputation for rigorous editorial standards, Sinudu says. “We also felt that the wider world of literary and cultural knowledge production was poorer because the existing infrastructures of journal publishing with a global reach did not provide for publication in Kiswahili. … We therefore see the current Kiswahili-English bilingual issue of EALCS as a significant step towards facilitating theoretical conversations involving academics versed in Kiswahili across the world, but also as an occasion for dialogue between Kiswahili and English, indisputably the most important languages in eastern Africa.”


  • Modjajibooks has recently published the latest (2021) edition of its African Small Publishers Catalogue and which, outside Africa, is distributed by African Books Collective. Edited by Colleen Higgs and Aimee-Claire Smith, this is a very useful directory and reference resource (now published in a miniature book format) that aims to serve as “a showcase of the variety and extent of independent and small publishing in Africa”. It lists a wide range of over 60 small and independent publishers in countries from around Africa, and some elsewhere. For each publisher it provides full address details, telephone number, email address, website, Facebook page and Twitter profile, with information about each company, the nature of their list, overseas distributors, etc. The catalogue also contains a number of short articles about publishing the indie way, book-making in the time of COVID-19, and more.


  • African Publishers’ Associations on the Web: An Inventory and Directory, is a new paper by Hans Zell published in The African Book Publishing Record (v. 47, no. 3, 2021: 228-233), and with a pre-print version also freely accessible at Back in June 2019 the International Publishers Association (IPA) stated 40 African publishers’ associations had gathered ahead of a two-day IPA seminar in Nairobi, as the International Publishers Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Publishers Network and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa to formalise the IPA’s commitment to the region.

    “Straight after the signing”, the report said, “the three organizations took advantage of the presence of the heads of 40 African publishers’ associations to set out the first steps of the newly formalised partnerships.” This is a welcome development, especially as it has been generally recognized that book professional associations are still weak in many African countries, often due to lack of resources and skills. Several are dormant or carry little clout, while others seem to have ceased activities altogether.

    A total of 41 national book publishers’ associations in Africa were identified, although a substantial number of them are not very active at this time; some have been dormant for several years now, or are still in the process of formation. Only 10 African publishers’ associations maintain active and currently accessible websites (as at March 2021). Zell argues that, in terms of global reach, and in today’s digital world, a web presence is essential for any book industry organization. “Publishers’ associations in Africa are in need of a higher profile. They will want to become more proactive, more visible in shaping policies and identifying needs; and gathering, and developing training programmes for the African book professions. It could be argued that this is even more important now when, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the book industries everywhere are facing hugely difficult and uncertain times.”


  • The latest issue of Africa Book Link is now freely accessible, covering news, reports, reviews, and more, about new and forthcoming African literature and literary criticism. Edited by Gilbert Braspenning, and rich in content as always, Africa Book Link highlights new books and articles from leading publishers and journals worldwide, including those published in Africa and the diaspora. It offers free access to substantial articles, book alerts, full-length book reviews, and reproductions of new book covers; as well as articles, essays, papers, and book chapters. Other content includes insightful interviews and conversations, and news items about conferences, seminars, and book promotional events.


  • Books, Reading, and Publishing in Africa - A Select Bibliography compiled by Cecile Jagodzinski, and freely accessible, this is the first in a series of Special Topic Bibliographies from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP). While, for the most part, it is restricted to books and a small number papers in collections, it is a useful checklist of some of the literature on the topic published in book form, albeit without annotations or critical analysis. It lists material under eleven sections: Authors and Readers, Book Industries and Trade, Books and Reading, Books-History, Censorship, Libraries-History, Manuscripts, Newspapers, Printing-History, Publishers and Publishing, and Transmission of Text, providing full bibliographic data for each record, including ISBNs.


March 2021



  • African Books Collective – A Timeline
    The Oxford, UK-based African Books Collective is 30 years old! It’s been an eventful few decades, they say, “and so we felt it was time to share a flavour of how the vision of a few passionate publishers, on the continent and beyond, led to the phenomenon that is African Books Collective. … Join us for a trip down memory lane at pivotal moments in our history – looking at the key debates we were engaged in during those times – arriving at where we are today. Click through to in-depth articles and photos from some of the Collective’s members.” The Collective now numbers 150 African publishers from 22 countries.


  • Digital Publishing is Dawning in Africa, but Please don’t Forget the Printed Book in Africa Quite Yet is a thought-provoking article by Scott Walter and Charles Temple, and forms a chapter to appear in a forthcoming book No Shelf Required 3: The New Era for E-Books and Digital Content, edited by Mirela Roncevic and Peyton Stafford (American Library Association, forthcoming 2021). Too many children in developing countries don’t read well, the authors say, and because people learn to read by reading, addressing the dearth of reading materials must be a priority of development agencies. Digital technology does offer the hope of filling the gap, but as the authors argue, “the cost of hardware is still a bottleneck; and more seriously, since readers need materials of high quality that are relevant to their lives, there is a need to sustain viable publishers in developing counties who can produce those materials. But the flood of digitized materials from abroad and the push for open licensing runs the risk of undermining local publishers. A sustainable way to improve literacy in developing countries should include support to those publishers.”


  • Akoss Ofori-Mensah, the Ghanaian founder of Sub-Saharan Publishers sets out The Pandemic’s Impact on African Publishers, and describes the importance of the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund to assist the continent’s book trade through these very difficult and hugely uncertain times. The $800,000 fund provided by Dubai Cares supports literacy, book access, indigenous publishing, and library restoration in Africa, and is administered by the International Publishers Association (IPA). The IPA Africa Publishing Innovation Committee is responsible for selecting which applicants will receive grants under the Fund. It is made up of senior publishing leaders from African countries, including Ofori-Mensah, who takes stock here of the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishers on the continent: Practically all publishers in Africa are hurting, she reports, but unlike solutions suggested by some others – who evangelise the benefits of digital and advocate digital solutions – “digital formats are not the helpful alternative for consumers and publishers.” Publishers who produce e-books are few in Ghana, she says, “and few people have the necessary reading devices. The Ghana Library Authority has set up e-reading facilities in their libraries but these are available only in the regional capitals. Reading and learning online are possible for young people who have the necessary devices—tablets, phones, etc. But in some rural areas in Ghana, there’s no electricity, so the question of e-learning doesn’t even arise.”


  • Developing a Publishing Infrastructure in Mozambique is a wide-ranging article by Sandra Tamele, the founder and publisher of Mozambique-based Editora Trinta Zero Nove [Editora 30.09], the first publishing house in Mozambique dedicated to literature in translation. The new venture seeks to publish authors and narratives that are representative, relevant, inclusive, and inspiring for its readers. Its mission, she says, is “to give stories a voice, and I mean literally, because in addition to publishing in print, Editora 30.09 is committed to publishing audiobooks as a way of democratizing reading, and inviting the participation of the forty-nine percent of Mozambique's population that is illiterate, mostly women and girls.” However, running a start-up publisher in Mozambique is challenging, “particularly because sales are low due to a non-existent distribution network and too few bookshops, all located in the capital city; these often demand that local books are provided on consignment and then fail to pay the publishers when they do sell. Most of the fifty-three public libraries in the country are underfunded and in a state of disrepair. Books and reading for pleasure are not a high priority for the government.”

    In early 2020, Editora signed a distribution agreement with the Oxford-based African Books Collective (the non-profit distribution collective owned by publishers on the continent), as part of an attempt to convince Mozambican authors “to see more clearly that they no longer needed to rely on US-based publishers to make their works universally available.”


  • The inaugural James Currey Prize for African Literature 2021 is a new annual award “for the best unpublished work of fiction written in English by any writer, set in Africa or on Africans in Africa or in Diaspora.” It was established in 2020 by Nigerian writer, filmmaker and publisher of Hattus Books, Onyeka Nwelue, in honour of James Currey, who has long been recognized to be one of the leading publishers of academic publications on Africa, with a strong commitment to distribute books about African studies in Africa by way of co-editions with African publishers. Currey is also well known for his work over many years in developing the pioneering ‘African Writers Series’ for Heinemann Educational Books, alongside the then AWS series editor Chinua Achebe.

    The new prize is administered by the Johannesburg World Arts Agency, and the jury is chaired by Sarah Inya Lawal. Rules and entry requirements, eligible entries, conditions, etc. are set out on the website. The winner receives £1,000.

    Note: See also this recent Interview with James Currey.


  • A (Very) Brief History of African Publishing, from Independence to the Present by Jatinder Padda, seeks to provide a brief account of the development of African publishing from the years following independence from European powers through to today. Indigenous publishing, she says, is integral to national identity and cultural, social, and economic development, reflecting a people’s history and experience, belief systems, and their related expressions through language, writing, and art. “Publishing preserves, enhances, and develops a society’s culture and its interaction with others. And against many post-independence challenges, African publishers have continued to innovate to spread the word.” There have been significant challenges from COVID-19 over the course of the past year, adding to the many challenges the book and cultural sectors perennially face. However, “undoubtedly publishers will find a way through. From a small band of publishing risk-takers in the 1960s, publishing across the continent has grown to all corners. African publishers have achieved remarkable things with the odds stacked against them. Imagine what they can achieve with the digital revolution before them.”


  • An article by Mary Jay, Co-publishing with Africa North–South–North reports about a new partnership between the African Books Collective (ABC) and the International African Institute (IAI) “to effect ethical co-publishing practice between Northern and African publishers.” The new initiative is designed to broker Northern scholarly publications being available to African scholars and researchers in general, and especially to those who have collaborated in the research. The initiative also seeks to recognise the realities of the paucity of North-South and South-North scholarly publishing partnerships, “whilst at the same time seeking to re-calibrate a fair place for African publishers in the world of scholarship.” As part of the project, it has also been recognised that there is a need for a definitive database of African scholarly publishers to be established, “whereby Northern publishers or authors can make contact to effect co-publications; the purpose is to direct Northern publishers or authors towards potential partners for their books.” To this end, the IAI is working to establish such a database, which will become available shortly. It will be searchable by country, language, types of publications (books, journals, academic/scholarly, literary), subjects published, and ISBN prefixes if relevant.

    In her conclusion Jay says “Co-editions sent by PDF on equitable terms can change the desirable objective of making Northern research available in Africa; similarly, partnerships South-North can empower African scholars and publishers within the continent to make their works available in the North.”

    Note: See also the IAI’s Publishing and Co-publishing Books in African Studies: Guidelines for Authors which “seek to assist academic authors publishing in African studies as to their options for co-publishing in the African continent.”


  • The Association of University Presses (AUPresses) has launched the pilot programme of a welcome new initiative “that seeks to deepen transnational dialogue and collaboration among mission-driven scholarly publishers.” The AUPresses Global Partner Program will pair member presses with non- member presses in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, aiming not only to amplify the work of presses in the ‘Global South’, but also to expand the knowledge base of the university press community worldwide. During the programme’s pilot year, African Minds from South Africa will partner with Duke University Press from the United States, while Makerere University Press from Uganda will partner with Liverpool University Press from the United Kingdom.

    Note: See also this report about the recently revitalized Makerere University Press.


  • A pre-print version of Women in African Publishing and the Book Trade: A Series of Profiles has recently been uploaded on, with the final version to appear in The African Book Publishing Record 47, no. 1 (2021). A kind of mini who’s who, these profiles are intended to be a showcase of the variety, richness and energy of women involved in book publishing and the book trade in Africa today, as well some of the women who have made significant contributions to the African book sector in the past. This initial series of profiles focusses on 24 women in publishing in nine countries in English-speaking sub-Saharan Africa, and includes links to articles about, and interviews and conversations with them, as well as select bibliographies of articles or books written by them.


  • Frankfurt Rights, a digital platform for international rights and license trade established by the Frankfurt Book Fair, designed for making contacts and sharing of information, is currently seeking African publishers to sign up. James Murua, of the James Murua Literary Blog, is coordinating the registration for this new platform for African publishers. According to Murua “the focus is on publishers for whom it is difficult to create visibility for their titles and who are also not used to this very convenient way of trading rights, licenses, and permissions. It is also an endeavour to create new links for publishers to be part of the international rights community, not just by being part of the catalogue, but also by providing training and best practices in rights trading. A final goal is to bring the whole publishing world to the platform and one day have a unified platform so that it becomes an easy-to-use tool for everyone.”


  • Some interesting views and ideas are offered in a new paper in the Global Journal of Transformative Education Collaborative Teams for Self Publishing - A Model for Creating Locally Relevant Educational Books.
    Written by Tom J. McConnell and Barbara Giorgio-Booher, the article describes a collaborative model for the development of locally-produced, culturally relevant educational materials in Africa and elsewhere. “Producing new high-quality materials may seem out of reach to educators who lack experience in illustration and publishing or have little access to commercial publishers. We share a model used to develop a series of books called Conservation Tales in collaboration with university faculty, students, and scientists. The model presents a way for local educators to create books to make education more relevant and accessible for children. The model leverages skills of artists, writers, and content experts to provide a rich learning experience for readers and an affordable option for self-publishing.” (From the abstract)


  • ‘Publishing and Book Culture’ is a new book series of research-focused collections of ‘elements’ on aspects of publishing and book culture, published by Cambridge University Press as part of the Cambridge Elements series. The new series aims to fill the demand for easily accessible, quality texts available for teaching and research in the diverse and dynamic fields of publishing and book culture.

    Four Africa-related titles recently published are:

    Underdevelopment and African Literature. Emerging Forms of Reading by Sarah Brouillette Also freely accessible at

    African Literature and the CIA. Networks of Authorship and Publishing by Caroline Davis During the period of decolonisation in Africa, the CIA covertly subsidised a number of African authors, editors and publishers as part of its anti-communist propaganda strategy. This fascinating study seeks “to unravel the hidden networks and associations underpinning African literary publishing in the 1960s.” It evaluates the success of the CIA in secretly infiltrating and influencing African literary magazines and publishing firms, and examines the extent to which new circuits of cultural and literary power emerged.

    Publishing Against Apartheid South Africa. A Case Study of Ravan Press by Elizabeth le Roux In many parts of the world, oppositional publishing has emerged in contexts of state oppression. In South Africa, censorship laws were enacted in the 1960s, and the next decade saw increased pressure on freedom of speech and publishing. With growing restrictions on information, activist publishing emerged. This insightful case study scrutinises the history of the most vocal and arguably the most radical of this group, Ravan Press. Using extensive archival material, interviews and the books themselves, it examines what the history of Ravan Press reveals about the role of oppositional print culture.

    Reading Spaces in South Africa, 1850–1920s by Archie L. Dick


  • In a recent article Nigerian Literature Needed Editors. Two Women Stepped in to Groom Them, Otosirieze Obi-Young reports about the founding of the Society of Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria (SBMEN), where two women publishers, Anwuli Ojogwu of Narrative Landscape Press and Enajite Efemuaye, formerly of Kachifo Publishers, are seeking to lay a solid foundation for the future in building capacity and cultivate skills for new editors. In December 2017 the two women sat down and decided to co-found an organization to coach young editors. The following year SBMEN was formed, partly modelled on the UK’s Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). The new association “aims to serve as a standards-setting organization by promoting editorial excellence and professionalism in the industry through guidance in global best practices and knowledge partnerships with experts from around the world.” It provides training and resources, performance assessment activities, advisory services, hosts networking events and offers a directory with job listings, all designed to increase proficiency in editing. and advance the careers and businesses of members. The organization currently also holds four classes a year on editing fiction, nonfiction, magazines, and work on online platforms.

    Most of Ojogwu’s inspirations have come from old-fashioned but now legendary editors who left lasting legacies. Such as Maxwell Perkins (1884 –1947), Editor at the publishing house of Charles Scribner’s Sons, who discovered and edited writers such as Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. Ojugwu says “I am fascinated by how he set the tone for the work that would define a generation. I wanted to do that here [in Nigeria], help shape the work.”


  • Kenyan veteran publisher Henry Chakava has been described as the ‘Godfather of African publishing’. He became Kenya's first African book editor in 1972, when there were virtually no books or educational material published in African languages. In this conversation on the BBC World Service ‘Witness History’ series, he tells Rebecca Kesby “why he devoted his life to preserving and enriching the region's languages, and why he believes even more must be done to make sure they survive and thrive in the future.” (Released 21 January 2021)


  • An extended ‘Notes & News’ section in the African Book Publishing Record vol. 46, no. 3, 2020 (pp. 275-293, free access) contains a series of interviews by Olatoun Gabi-Williams of Borders Literature for All Nations with publishing industry attendees at the International Publishers Association (IPA) Africa Seminar in Nairobi in June 2019. Notably with Elliot Agyare of Smartline Publishers in Ghana and President of the Commonwealth Book Publishers Association , Gill Moodie of NB Publishers in South Africa, and with Gbadega Adedapo, current President of the Nigerian Publishers Association. The interviews are followed by a wide-ranging critical appraisal of the IPA summit: its objectives, the conference programme and the various panels, proposed action plans, and their likely short-term or long-term impact. Williams also addresses the need for publishing education and book industry data collection, copyright issues, the necessity to strengthening the publishing eco-system, publishing in African languages, and the new digital publishing landscape and its promise for African publishers: “The African book industry must leverage the digital revolution to accelerate its growth” she says.

    Note: Olatoun Gabi-Williams also reports about a partnership formed by the IPA with the Nairobi-based Insight Wells Research to undertake a pilot programme called ‘Pulse of the African Publishing Industry Survey’ – designed to inform policy, advocacy, and planning for future seminars – and the publication of an African Publishers Survey 2019. This was described on the Insight Wells Facebook pages “as the first comprehensive report on the state of publishers in Africa [which it is not]”, and that the findings were to be disseminated during the IPA Nairobi meeting. Subsequently it was rescheduled to be published in time for the IPA 2020 summit in Marrakech, Morocco (later postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic), but this document does not appear to have been published to date.


  • Rebuilding and Reimagining Kenya’s Libraries is a transcript of a conversation with Kenyan writer and publisher Wanjiru Koinange, and with Angela Wachuka, former Executive Director of the Kwani Trust and co-founder of the Book Bunk project, that restores iconic library buildings – and also hugely outdated library collections! – in the Kenyan capital and elsewhere across the East African nation. Book Bunk is a social impact firm founded in October 2017. As part of its mission it states: “We imagine that public libraries can be steered to become more than just repositories, acting as sites of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership and information exchange. We see them as sites of heritage, public art, memory and as critical spaces in Nairobi and Kenya’s creative economy ecology.”


  • Released by the International Publishers Association (IPA) in October 2020 Licensing Practices in a Global Digital Market presents a (freely accessible) comprehensive overview of how licensing actually works in different publishing sectors and regions. It includes chapters from international experts in K-12 education, STM publishing, as well as regional experts from Africa and Asia, and perspectives from authors and reproduction rights organizations.

    South African publisher Brian Wafawarowa, a former Chair of the Publishers Association of South Africa, contributes Chapter 3 Licensing: Experiences and perspectives from Africa. Wafawarowa says that in recent years licensing by African publishers has grown modestly with initiatives led by the African Publishers Network (APNET), The Global Book Alliance (GBA) and WIPO facilitating trade both between African countries and with the rest of the world. “Many examples exist of this type of licensing activity including for schools’ editions; low-price editions of higher education textbooks; local licences for scholarly research; and general publications for translation. Licensing has facilitated access to copyrighted works for African citizens for cultural, education and scholarly research purposes, at affordable prices. It has also allowed some African publishers to expand into global markets, especially in children’s literature and folklore.” Whilst the digitization process has been slower than in more industrialized nations, mainly due to infrastructural issues, it is now gradually accelerating: “Publishers are creating a growing body of digital content to meet the needs of e-learning in schools and universities, leading to the development of a wealth of new licensing and distribution arrangements.” As challenges around infrastructure are overcome, “the next challenge is financing the digital transition and finding suitable business models to ensure a return on investment, while maintaining affordability for educational institutions.”

    However, Wafawarowa reports that there has now emerged a mistaken belief among government and education authorities that ‘digital’ should mean ‘free’, and that copyright law is in some way a barrier. There are currently moves by the South African government to amend the law to allow technology companies to package other peoples’ content with their technology for educational purposes without compensation to the authors and publishers of the original work—“to devastating effect for authors and publisher alike”, Wafawarowa says. He argues that “African publishers have managed to sustain themselves and expand their outreach through licensing with positive outcomes for their countries, especially in education. They are moving forward rapidly with developing the technological capabilities to innovate and supply digital resources and solutions: But they need the confidence that the traditional international copyright regime will continue to ensure that authors and publishers are properly compensated if they to be enabled to play their critical role in the economic and social development of the continent.”


  • African Academics May Perish Even When They Have Published says this University World News report. “A weak publishing industry in Africa, including the lack of distribution hubs and an intra-Africa book trade; curricula, pedagogy and learning processes still rooted in the colonial situation and the absence of a scholarship culture, are factors that are undermining the development and production of academic books on the continent.” According to Francis Nyamnjoh, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, “various factors, including mediocre content, invisibility (because of the subject matter or because the writer may be unknown and from a developing country), the remoteness of the publisher (which may not have a wide reach) and poor marketing and distribution, mean that African academics perish even when they have published.” Moreover, “the technical and financial difficulties facing the publishing industry in Africa also work against African scholars seeking to fulfil the academic requirement of publishing,” Professor Nyamnjoh is quoted as saying.

    Note: On this topic see also How African is the ‘African Studies Review’? in which the journal’s editor-in chief, Benjamin N. Lawrance, acknowledges that the African Studies Review, published by the (US) African Studies Association, “has a long way to go before most Africa-based scholars recognize it as an especially African journal.”


  • The Sustainable Development Goals Book Club – African Chapter is shortly to be launched, and African children’s books on sustainability and equality are to be highlighted through this latest SDG book Club. The new, multilingual initiative brings together book sector organizations from across the African continent to commit, and to augment, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Book Club with a collection of English, French, Arabic and Kiswahili books about the different goals for children.

    The book club will launch on World Book Day (23 April 2021) and will feature quality African books that deal with the themes of the SDGs. Submissions are now open, and a selection committee formed by the different partners will pick a shortlist for each SDG.


  • A New Continental Platform for Open Access Publishing, of journals, monographs and textbooks in Africa has been developed by the University of Cape Town (UCT) through its library service. The platform enables the African research community to share their scholarly content, which could advance the growth and development of local research aimed at benefiting African society. The major publishing houses “have inadvertently northernised the publishing landscape,” according to Dr Reggie Raju, the director of research and learning at UCT Libraries. These publishing houses, he says, “are driven by the fundamental principles of economics; that is, they will publish that which will be bought. It is the Global North that has the buying capacity. … There is a desperate need for the democratisation and de-northernisation of the publishing landscape–a publishing process that promotes social justice and the inclusion of African researchers and research output into mainstream research processes.”


  • The latest issue of the ANFASA Magazine from the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa, “dedicated to empowering authors”, contains a number of thought-provoking articles under the general theme of ‘Some reflections on a changing environment’: Maria Frahm-Arp writes on “Textbooks, Decoloniality and Higher Education”; Keyan Tomaselli reflects on “Open Science, Open Access: What Will Plan S Open and/or Close?”; Hetta Pieterse examines the challenges and prospects of funding for open access publishing/books in Africa; while Lee-Ann Tong, in an article on intellectual property for authors, seeks to demystify the complexities of copyright.


  • Conceptualizing, Financing and Infrastructuring: Perspectives on Open Access in and from Africa (free access), by Angela Okune, Sulaiman Adebowale, Eve Gray, Angela Mumo, and Ruth Oniang’o, is timely article in the latest issue of Development and Change (vol. 52, issue 2, 2021). Contemporary scholarly publishing on the African continent remains largely dominated by Western corporate academic publishers, the authors say: “Even as the notion of open access has gained popularity, a growing body of scholarship indicates that the concept is in fact re‐ entrenching the power of traditional academic publishers under a revised business model. This piece offers perspectives from African scholars and activists on the politics of open access, revealing different experiences of and imaginaries for open access in Africa. The piece is supplemented by data from the in‐depth discussion that informed it, which is published on an open‐source platform in an effort to invite readers to also lend their analytic perspectives and contribute towards iterative analysis and ongoing dialogue.” (From the abstract)


November 2020

  • Alice Wairimū Nderitū is an author, newspaper columnist, ethnic relations educator, mediator of armed conflict, as well as a publisher. In this conversation with Stephanie Kitchen of the International African Institute she talks about scholarly publishing in Kenya, women in publishing, and about her path into the book industry. She is the founder of Mdahalo Bridging Divides (Mdahalo is the Kiswahili word for ‘dialogue’), an organization that seeks to contribute to the improvement of human life by promoting dialogue, inclusion, pluralism, cooperation and peaceful co-existence among divided societies. Its publishing arm, the Mdahalo Publishing House offers a team of professional experts to guide authors and writers at every stage of the publishing process, providing experience, commitment, and an efficient and affordable way to get started … and ultimately get published: “Mdahalo Publishing House will hold your hand and offer a step-to-step guide on the various stages of getting a book published from the pre-publishing to the post-publishing stage.”

    Speaking about women in publishing in Africa, Nderitū acknowledges that progress has been made in gender equality in African publishing in recent years, and that the gains made by African women publishers need to be safeguarded and consolidated. However, it is still not straightforward for women to publish, she says: “We shall no doubt see more women publishers establishing and heading publishing houses, [but] I am not so sure though about taking over existing ones. There are issues, relevant across the board in Africa, including traditions, cultures and prejudices mitigating against women’s participation in decision making. This includes the publishing field.”


  • ‘Meeting House' - Thabiso Maphlape is part of a series of interviews conducted by Emma House with members of the PublisHer community. Here she is in a conversation with Thabiso Maphlape, a vociferous advocate for new black writing and the founder of Blackbird Books, the imprint incubated by Jacana Media in 2015, that seeks to provide a platform and a publishing home to both new voices and the existing generation of black writers and narratives; and is dedicated to publishing stories that reflect the African experience, and giving voice to South Africa's new black authors.

    In April of 2020 Blackbird Books announced that it had become an independent publishing house after four and a half years of being in a joint venture with Jacana. Now independent, she says “my vision for this publishing house is that Africans need to define and be settled with what African content is. It will be a platform where authors are not asked to conform or shy away from ideas because they are not palatable to someone who was not in Africa. It will be African stories by Africans and for the world.”

    Note: on the topic of women in the African book industry see also the pre-print version of Women in African Publishing and the Book Trade: A Series of Profiles, with the final version to appear in the African Book Publishing Record early in 2021. A kind of mini Who’s Who, this initial series of profiles focusses on 24 women in publishing in nine countries in English-speaking sub-Saharan Africa, and includes links to articles about, and interviews and conversations with them, as well as select bibliographies of articles or books written by them.


  • The publishing industry in Africa is often described in terms of ‘booklessness’, ‘hunger’ or ‘famine’, notably by the major book donation organizations, “who actively perpetuate the discourse of famine, and set themselves up as the solutions to it.” But does this language of scarcity reflect the realities of book production and consumption? In this timely and penetrating analysis, “The Myth of the ‘Book famine’ in African Publishing” that appeared in the Review of African Political Economy, Elizabeth le Roux – Associate Professor of Publishing Studies in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, and co-editor of Book History – examines the concept of ‘book famine’ as a central frame of discourse on African books, using a survey of existing documentation. Two ways of responding to book famine – provision and production – are identified, and the shortcomings of book aid (provision) are contrasted with strengthening local publishing industries (production). Le Roux argues effectively that the concept has become a cliché that is no longer relevant and that African publishing, while variable, is in fact responding to local needs.


  • Bibi Bakare-Yusuf. Founder of Cassava Republic Press has been named the recipient (jointly with Professor Tunde Zack Williams) of the Distinguished Africanist Award for 2019/2020, given by the African Studies Association of the UK, describing her as ”both a thought leader and innovator”, and someone “who has made an indelible mark in the world of publishing.” The impact of Bakare-Yusuf’s work is apparent within the academy, but also in the broader public sphere, the citation stated. One of the leading new independent publishers in Africa to have emerged over the last two decades, Cassava Republic Press’s mission is "to change the way we all think about African writing. ... to build a new body of African writing that links writers across different times and spaces", with the aim of bringing high quality fiction and non-fiction for adults and children alike to a global audience.


  • A Year of Progress: the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund, 2020-2021 provides an overview of the projects supported by the Fund and their current status. Back in May 2019 the UAE-based development non-profit Dubai Cares and the International Publishers Association (IPA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding wherein Dubai Cares committed US$800,000 over four years to support literacy, book access, indigenous publishing, and library restoration in Africa, though the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund (APIF). One year on, the 2019 winners – seven projects, in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria – have received all their funding and, the IPA reports, are making good progress towards their goals, despite the enormous challenges presented by Covid-19. The ABIF selection committee is now in the process of reviewing applications for next year’s round of applications, for which it has received over 300 submissions, from 26 African countries!


  • Mapping Public Book Policies in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar is a hugely ambitious undertaking that seeks to map and record book industry public policies in 10 countries in Latin America and 12 nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Initiated by the Alliance internationale des éditeurs indépendants/ International Alliance of Independent Publishers, it is accessible and downloadable online, and offers inter-active facilities to update and add information and data here. For now, the project is in French and Spanish, plus an introductory page in English. A full English version may be added at a later date if funding permits.

    Compiled in full collaboration with Alliance member publishers, the project grew out of an acute awareness of lack of data on public book policies, and the book sector generally, in countries where members of the Alliance operate, particularly in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Information was gathered through detailed questionnaires sent to publishers, book professional organizations, booksellers, and government agencies/public entities in the countries covered. Data is presented in the form of fact sheets, presented under various specific headings. For example, a wide range of information is offered under the ‘Politiques publiques’ (public/national book policies) sections. However, a cursory review of the information provided on the book sector in francophone African countries would seem to indicate that this is clearly still a ‘work in progress’, and the Alliance is well aware of this. For instance, there are quite a few thematic headings (covering market regulations, taxation on books, adherence to international copyright conventions, support for the book industries, etc.), as well as many institutional headers that, when clicked on, turn out to be HTML-inactive and/or lead to no information, or only very patchy information; presumably because no information could be obtained and verified at this time.

    Nonetheless, despite its somewhat fragmentary nature at this time, this is an immensely rich resource, and the same kind of inventory, or mapping exercise, is also very much needed for the Anglophone African book world.


  • Robert Berold is a South African poet, author of four books of poetry and four books of non-fiction, and former editor of New Coin, one of South Africa’s most established and influential poetry journals. He is also a publisher, his press Deep South (website currently under reconstruction) was started in 1996, together with his friend Paul Wessels. Its principal aim is to publish what is considered to be innovative and risk-taking South African poetry, regardless of market prospects. It has published over 30 books thus far, mostly poetry, but also some novels.

    Deep South’s Robert Berold on Poetry and Publishing in South Africa is an insightful conversation between Tom Penfold and Robert Berold, talking about poetry and publishing in South Africa, how did Deep South come about, and what were the aims in establishing it as press. Publishing risky innovative work hasn’t been that difficult, Berold says “because I am not looking to sales to carry the costs. Getting most readers to recognise the quality of the work is something else. It doesn’t help that there is hardly any critical dialogue in SA poetry, just variations of publicity and the myopic certainties of identity politics. Ultimately, I can only publish work I feel to be engaging and moving. … I know that some poets will have very limited sales because they will be considered difficult or confrontational – but I don’t mind. I try to take a long view, publishing books that I think people will still read in 20 (or 50) years' time. There aren’t too many manuscripts like that.”

    Outside South Africa, Deep South books are distributed by the Oxford-based African Books Collective, and a further profile of Robert Berold can be found here.


April 2020

  • In “Fifty Years On: A Conversation with Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones, Founding Editor, African Literature Today, issue no. 37, 2019 of that journal, the Sierra Leonean scholar Professor Eldred Jones recalls the role African Literature Today. A Journal of Explanatory Criticism (ALT),the journal he founded, played in the evolution and stimulation of a wave of African literary studies and criticism since the mid-20th century. Sadly, Eldred Jones passed away on 21 March 2020 at the age of 95. He was a wonderfully warm person, as well as an intellectual giant, who will be greatly missed.

    The journal had its roots in a modestly produced newsletter Bulletin of the Association for African Literature in English,first published in 1964 by the Department of English at Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone. After that, in 1968, it became a twice-yearly (later annual) journal published by Heinemann Educational Books in the UK and Africana Publishing Company in New York, and quickly established itself as one of the leading forums for the examination of African literatures. Subsequently it was published by James Currey (now part of Boydell & Brewer), each annual issue bringing together articles under a thematic theme. Eldred and the late Marjorie Jones, together with Professor Eustace Palmer, were the editors until ALT 23. In 2003 the Nigerian scholar Professor Ernest Emenyonu took over as editor, and a total of 37 issues have been published to date. Most back issues are still available in print.  Each issue continues to cover single topics or thematic collections, but also includes an extensive book review section, and is attracting contributions from literary scholars and critics from all over the world. ALT is the oldest surviving journal in the world on African literature, and has now charted the growth of African writing for over half a century.


  • The guest essay preceding the 2019 literature review Publishing & the Book in Africa is contributed by Justin Cox, CEO of African Books Collective  Ltd (ABC), the worldwide marketing and distribution organization for books from Africa that is celebrating its 30th year of trading in 2020. Founded, owned and governed by a group of African publishers, its participants are now over 170 autonomous and independent African publishers who share a common ethos of publishing from within African cultures, asserting Africa’s voice within Africa and internationally.

    Entitled ‘African Books Collective: 30 Years of Providing Visibility for African Books in the Global Market Place’, the essay describes ABC’s foundation and governance, its history and its funding, as well as its very wide range of marketing activities. Initially supported by a number of donor agencies in its early years, a major remodelling of ABC took place in 2007, when it became self-financing and moved to a largely digital model at the same time. Print-on-demand is now a cornerstone in ABC’s workflow and service to participating publishers. As part of the transition process the entire ABC list was digitised, which included a backlist reaching back to the 1980s. As a result, there are now 1,000+ ‘new’ African-published books that have a presence on the Web, and are just a click away. As Justin Cox says, “African Books Collective is an example of an African owned and governed organization that has successfully transitioned from a donor-dependent NGO to a self-sustaining and independent social enterprise.”



  • An interesting recent posting by Samuel Isaac in UnCensored – an independent, self-funded platform “whose goal is to tell the stories that commercial media ignore” – The History of Writing in Sub-Saharan Africa, Including the Most Notable Literary Works Written by African Authors about African History from the 2nd Century BC to the 19th Century AD traces the history of the written word, and early African literary culture, in Sub-Saharan Africa. It covers African literary works from Chad to Tanzania and from Senegal to Ethiopia, dating back to between the 9th and 7th Century BC, with the oldest inscriptions of the ancient South Arabian script, and including scripts from across the sub-region. In his concluding comments the author states “Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the world’s oldest literary cultures, yet despite evidence to the contrary, the myth of non-literate African societies persists. Part of the blame rests on colonial racial anthropologists who created that image. The other factor are the European armies that destroyed the libraries that held these manuscripts starting with the Portuguese in Kilwa and the Swahili coast, the French in Segu and the British in Asante. The other group that shoulders much of the blame are historians who chose to exclude these manuscripts and instead preferred non-African sources. … In recent times however, this phenomenon has been changing with more historians including these African writers in their books, and the digitisation of many of these manuscripts will hopefully see a paradigm shift in how African history is written and interpreted.”


  • Pen South Africa’s Celebrating SA’s Vibrant Women Publishers is a  series of profiles and conversations with three of South Africa’s “most vibrant women publishers”, who have each made a unique and valuable contribution to the South African publishing industry: They are Alison Lowry, formerly with OUP South Africa, Lowry Publishers, and Penguin Books SA in later years, before she became an independent publishing consultant, editor and writer; Thabiso Mahlape, founder of BlackBird Books, the imprint, incubated by Jacana Media, that provides a platform and a publishing home to both new voices and the existing generation of black writers and narratives; and author and journalist Zukiswa Wanner, the co-founder (with Nomavuso Vokwana) of Paivapo Publishers  the imprint, established in 2018, that stemmed from a desire to create greater access to literatures from Africa and its diasporas.


  • More on eminent African women publishers: Celebrated Publisher Bibi Bakare-Yusuf Discusses African Literature is an interview with the co-founder and publishing director of one of Africa’s leading independent publishing houses, Cassava Republic Press. In this conversation with Tina Adomako, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf talks about the challenges facing African literature, bringing African writing to an African audience, female authors, the need for more writing and publishing in African languages, and the market for African literature in local languages: “All the things we’ve learnt from colonial times and the colonial experience need to be expressed differently. If we continue to write only in colonial languages, it almost fossilises our own languages. They stay put and don’t move on. … we need to address the matter of our own languages in order to survive into the next century.”
    Note: see also Cassava Republic Press to Start African Language Imprint with $20,000 African Publishing Innovation Fund Grant.


  • I Can’t Attach the Word “Iconic” to Baobab Trees and Sunsets’—Sarah Ladipo Manyika Chats to Jennifer Malec about African Publishing, Toni Morrison and Writing Older Women is a wide-ranging ‘chat’ between Johannesburg Review of Books Editor Jennifer Malec and Sarah Ladipo Manyika, the celebrated British-Nigerian writer and professor of literature, during which she talks about her work, her motivation for writing, her fellow writers, and book prizes; and also, among other topics, about the importance of having an African publisher—which gives her the freedom to write stories that might not necessarily appeal to what the West has come to expect from an African author, or from a story with African characters. “So my second book”, she says, “is the story of an older woman who is not the typical immigrant or refugee or anything like that, she’s quite a bourgeois character, and she’s not young, she’s in her seventies. It’s not the kind of story the West has come to expect of an African character, whereas my publishers were like, yeah, bring it on. It’s also not the ‘right’ length, novellas are traditionally—and I don’t really understand this—not easy to sell. But Cassava Republic Press were like, no, we love that. And as we’re talking, I’m looking at the book covers and there’s no baobab tree, there’s no sunset.”

    Sarah Ladipo Manyika believes Cassava Republic Press and some other African presses, are having a positive knock-on effect, “because I’m now looking at covers and seeing fewer sunsets. And there’s nothing wrong with sunsets, right, but I’m just using that as an analogy for how there’s been little imagination, or there’s been lots of stereotyping or troping of how to represent anything relating to Africa on the page. … When I was trying to publish in England and America, I kept hearing that. …  I wanted to read a different kind of story. I was reading stories about war, and lots of male characters, and again, nothing wrong with those stories. I’m not dismissing those stories, but I wanted a different kind of story. And again, this was within the kind of Western perception of stories, all of this is generalisation, I’m not saying everyone thought like this, but there’s definitely this line of thinking that a love story just was not marketable. But then again that’s thinking about a particular audience. When I was writing this book I didn’t want it just to be the West or even the West at all. So, it was very important for me to have the book out with a Nigerian publisher.”
    Note: for another interesting earlier (2018) interview with Sarah Ladipo Manyika, see also this conversation with Raphael Thierry in Warscapes.


  • It is good to see that more and more theses and dissertations on various aspects of publishing and book development in Africa are now being published, and an increasing number are available freely accessible on either digital depositories at university institutions or on other platforms. The latest is Assessment of Project Management Processes in Scholarly Book Publishing in Ghana, a BA (Publishing Studies) thesis by Ernest Oppong, submitted to the Department of Construction Technology and Management at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, in November 2019. The study “aims to explore project management processes in enhancing the traditional processes of scholarly book publishing in Ghana and addresses three objectives: to establish traditional processes of scholarly book publishing; to identify inherent barriers; and to develop project management methodology to mitigate against barriers in the processes. … The three objectives were achieved through narrative and content analysis of interview results from fourteen scholarly publishers.”

    In his summary of the findings the author states that Ghanaian scholarly publishers adopt similar traditional processes for the publication of scholarly books as those prevalent elsewhere: However, “the scholarly publishing landscape [in Ghana] is bedevilled with some barriers inherent in the traditional processes. They include acquisition of substandard manuscripts; limited number of manuscripts and outrageous charges by commissioned scholarly authors, and their insistence on immediate advance payment, are barriers inherent in the acquisition of manuscripts. High cost and delay of peer review, difficulty in getting experts to review the work, high volume of the manuscript and lack of control over contents are barriers associated with the assessment of manuscripts. The editorial development of scholarly works are challenged with limited scholarly editors, lack [of] understanding of editorial development by some authors and over-confidence of the quality of work to the extent of disallowing corrections by the publisher/editor and lack of effective communication among the project team: editors and author. The marketing, distribution and sales of scholarly books in Ghana are challenged with poor marketing of scholarly books leading to poor sales and the emergence of systemic problems or lack of synergy among scholarly publishers, authors and lecturers; unidentified target readership; the expensive nature of intensive marketing/selling strategies of scholarly books in Ghana; lack of interest by most bookshops/ booksellers to take stocks of scholarly books.” Other problems include illegal photocopying and selling of content extracted from scholarly works. The author sets out a number of recommendations, and possible strategies, how to address these numerous challenges.


  • Kigelia, designed by Mark Jamra and Neil Patel, is a large typeface family that contains the most prominent writing systems in Africa, each system comprising 10 fonts in 5 weights. The system is named after the Kigelia Africana, a tree which occurs throughout tropical Africa from Eritrea and Chad to northern South Africa, and west to Senegal and Namibia. It is described as containing “a typographic richness and technical functionality previously unavailable for several languages on the African continent.” The scripts are Adlam, Arabic, Cyrillic, Ge’ez, Greek, Latin (IPA & ARA), N’ko, Osmanya, Tifinagh, and Vai. It is a type system that can handle multilingual tasks, and is also designed with mobile devices in mind. The developers say that they hope the use of Kigelia “will help promote literacy and commerce in Africa, as well as the creation of rich and relevant local content, which is essential to increasing the availability of important resources online.” More details are set out in an attractive 54 page colour booklet Kigelia. A Typeface for Africa, which can be obtained for the cost of packing and shipping.


  • In the October-December 2019 issue of Bookmark. Magazine of the South African Booksellers Association, the magazine’s editors offer some reflections on The South African Book Fair: A New Era. The Fair has had a somewhat chequered history. It was first held annually as the Cape Town Book Fair from 2006 to 2010, hosted by the Publishers Association of South Africa (PASA) in collaboration with the Frankfurt Book Fair, and held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CITCC). It was conceived as a major international book trade gathering to rival Frankfurt and London, and as a leading venue for rights trading and negotiations.  While attendance figures were very high, the prospects of selling rights to international publishers failed to materialize for the most part.

    Exactly what could have been, will never be known, the authors say: “When Kindle and the financial crisis hit, the book trade worldwide and locally faced calamitous decline in the face of e-book mania and the disappearance of middle-class spending power. The high costs of exhibiting at the fair, coupled with waning international interest, gradually turned the event into an annual headache for publishers. The original vision now relegated to being a pipe dream, the trade struggled to define the nature of the fair as it veered more and more towards a public event, with less and less reason for exhibitors to participate.” After five years, the PASA–Frankfurt partnership was dissolved, and a hiatus was announced for 2011. In 2012 and 2014, the fair returned to the CITCC as the South African Book Fair, this time with PASA as sole owners. However, faced with a continued decline in numbers, PASA decided to alternate the fair between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Following a somewhat rocky period of uncertainty (and no fair in 2013 and 2016) ownership of the fair was eventually transferred to the South African Book Development Council to host the fair as from 2017. Finally, in September 2019, the SA Book Fair “found its home in the hearts of Johannesburg’s readers and writers. Symbolically positioned at Constitution Hill, it managed to cross the divide between old and new, and offer the public something authentic. Importantly, it also laid the groundwork for resurrecting the vision of its founders: a trade portal into the burgeoning African book market.”


  • Top 50 African Literature Blogs & Websites to Follow in 2020 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’.


  • In a recent article in Publishers Weekly, New Agency Promotes African Writers for Youth, Gillian Engberg reports about a new literary agency that aims to expand contemporary African fiction for young people through individual mentoring and global partnerships. Launched in 2019 by two long-time children’s publishing professionals, Deborah Ahenkorah in Ghana and Sarah Odedina in the UK, Accord Literary is a partnership that seeks to mentor, develop and encourage writers based in Africa writing books for young readers: “Our mission” they say, “is to find original and unique voices and get their books into the hands of readers around the world.” Ahenkorah and Odedina are using open submission calls to encourage participation by writers from across the African continent. Currently they are open for submissions for novels written for young readers aged between 8 and 16 years old.  Both founders draw on complementary backgrounds for this new venture. Ahenkorah is well known for her activities as the publisher of African Bureau Stories, focused on African writers for children, and she also established the Golden Baobab Prize, a literary award granted to children’s book authors and illustrators from Africa. Odedina is a former publishing director at Bloomsbury Children’s Books who oversaw the publication of the Harry Potter books in the UK, and is now editor-at-large for Pushkin Press.


November 2019

  • 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.


July 2019

  • The IPA Regional Seminar ‘Africa Rising: Realising Africa’s Potential as a Global Publishing Leader in the 21st Century’, took place in Nairobi in June this year, and we hope to include details of a range of reports about it later in the year. Meantime a short account of the Seminar – and the meetings hosted by ADEA that followed it – can be found here. It includes extracts from some of the welcoming addresses made at the summit, as well as providing links to a number of articles, reports, and press statements that have appeared about the event thus far.


  • The African Publishers Network/APNET has published the first issue in a new series of their African Publishing Review (APNET published this journal from 1992 to 2004, vol. 1, no. 1, 1992 through vol. 13, no. 3, 2004, a total of 51 issues, when it ceased publication.) Among other items of interest in the new issue is a report that the World Intellectual Property Organization/WIPO plans to launch a 'Mentorship Project', a capacity building initiative for African publishers "where they will be supported to learn from best practices outside Africa", and that will aim to assist them to raise book publishing standards. It is part of the Yaoundé Action Plan adopted by the High-Level Regional Conference on the Publishing Industry in Africa and its Role in Education and Economic Growth, held in November 2017, in Yaoundé, Cameroon.


  • Frankfurt Book Fair 2018. The African Stage by Nigerian writer, literary critic, and journalist Olatoun Gabi-Williams is an informative account and appraisal 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. “I was inspired, but cautiously” she says, “if the narrative around publishing on our continent is to really change, specific concerns will need to be addressed and in concrete terms.  A modern, concrete narrative to strengthen the publishing eco-system must replace the darkness of ignorance at home and abroad.”


  • Edited by by Sandra Federici and Raphaël Thierry, ‘Libri in Africa, Libri d’Africa’ (Africa’s Books, Books in Africa) is the theme of the 89th ‘dossier’ issue of Africa e Mediterraneo. Attractively produced, it seeks to examine the current state of African publishing in the global context and the impact it has on the diversity of the local and international publishing industry in this era of globalization. “The dossier considers the reality of African literature from the perspective of its ‘normality’ and modernity as well as its legitimate and indisputable place in African and international culture.” The various contributions to the dossier (in Italian, French, and English) “range from the role of independent publishing to the analysis of the book chain in Africa, from the legacies of colonialism to the role of international cooperation today”, with insights in the form of individual case studies that focus on countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Rwanda.


  • In an insightful interview, African Publishing in the Digital Age: Interview with Justin Cox at African Books Collective, Matthieu Joulin is in conversation with Justin Cox, CEO of the African Books Collective Ltd (ABC), who talks about the background that led to the establishment of ABC, how it works, its business model, and his views about challenges and opportunities offered by digital technologies in the distribution of books published by African publishers. E-books and digital content are now a major part of ABC’s operations. The biggest proportion of sales in this area is made to those who specialise in providing content to libraries on subscription, as collections and/or one-off perpetual sales. Cox says that they have attracted 100+ partners in this area and “as a consequence of this work, African-published books have, in terms of availability, ‘gone mainstream’ in markets outside Africa: they are no longer an ‘exotic product’ stored on library shelves and are as easily available as any book published anywhere else.” Digital books, he says, “increase the discoverability of a title much more than a print book can. And though the readers we talk to overwhelmingly prefer print they have, more than likely, discovered the book digitally first, perhaps by searching for the title specifically, or searching for something related to that book’s content. This has expanded the market for these books considerably.”


  • Beth le Roux (Associate Professor, Publishing, University of Pretoria) reveals Why Nonfiction Books Dominate Bestseller Lists in South Africa. Books in South Africa don’t often make headline news, she says. “But a controversial subject, protests and disruptions at a book launch, and threats of book burning are sufficient to get South Africans talking about the place of books in society once again.” This is what has happened with investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s latest book Gangster State, which has stirred up passionate reactions, both for and against its contents. “Clearly, this kind of book touches a certain chord in South African society. A quick glance through the top-selling books in the past few years shows that non-fiction, and particularly political non-fiction dealing with very topical events, is the most popular genre. … With one corruption scandal following another, trust in the authorities is low. But citizens still seek authoritative overviews and answers - in the nonfiction titles that line our shelves.” Le Roux thinks there is little reason to predict that the trend will change. “However, if the threats mount, then we may see authors and publishers shifting to less controversial topics. For now, it’s great to see books in the news again.”


  • An Interview with Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books is yet another an insightful interview on ABC’s Read African Books pages. Modjaji Books, founded in 2007 is “an independent feminist press that publishes the writings of Southern African women.”  Or, as Colleen Higgs puts it – and here in conversation with Stephanie Kitchen of the International African Institute – “a tiny publisher that ‘punches above its weight’”. The interview was conducted at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018, where there was a special focus on African publishing: the ‘Programme Lettres d’Afrique: Changing the Narrative’. Higgs speaks highly of the Frankfurt Book Fair and describes it as “a wonderful place to meet small press publishers from Africa and other parts of the world, and is a space to share challenges and come up with solutions.”


  • Ullrich Talla Wamba, founder and publisher of the recently launched new magazine Publishers & Books, has posted an interesting conversation with Gersy Ifeanyi Ejimofo, Founder and Director of Digitalback Books, a virtual library platform that offers readers instant digital access to a very diverse range of literary, scholarly and general/trade titles from (on or about) Africa and its diaspora. DBB operates on a commercial B2B model, and its platform can be accessed under several access models.


November 2018

  • 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

    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.



  • 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 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.


May 2018

  • In January 2018 a high level technical meeting, ADEA-USAID Global Book Alliance Partnership: Time to Eliminate Book Hunger for Children in Africa, was held in Abidjan, organized by the Global Book Alliance (GBA) and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa – Working Group on Books and Learning Materials (WGBLM) in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It sought to develop “a common draft action plan around five pillars for advocating and establishing innovative and effective mechanisms within countries for the production, acquisition, distribution, management and use of textbooks and other reading materials in national languages.” The meeting attracted seventy-nine key stakeholders in the African book publishing industry from 11 Francophone, 10 Anglophone, one Lusophone countries, and 12 representatives of development partners. The workshop report and action plan was published on 29 March 2018. In its conclusion the report states that the setting up of an African Publishing Collaborative was discussed in great detail, largely within groups. The outcome of the discussions forms part of the Action Plan described under a five-point agenda, which was formally adopted at the end of the workshop.

    The five-point agenda, or “five pillars”, are:
  1. Advocacy, policy dialogue and reading promotion: Create awareness for the need of national book and reading policy in ADEA member countries by 2020 and provide technical assistance for that purpose.

  2. Training and research: Establish an online training platform for the African book industry and enable national associations develop effective communication plans with policy makers.

  3. Local languages: Facilitate efforts toward standardizing cross-border and international orthography; and encourage and support linkages and collaborations for local language development.

  4. Publishing partnerships: Foster close partnerships within the publishing industry in countries, across borders and with outside agencies; and catalyzing the development of a stronger, versatile, economically sustainable industry, including encouraging the creation of conducive conditions that facilitate the active exchange of skills and knowledge in the selling and buying of rights, co-publishing and co-editions across borders.

  5. Bookselling and distribution: Strengthen capacity building for booksellers through a standardised curriculum; and develop sustainable models for bookselling and distribution, including the use of new technology.


  • Publishing for Sustainable Development: The Role of Publishers in Africa was the topic of an International Publishers Association (IPA) Regional Seminar held in Lagos on 9 May 2018. The one-day seminar was intended to “explore the African publishing market in detail” and brought together book industry professionals from across Africa and beyond to discuss key issues in the industry. The seminar came as “a response to the need for a platform to discuss sectorial innovation and revitalization, and to develop new ideas and solutions.” Topics covered a broad range of issues, from the socio- economic contribution of publishing in Africa, strengthening educational publishing on the continent, enhancing enforcement of copyright and IP laws, to freedom to publish, and the role of technology in overcoming illiteracy and promoting a reading culture.

    See also this IPA press release and this report in Publishing Perspectives.


  • In an article in The Guardian “Are There Bookshops in Nigeria?” Alison Flood reports about a controversy at a recent French cultural event held on 25 January in Paris this year, when the celebrated Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie served as the Ambassador of the 2018 edition of La Nuit des Idées (The Night of Ideas), dedicated to the exchange of ideas across “countries, cultures, topics, and generations.” The official opening of the 2018 event took place at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the guest of honour for the evening, Adichie appeared in a long conversation with French journalist Caroline Broué. The video recording of this conversation includes a question posed by the interviewer asking Chimamanda Adichie “Are there bookshops in Nigeria?“ that subsequently provoked a social media furore that went global. Not surprisingly, Adichie did not take kindly to the question and responded: “You know I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you’ve had to ask me that question. I really do. Because I think, surely it’s 2018. I mean, come on. My books are read in Nigeria. They’re studied in schools, not just in Nigeria but across Africa and it means a lot to me.” She later also took to her Facebook page to expand on that, saying “Bookshops are in decline all over the world. And that is worth discussing and mourning and hopefully changing. But the question ‘are there bookshops in Nigeria’ was not about that. It was about giving legitimacy to a deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping, base ignorance about Africa. And I do not have the patience for that.” Although it was later claimed that the journalist was trying to be ironic, by ‘impersonating the ignorant’, it was an attempt at irony that fell decidedly flat.
  • In a rejoinder to the above, There are Bookshops in Nigeria—But Nowhere Near Enough, in the always interesting Quartz Africa, Yomi Kazeem says there is a conversation to be had about bookshops in Nigeria. “Do they exist. Yes. Are there enough of them? Not even close.” The lack of enough retail outlets is particularly frustrating for small independent publishers with general lists, targeting a broad market. For example, Cassava Republic’s books, one of the success stories of African publishing over the last decade, are available in just 33 bookshops across ten states in Nigeria, of which eleven are in Lagos, a city of 21 million people. There is also a lack of chain bookshops or wholesale distributors, and publishers have to deal with individual, for the most part smallish retail outlets. The sharp drop of Nigeria’s Naira currency has also been critical for bookshops and publishers alike; and for many publishers the high cost of production (abroad) and importation, means that the retail prices of books are often far too expensive for the average Nigerian. Meantime public libraries have nearly gone extinct in Nigerian cities, owing largely to lack of book acquisition funds, and the persistent neglect by the Nigerian government to support their public library services.


  • In an opinion piece (translated from the French) On France and Francophone African Publishing: A Game of Chess the French scholar Raphaël Thierry – who edits and maintains the lively website – alleges that there is a “complicity between the media and the representatives of the major book providers in Africa” to present a negative picture of the state of publishing and the book trade in francophone Africa, and calls for a levelling of the playing field. He asserts that French book promotional bodies and agencies, despite regular pious pronouncements that they seek to promote the book industries in all of the Francophonie, have never taken a stance against French publishing conglomerates who between them control 80-90% of francophone Africa’s publishing markets.

    The original article in French can be found here.


  • Colleen Higgs will shortly launch a new 4th edition of the African Small Publishers’ Catalogue, including details of publishers in 14 African countries, and presenting a showcase of the variety and vibrancy of independent and small publishing in Africa today. Each entry in this very useful reference resource provides full address details, email address, telephone, website, principal contact person, and an image of the publisher’s logo; together with short, informative profiles describing the activities of each publisher, nature of list and/or focus of its publishing programme, overseas distributors (where applicable), and more. As in previous editions, it will also contain a range of short articles: “new projects and ventures are highlighted and interesting issues in the ever- changing, ever-challenging world of publishing are examined.” For more information


  • South Africa’s Reading Crisis is a Cognitive Catastrophe says John Aitchison, Professor Emeritus of Adult Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. According to the results of the international PIRLS 2016 literacy tests on nearly 13,000 South African school children showed that 78% of grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language. South Africa scored last of the 50 countries tested. “Also worrying was that there were no signs of improvement over the last five years. In fact, in the case of the boys who were tested, the situation may have worsened.” Those most disadvantaged are the children of the poor; the 25% of South Africa’s population who live in extreme poverty. There are several reasons for this dismal picture, Aitchison says, “they range from the absence of a reading culture among adult South Africans to the dearth of school libraries, allied to the high cost of books and lastly to the low quality of training for teachers of reading.”
    Part of South Africa’s reading catastrophe is cultural he states: “Most parents don’t read to their children, many because they themselves are not literate and because there are very few cheap children’s books in African languages … But reading at home also doesn’t happen at the highest levels of middle class society and the new elite either. It’s treated as a lower order activity that’s uncool, nerdy and unpopular. And it’s not a spending priority. South Africans spend twice as much on chocolate each year than they do on books. The situation doesn’t improve at school. Until provincial education departments ensure that every school has a simple library and that children have access to cheap suitable books in their own mother tongues, South Africa cannot be seen as serious about the teaching of reading.”



  • The new textbook policy recently introduced in Kenya has failed according to Wilson Sossion, Secretary-General of the Kenya National Union of Teachers. Writing in an opinion piece reproduced from the Daily Nation, he alleges that according to recent reports “some 33 million textbooks procured by the government for public schools have multiple errors, and misleading facts are quite alarming but not surprising.” The Kenya National Union of Teachers had warned, he says, that a centralised public procurement system for school textbooks has never worked, and is fraught with challenges. “It does not make sense for the government to select textbooks and impose them on teachers, who actually know and understand what kind of instructional materials their learners really need.” Although the decision to select and purchase textbooks and distribute them to schools was aimed at locking out cartels and middlemen who collude with some head teachers in fraudulent activities regarding textbook procurement, the new policy has turned out to be counter- productive, Sossion says.


  • An Investigation of Textbook Vetting and Evaluation Process in Tanzania is a timely recent article by Daniel Rotich, Emily Kogos, and Zamda Geuza that appeared in the March 2018 issue of Publishing Research Quarterly. The authors investigated the role of publishers and the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) in the textbooks vetting and evaluation process; examine the factors used to vet, evaluate and approve primary and secondary school textbooks in Tanzania, and propose strategies that could enhance the various evaluation and processes. The authors found that the process is not professionally conducted although standard criteria have been established; and that it lacks established roles among key players involved in the vetting and evaluation process, leading to conflict of interest between TIE and the publishers. The study recommends establishing an independent professional evaluation board, a well-defined timetable, and more effective communication among various players; as well as enacting a coherent book policy, and adopting a limited multiple-textbook publishing system.


  • An insightful talk with author, publisher, journalist and critic Adewale Maja Pearce is the latest in a series of interviews on the Borders Literature Online website. As a writer and critic Maja Pearce – here in conversation with Olatoun Williams – has gained something of a reputation of being deliberately provocative. His public quarrel with Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has been well documented online, and forms a significant part of this interview. He also describes the activities of his publishing house (and editorial services provider) The New Gong, and talks about his writing, the topic of literary criticism, book reviewing, book prizes and book juries, and more.

    Access to earlier Borders interviews, with a number of Nigerian book professionals, African writers and African scholars, as well as a wide range of book reviews, can be found here.


  • The Kenya Publishers Association has launched the first issue of its (free) quarterly BookNews magazine, intended to inform the public “on matters of publishing, the new curriculum developments, and various activities and projects that the publishing industry is undertaking.“ Contents in issue 1 (May/June 2018) also includes news about book trade events, book prizes and awards, book reviews, and a number of short articles on issues affecting publishing and the retail trade in Kenya.


January 2018

  • Publishers, Authors and Africa’s Cultural Development: Do the African Intelligentsia and the African States Care? is the title of a keynote address delivered by Tanzanian publisher Walter Bgoya at the 3rd East African Literature and Cultural Studies Conference, held Dar es Salaam in August 2017. As a publisher who has been involved in the African book industries for forty-five years, he shares his thoughts about publishers and publishing, writers and writing, and their role in African cultural development; and thereafter reflects on this question: do the African intelligentsia and African state really care? He pays particular attention to the situation of textbook publishing in Tanzania, where conflicting approaches and interests about the development, control and delivery of educational books to schools in the country have been a feature of the Tanzania publishing industry from the very beginning. It has gone through the experience of state publishing (1966–1985), private sector publishing (1991–2012), and in 2014 it reverted yet again to state publishing. The country’s Institute of Education (TIE) has been put in charge of all aspects and all levels of textbook publishing, including commissioning, manuscript development, through to production and distribution. However, there has been public uproar about the unacceptable quality of the books produced by TIE. Members of parliament and the public, who had previously been vociferous in calling for a return to the state publishing model, are now silent and the government has not revealed the next steps to remedy the situation. According to Bgoya, a vast amount of money was squandered, millions of books were pulped, and school children have gone without textbooks. The pre-emptive policy change left publishers with published but unsold stocks and many manuscripts at different pre-printing stages. Meantime no redress to the publishers has been entertained.
    In drawing attention to this ill-fated situation Bgoya says: “My intention is to explicate the effect that such policy insecurity can have on any publishing industry that relies heavily on textbooks, which is pretty much the situation in all African countries.” Given such a situation, can African publishing survive and prosper? “When the problem of publishers’ dependence on winning textbook tenders is disconnected, the urgent question to ask is: why do our societies appear unable to support publishing industries that are not dependent for survival on supplying schoolbooks? Is there no interest in locally published works of fiction, children’s books and trade books, including social science and humanities? Or is this simply a self-fulfilling projection that has been ingested and acted upon by publishers; so focussed on textbook publishing that they do not take the risk to see if they can survive and even thrive moderately without kow-towing to state officials in charge of education. Or even possibly that there is no sufficient research to validate the assumptions made about the prospects of independent publishing.”


  • Two further insightful interviews have been published in the Borders Literature Online series of book trade interviews, with members of the Nigerian book professions in conversation with Olatoun Williams. One is an Interview with Nigerian publisher Bankole Olayebi of Bookcraft Ltd, a company that has published a large number of high quality titles in a diverse range of subjects, including art, biography, history, literature, politics, current affairs, as well as general trade books and large format coffee table titles. Olayebi talks about the challenges of the book industry in Nigeria, challenges which have become ever more acute in recent years. One of them is the dearth of qualified and well-trained, publishing professionals (designers, editors, proof readers, book packagers, and others) “who understand how the book business should work. It seems to me that over the years regrettably, not enough time and effort has been invested in the training of publishing professionals. The result is that today, it has become very difficult to find the right people to fill various roles; and it's not very easy to find people to train for these roles.”

    Another is a conversation with Nigerian publisher and digital entrepreneur Gbenro Adegbola of First Veritas in which he talks about his background, how he got into publishing, the digital vs. print debate, developing digital content, the need to invest in publishing training and education, the major challenges facing the Nigerian book industries, and the main threats to the industry, with the menace of piracy high up on the list. Another major hurdle, Adegbola says, is access to funding and credit: “I find that the financial industry is blissfully ignorant of what we do. They don’t understand it. They confuse it with printing and that has affected access to credit. In fairness to them, the role of the publisher is not so obvious. The understanding of what publishing constitutes how publishers make money - you find that a lot of people don’t understand it.”


  • The African Literary Hustle in Blind Field journal is provocative article by Sarah Brouillette, an Associate Professor of English at Carleton University in Canada, whose research interests include economic and political circumstances that underpin and influence the production, circulation and reception of contemporary literature and culture. And that includes African literature, and how that literature circulates in Western markets. In this long, and arguably somewhat contentious essay, she asserts that “the recent renaissance in African literature has had little do with development of viable literary readerships in Africa, and viably capitalized production facilities. The post-independence quest to develop literary readerships and publishing and printing trades faced massive hurdles; it was nearly stopped by IMF and World Bank structural adjustment and trade liberalization in the 1990s, and has now been all but abandoned. The field of contemporary Anglophone African literature relies instead on private donors, mainly but not exclusively American, supporting a transnational coterie of editors, writers, prize judges, event organizers, and workshop instructors. The literary works that arise from this milieu of course tend to be targeted at British and American markets.”

    She then follows this with a short section entitled ‘Aspects of the History of Literary Publishing in Africa’, quoting from some of the recent literature. We have witnessed, she says, an African literary revival, or “literary hustle”, and there is now a thriving African literary community across key cities. However, they are “a coterie, often working with donor support for their publications and workshops, and able to build upon the connections and synergies that exist within any small relatively wealthy group of cultural producers and consumers – journalists, musicians, academics, and so on. Writers who belong to this particular coterie are published abroad, supported by US creative writing and English department professorships, and by US- and UK-based literary agencies.” As a result, “while there is a small readership in these urban centres, it isn’t that important that there be local readers. These writers have bypassed the problem of the absent African reader. There is donor funding to support the activity of writing, to award prizes to authors, and to facilitate access to US and other foreign markets.”




  • The ‘Opinions’ pages of African Books Collective’s subsite Read African Books, continue to grow and include two recent interviews conducted by Stephanie Kitchen of the International African Institute:

    The first is an Interview with Francis Nyamnjoh, Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon in which he talks about the mission and activities of the Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group (Langaa RPCIG) . He also describes Langaa’s commissioning strategy and how they market and distribute their books within Africa and internationally; Langaa’s readership worldwide, their writing workshop programmes, what they see as their most important challenges, and what does he think is needed to strengthen research, publishing and distribution systems for general and academic publishers in the African continent? “We need to be curious and ask questions. We need to read and write. We need to encourage reading and writing. We need to promote Langaa, a desire for knowledge. We need to value knowledge generation in Africa and from African perspectives. We need to support African publishers.”

    The second interview is with Francois van Schalkwyk of African Minds who heads the South African open access, not-for-profit publisher African Minds, and also the co-author of an important new investigation The African University Press. In this interview he sets out the background to this project, describes the case studies of a number of African university presses that formed part of the report, as well as the publishing practices of academics at these institutions. He also talks about the barriers to achieving a higher rate of open access publishing on the continent, and the steps that are needed to address these: “The expectation of universities for their presses to be profitable in nascent markets, and not giving consideration to the reputational benefits that a non-market-oriented publishing model could yield, is certainly one such barrier.” Another is academic authors’ expectation of receiving royalty payments from the sale of their books, and university presses in Africa “cannot reconcile open access and the perceived loss of sales income with the royalty expectations of their authors”, he says. “Beyond these specific barriers, and I am sure there are others, I think there is a general lack of understanding and confidence to experiment when it comes to open access publishing.”

    On the topic of institutional repositories Van Schalkwyk states “My concern is that repositories are being seen as a silver bullet when in reality they are part of a broader publishing ecosystem; an ecosystem that consists of institutional repositories, libraries, academic authors, indexing agencies, publishers (both university presses and others), and service providers. I think there are many repositories gathering dust because they were seen as a panacea to making a university’s research output more visible and accessible.”


  • In a thoughtful and eloquent address given at the opening of the South African Book Fair on 8 September 2017 The State of a Reading/Writing Nation Zakes Mda – the award-winning South African novelist, playwright, and poet – describes the state of the book and the culture of reading in South Africa today, and also offers some astute observations about the new digital environment, social media, pulp fiction, and informal reading circles and book clubs. Reading in all languages must be respected and, he says, “it saddens me that today literature in indigenous African languages is so marginalized that we can only conceive of a culture of reading in English. This is not because books in indigenous languages do not exist. Every year new books are published in most of the languages of South Africa, in addition to the classics in languages such as isiXhosa, Sesotho and isiZulu that have had a literary tradition dating from the 1800s. The problem lies with book distribution rather than the book publishing sector. You may go to any of our major bookstores chains today, say Exclusive Books or CNA, and ask for the latest Sesotho novel by Nhlanhla Maake, a Setswana novel by Sabata-Mpho Mokae or an isiXhosa novel by Ncedile Saule, and the likelihood is that you will not find it in stock. It is a Catch 22 situation because the bookstores will tell you they don’t stock such novels because no one buys them, but the readers will tell you they don’t buy them because they are not in stock. This is a cumulative result of the marginalization of indigenous languages in South Africa today in all spheres of life.”

    He is also critical of the sharp decline in editorial standards in publishing in South Africa. “Poor editing is the bane of South African books generally, even so-called quality fiction and non-fiction by reputed publishers … Publishers in South Africa are letting reader and writer down, and disrespecting them. Such shoddiness will be the death of the book.”

    Mda ends his address by emphasizing that cultures reproduce themselves. “A reading culture once cultivated produces more readers and more readers produce more writers, who then in turn produce more readers. It all begins with a seed.”


  • Johann Mouton, who is director at The Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University, in a paper entitled Scholarly Publishing in SA: The Qualitative Imperative, reflects on the growth in scholarly publishing in South Africa over the last 25 years, and how this has been influenced by the subsidy system of South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training (DoHET). In his presentation, focusing on the “qualitative challenge”, he acknowledges that concerns over the quality of scientific outputs and unethical publishing practices have emerged and increased. He gives several reasons for concern over the journals where South African academics publish most frequently, including the persistence of questionable publication practices and predatory journals. However, while agreeing that there are problems that could and should be addressed, the author feels strongly that it would be irresponsible to consider a total scrapping of the scientific publishing system in South Africa, since the funding from this system is a lifeline for science in South Africa. He says “it is important to emphasize that the digitization of publishing and the advent of OA journals and books are in and by themselves progressive forces. These ‘movements’ have greatly increased access to knowledge, improved participation in and even the democratization of publishing through more transparent peer-review processes. However, as is often the case, they also contain(ed) in themselves the potential for misuse and abuse by unscrupulous publishers, editors and other actors who are intent only on profiting from these through whatever means of deception and misrepresentation.”

    In another recent paper by Johann Mouton, co-authored with Astrid Valentine and published in the South African Journal of Science, The Extent of South African Authored Articles in Predatory Journals, the authors present a critical examination of so-called predatory publishing in academic circles in South Africa, and which confirms that predatory publishing is not only present, but also becoming increasingly common. The study highlights the challenges and dangers that arise from predatory publishing, including how this could compromise the careers of young scholars and scientists, as well as posing a threat to peer review. In the final analysis, the authors say, “it is clear that predatory publishing poses a serious challenge to science in South Africa. If it continues to increase at the rate of growth seen in the past 5 years, predatory publishing may well become accepted practice in some disciplines and at some universities. Not only will it affect the very fabric of the science system (our confidence in the peer-review system), but it will also undermine the trust and confidence of the general public in science and its products.” The authors conclude with some suggestions about predatory publishing and its pervasive consequence for our trust in science, and how this should be addressed by the major stakeholders in the South African higher education system.


  • In an interesting CP-Africa Interview, Ofili Okechukwu and the OkadaBooks Story, Bimbola Segun-Amao talks to Nigerian entrepreneur Okechukwu Ofili, founder of Okadabooks, an e-distribution start-up that has developed a popular publishing/reading app for Android mobiles or tablets and other platforms. It takes its name from the Okada motorcycle taxis, commonly used in Nigeria and in other parts of West Africa used to overcome traffic congestion. Okadabooks says it “seeks to bypass the traffic in the Nigerian book publishing industry by making it easy to publish books, making it cheap to buy books, but more importantly making it fun to read books on mobile devices ….We created the platform primarily to give up and coming authors published or unpublished an avenue to get their works distributed and monetized as early as possible …. It’s a fast, simple and fun way to read books without ever leaving your couch!” Okada thus seeks to harness the power of the mobile phone to make it easier and cheaper for Nigerians to read.

    In this conversation Okechukwu talks about the Okada story, how it started and was funded, the e-technology they use, the number of books they offer and their authors, their current challenges on various fronts, the business lessons they have learnt so far, and also offers some sound advice for fresh tech entrepreneurs: He says that it is easy to get a bit of media coverage in Nigeria, and “so you may believe your idea is great, not realizing it is not. So don’t judge yourself by vanity metrics. Judge by quality and impact metrics, like traction, revenue and growth.”



  • The Canadian organization CODE has published a wide-ranging report by Espen Stranger-Johannessen Africa Language and Literacy. A Landscape Review of Language and Literacy Research in African Contexts that addresses key issues based on recent research on language and literacy education in the African context, including teacher education, and outlines key findings and recommendations for research and practice based on a review of the literature. It also includes a discussion (sub-section 3.3) about ‘Publishing in African Languages’. Part I of the report reviews focal areas of research and is based on academic articles and reports. Part II presents case studies of policies and teacher education, with a focus on 21st century skills, from six countries associated with CODE’s work in Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. These case studies provide valuable insight into the key issues discussed in Part I of the report.

  • In a section entitled ‘Literacy Materials and Publishing’, the report states “Print literacy materials, such as textbooks and storybooks, are key to helping students develop high levels of literacy. Yet there are often few textbooks and storybooks in African schools, particularly in African languages. Increasing the number of books available to students is important, but teachers’ use of textbooks and storybooks in the classroom is also key, as making books available does not necessarily mean they will be utilized effectively. The publishing industry faces challenges from low demand and import of books from abroad.” Publishing in African languages is only financially viable if there is a market for those books, either in the form of government guarantees or incentives, or other ways in which publishers can be confident that there is a market for their books.

    On the aspect of ICT and digital resources, the report says that ICT is often seen as a promising contribution to education in Africa and elsewhere, but there are high costs and technical and implementation challenges associated with introducing digital devices to schools. “ICT is more than devices for end-users, however. Open educational resources are important for sharing and creating materials, particularly in African languages.”


  • A thoughtful article by South African novelist and short-story writer Henrietta Rose Innes, The Tremors Through South African Literature recently appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. It takes the reader through her experience as a writer in the post-apartheid era since the late 1990s, “when South African writing still felt isolated from the rest of the continent and the world”, but “a handful of venerable literary magazines with tiny circulations existed, and a small number of publishers valiantly focused on local work.” That included Kwela Books, an imprint tasked with publishing new and diverse voices in the post-apartheid era. Thereafter, round about the mid-2000s, “something else started to happen: genre fiction erupted. Suddenly it was acceptable for local writers to take to crime.” Along with this shift, the author says, came greater visibility for local literary fiction. Book clubs that previously would only read international prize-winners started paying attention to home-grown authors. Prizes, festivals and creative writing courses multiplied. These creative writing programmes in particular succeeded in promoting a slew of talented new writers, and new publishing activities.

  • Nonetheless, “times remain tough in publishing, in South Africa as in the world. Sales of literary fiction are sparse and growing sparser.” Right now the major tremors running through the South African literary world have to do with race. “Race is, as always in South Africa, the issue, and through all the country’s changes, the publishing establishment has remained stubbornly white-dominated. In conjunction with the past two years’ fierce student activism for the ‘decolonization’ of universities, a movement to ‘decolonize’ literature has taken root.” A new festival, the Abantu Books Festival, specifically for black writers and readers, was founded last year by the author Thando Mgqolozana, and took place for the second time in December 2017, in Soweto. Blackbird Books, likewise, is a new publishing imprint founded in 2015 for exclusively black writing. Most significantly though, there is a cohort of younger writers who have taken their places on the literary stage: “These transformations are turbulent, hopeful, at times confrontational, at times euphoric – and long overdue. South African writers may take a decade or two to process our radical shifts, but we get there in the end.”


August 2017

  • The Los Angeles Review of Books has published an extensive and hugely insightful Interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the world-renowned Kenyan writer, scholar, and social activist. In conversation with Nanda Dyssou, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o talks about his role in the writing community, his publishing history and successes, his readership, what he considers to be his most important accomplishments, and his strong views on writing and publishing in African languages. “The problem is that, unfortunately, those that write in African languages remain invisible, their works are hardly ever reviewed or translated. Publishing venues are limited” he says, and getting published “is one of the most infuriating challenges of writing in African languages. There are hardly any publishing houses devoted to African languages. So writers in African languages are writing against great odds: no publishing houses, no state support, and with national and international forces aligned against them. Prizes are often given to promote African literature but on the condition that the writers don’t write in African languages.”
    In response to a question where he thinks the future of reading and writing is headed, Ngũgĩ says “the new technologies, electronic media, open vast possibilities. In Globalectics, I have argued that orality is coming back. I call it cyberorality. Look at the language of the Internet: chat rooms, Facebook friends, communities, et cetera. Social media is the electronic version of the old rumour mill writ large. We used to call it bush telegraph — that is, before the Internet. Maybe we should now call it ‘electronic rumour.’ But for Africa, the real frontier is writing and publishing in African languages.”


  • The African University Press, an impressive new study by François van Schalkwyk and Thierry M. Luescher of the Cape Town-based African Minds Project and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, provides an overview of the current African university press landscape, and examines the opportunities and constraints faced by university presses in Africa. While there are new and enabling conditions and opportunities for university presses to increase production and to widen distribution, the authors ask: How can African university presses make the most of these opportunities? Most likely, they believe, in deploying the technological changes in production, distribution and marketing made possible by digitisation and network effects of the Internet. The study is based on a baseline survey of university presses in Africa, in-depth case studies of selected university presses, and an analysis of the publishing choices made by African academics.

    Overall the study presents a rather dismal picture of university presses in Africa today. The authors found that “university presses in Africa are not yet making use of technological advances to reconfigure their production, distribution and marketing processes, nor are they experimenting with new publishing models such as open access. While case studies of selected university presses surfaced unsurprising challenges (such as scarce resources and limited capacity), they also show that university presses in Africa are constrained by institutional logics that are holding them back from experimenting with new ways of doing things.” The report concludes with a set of pragmatic recommendations: “recommendations that are simultaneously attuned to the opportunities and to the realities of African university presses as revealed by the research conducted.”

    As part of this project, African Minds have also created an interactive map of university presses in Africa that is continuously being updated. Users can either view the map by applying any of a number of filters, or download the full dataset at


  • An Interview with Hans Zell in conversation with Olatoun Williams of Borders—Literature for all Nations, has been published on this new Nigerian forum and book review media platform. In this wide-ranging two-part interview he talks about his engagement with publishing and the book in Africa over a period of over four decades, as well as answering questions about the Hans Zell Publishers imprint, author-publisher interaction in Africa, the new boom in self-publishing, and conveys his views about the potential negative consequences on the African book industries of the activities of overseas book donation programmes, shipping millions of free books to Africa every year. Borders intend to publish a range of further interviews with book industry professionals in the months ahead.


  • In an interview with Henrick Alfredsson, Her Mission: To Bring African Books to a Global Audience, Mary Jay, former CEO of African Books Collective Ltd, reflects on the prospects and challenges of the African book industries, and her involvement over the past three decades promoting the works of African authors and academic scholars to a global audience. Surprisingly, Mary Jay says, “few are aware of the importance of encouraging and supporting African publishing, even in the academic world of the Global North. Today in many UK universities, and probably elsewhere in the world as well, you can take a degree or master’s in African Studies without reading a single book published in Africa.” In many African countries and regions, like so many other sectors, the book market has also been infected by corruption and unfair competition, in some cases caused by big and powerful actors from the Global North, she says. Meantime overseas book donation programmes on a massive scale can have unintentionally negative consequences. In some cases when book aid organizations send large quantities of books, often textbooks for educational purposes, they unwittingly kill the market for regional or local publishers and writers. The donated books are almost without exception published outside of Africa, and written by non-African authors: “It is vital that African children have access to books published from within their own cultures, books that relate to their own lives and experiences. It would be preferable for Northern donations to be in the form of budgets for purchase, rather than the expense of shipping container-loads of books, which are too often simply library or publisher overstocks.”


  • A new report commissioned by Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) – Working Group on Books and Learning Materials, A Comparative Study on the Role of Digital Media and Print Media in Enhancing Literacy and Reading Culture in Africa, examines the general context of literacy and reading culture in Africa, focusing on the contribution of printed books and digital materials. It explores the challenges of digital media and suggests interventions “that optimize reading of printed books and digital content to improve literacy for a better reading culture in Africa both in international and national languages.” The research draws attention to the fact that, as the number of printed books is expanding to reach a variety of audiences – covering a wide range of topics and knowledge - electronic publishing is equally expanding rapidly: “The two options are now available to publishers and the choice of a publisher will depend on a number of factors such as the cost, objectives and the prevailing circumstances.” The study notes that “numerous reports indicate that many pupils and students go through primary and secondary school without acquiring sufficient reading skills.” It recommends that “since technology will not replace reading in the near future, it is imperative to use the technology to enhance it. Reading on paper will always remain important and enjoyable and this means that the printed book will never lose its value and importance.”


  • A paper by Eve Gray A Critique of Research Dissemination Policy in South Africa, with Recommendations for Policy Reform reviews the policy context for research publication in South Africa, using South Africa’s relatively privileged status as an African country and its elaborated research policy environment as a testing ground for what might be achieved – or what needs to be avoided - in other African countries. The policy review takes place “against the background of a global scholarly publishing system in which African knowledge is seriously marginalised and is poorly represented in global scholarly output. Scholarly publishing policies that drive the dissemination of African research into international journals that are not accessible in developing countries because of their high cost effectively inhibit the ability of relevant research to impact on the overwhelming development challenges that face the continent.”

    The paper charts “a set of conflicting expectations of academic institutions and their values in research policies. On the one hand, the government has an expectation of social and development impact from the university in return for its investment in research funding. At the same time, there are increased pressures towards privatisation of the universities, with a decline in traditional financial support from the state, and, linked to this, pressure on the university to demonstrate results in the form of greater Intellectual Property Rights enclosure. Thus, while South African research and innovation policies stress the need for development impact, performance measures focus on patents or publication in internationally-indexed journals, effectively inhibiting the effective dissemination of research and thus greatly retarding its potential development impact.”

    The paper concludes with a set of recommendations at international, national and institutional levels for addressing this situation, arguing that open access, and collaborative approaches, could bring substantially increased impact for African research, with marked cost-benefit advantages.


  • A Case for National Book and Reading Policies for Africa in the Advent of the Digital Revolution, by Lily Nyariki and Lisa Krolak is an advocacy policy paper prepared for the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) – Working Group on Books and Learning Materials, and published by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. UNESCO and other organizations have repeatedly stressed over the years that, in order to ensure that book development is integrated in overall national development planning, the establishment of national book development councils is an essential requirement to guide national book policies; to serve as an intermediary between the book professions and the government, and to provide coordination between the different players in the book sector. As the authors of this policy paper note, national book development councils (or similar bodies) exist, or have existed, in several African countries, albeit “with varying degree of success”. Several of them are currently dormant, or have shut down operations altogether. It could be argued that the main reason for this is that their funding has always been based either on government support, or dependent on continuing financial aid from donor organizations; and when the funding came to an end activities ceased. This advocacy document is a plea for their revival. In their conclusions the authors state “national book and reading policies are at the core of educational quality, literacy development, lifelong learning, and sustainable development. Africa needs to position itself to achieve the UN SDGs, and its own set of targets as stipulated in Agenda 2063 and CESA 2016-25 if it is to catch up with the rest of the world. All African countries owe it to themselves to formulate their book and reading policies and enact National Book and Reading Councils.”


  • Thinking Twice Before Donating: “We Don’t Want Other People’s Rubbish” is an article by American librarian Mary Grace Flaherty in the Summer 2017 issue of the IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Newsletter. While spending some time in Malawi on a Fulbright scholarship award she had opportunities to visit all types of libraries in that country: academic, school, and community based. During her visit she found that many of the books in collections were donations shipped by book aid organizations, but did not fit the scope of any of the collections and were discards from libraries overseas. “While the gifts signify a lovely spirit of generosity and willingness to help, it takes a considerable amount of resources to ship them, such as the staff time to get them ready for shipping, the physical resources (boxes, labels), and, of course, the shipping itself. Whether they come by land, sea or air, books are heavy and expensive to transport.” As the headmaster in one of the schools she visited aptly put it, “It’s nice they send the stuff, but we don’t want other people’s rubbish.” Flaherty goes on to suggest: “Don’t put anything in a box to send overseas that has been withdrawn because it can’t withstand circulation and don’t put anything in a box to send overseas because it is outdated. When the need for generosity arises, we should consider working directly with individual libraries in a deliberate and measured way to send new or lightly used items by using wish lists, or sending a donation so they can procure for themselves what they deem as appropriate. Rather than using funds and resources to ship old books around the globe to foist upon under-resourced libraries, we should be supporting local and regional authors and publishers through organizations such as the African Books Collective (ABC), a great resource for procuring books by local and regional authors.”


  • A blog post in The Economist  From Abuja to the Arctic. Norway and Nigeria’s Unlikely Bibliophilic Collaboration reports that the National Libraries of Nigeria and Norway are to sign a letter of intent concerning the digitization of books in Nigerian languages by the National Library of Norway. “Our aim is to give access to digitized books in indigenous Nigerian languages to Nigerians living in Norway through our multilingual library. We also hope that this project becomes a model for our cooperation with other countries, and the success of more African languages” Jens-Petter Kjemprud, Norway’s ambassador to Nigeria is quoted as saying. The agreement will cover literature written in the Nigerian languages of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo (although the first two can be described as cross-border languages, also spoken in some other countries of the West African region). The costs will be shared, with the library in Nigeria responsible for collecting and making available copies of the material to be digitized, while the Norwegians will be responsible for undertaking the digitization. Questions relating to formats and access (and rights issues?) will presumably be answered in the months ahead, and this is certainly a most welcome development and might well serve as a pilot for similar collaborative ventures with African national libraries elsewhere with significant holdings in African language materials.


  • Publishers Weekly, in a story by Ed Nawotka, Cassava Republic Brings Africa to America reports about the new US distribution arrangements of Nigerian publisher Cassava Republic, having earlier launched a UK operation in April of 2016. Asked why she decided to expand to the US, Bakare-Yusuf said that it was partially about ‘legitimacy’ and would play well at home, giving her publishing a house an edge in attracting talent. But, she added, there’s something more at stake than mere pragmatism: “Our aim is to show the broader reading audience that there is more to African life and literature than what you might read in the news. We know that many Americans will pick up these books out of curiosity at first. But they will find stories that they themselves can relate to and characters they can identify with.”

April 2017

  • The International Publishers Association Global Book Fair Report is an annual compendium of world book fairs that complements the IPA’s International Book Fair Calendar, and aims to provide insider insights and interviews with the people behind the events. The 2017 report is split into geographical regions: the Americas, Africa (sadly, no listing here for the once renowned Zimbabwe International Book Fair), Asia/Oceania, Europe, and the Middle East/Central Asia. The 2017 report also contains ‘Special focus’ pages on Nigeria and the Nigeria International Book Fair, and Egypt and the Cairo International Book Fair. The Nigeria focus pages includes an interview with Gbadega Adedapo, Current President of the Nigerian Publishers Association, discussing issues such as the structure of Nigeria’s book market, Nigerian reading habits, the ratio of local vs. imported foreign books, recent developments in fighting piracy and enforcement of copyright, and the use of e-books and mobile devices. On the topic of digital publishing and devices Adedapo says: “E-books and reading on mobile devices are at the introductory stage and the adoption by publishers is gradually improving. It is perceived that embracing e-books might increase piracy and undermine intellectual property protection. Secure management of e-books is perhaps one of the main concerns of publishing firms, and is consequently thought to be delaying adoption. The e-book market is just emerging. Some publishing houses have it at experimental stage while its adoption in an e-book pioneering state such as Osun raised sustainability questions.”



  • Complementing its main website, the African Books Collective Ltd (ABC) – the non-profit, Oxford-based, worldwide marketing and distribution outlet for some 2,500 print and e-book titles from over 150 independent African publishers – has recently launched an informative and rich new sub-site called Read African Books, which “offers a place where people can come to read about the latest books, news, reviews and comment, on African publishing.” Its aim is “to help grow awareness of the issues affecting African books and publishing – to celebrate its diversity – and to increase the visibility of African books worldwide.” ABC welcomes views or comments on these pages.

    A recent contribution is Akoss Ofori-Mensah’s Conversations on Book Development in West Africa.  Ofori-Mensah is the founder and Chair of Sub-Saharan Publishers, a well-known Ghanaian publisher specializing in African picture-story books for children, as well as publishing in the areas of African literature, gender studies, books on the environment, and a range of other scholarly books. In this insightful interview she talks about issues such as production quality of African-published books, donor and government support for literary and educational initiatives in Africa and the key players involved, buying and selling rights for her distinguished children’s list and her notable successes in this area, and the rapidly changing publishing environment of the provision and teaching and learning materials (TMLS) in Africa and elsewhere.

    On the topic of digital media Ofori-Mensah says the development in new technologies vis-à-vis teaching and learning materials in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot be overlooked. However, some content might interest learners and teachers, while other content may not. “Although digital books and TLMS may eventually replace printed books, it is likely to be a gradual process.” Moreover, “the choices are neither simple nor cost efficient, and there is perhaps no viable substitute for the traditional book, at least for the moment. Over the next decade or two, the most cost-effective approach may be a combination of printed materials and digital TLMS, especially for the teaching of science.”  In addition to infrastructural problems such erratic electricity supply, especially in rural areas, “the expense involved in the digital migration vis à vis the traditional book must also be considered. The cost of computers, tablets, phones, etc. In addition the cost of set-up should be compared with the cost of funding [conventional] print runs and distribution, to decide which is more cost effective. … Elementary school teachers will also have to be ICT literate to be able to teach digital TLMs. That is another huge investment required in teacher training. … I believe that the book as we know it will stay with us for many generations to come. You can go to bed with your book: when you fall asleep it falls down on the bed or on the floor. When you wake up it is still there, intact. You cannot do that with your computer.”


  • Bookwitty is a lively new platform “where people can discover, create and share content about books on a variety of topics.” It has recently published the first two in a series of interviews with African publishers, “part of an ongoing Bookwitty project that celebrates the importance of independent publishers.” The interviews cover questions such as ‘What is your editorial line? What makes you stand out?’, ’What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent publisher?’, to questions about the most significant challenges, and how publishers interact with their readers.
    Read the full interviews here:
    In Conversation with Nigerian Independent Publisher Cassava Republic
    South African Modjaji Books on the Work of Finding Female Voices


  • These are difficult times for Nigerian publishers according to a report by Anote Ajeluorou in Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper. Booksellers’ persistent failure to pay publishers for books supplied is threatening to cripple the book business in Nigeria, the author says. Publishers accuse them of failing to remit amounts due even though they have actually sold books supplied to them. Booksellers and distributors, in turn, cite poor sales figures, difficult trading conditions, and the rising cost of running their business as the reasons for their poor credit record. Meanwhile authors continue to put pressure on publishers to pay royalties in a timely fashion even if publishers have failed to receive payment, and with some of them facing severe cash flow problems. A number of publishers have written off huge amounts of bad debts, and publishers say that, in practice, they can only pay royalties based on the money they have received, and not for what they supplied. The result, the author says, has led not only to a climate of mistrust among the different players in the book industry, but also between publishers and their authors, and some publishers are now increasingly turning to alternative models for distribution and retail sales.