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.
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.”
Edit Africa – Réflexion et information sur le monde du livre africain, hosted by Raphaël Thierry, is an information-rich resource and platform for dossiers, news, reports, articles, analysis, and links about African publishing generally, and the francophone African book world more particularly. He has now also added a series of podcasts, EditAfrica Sessions. In his introductory comments Thierry says this represents a new format for him to express personal reflections: “I will deal with various issues such as African publishing’s relationship with international book markets, the history of publishing in Africa, institutional dynamics, and more.” At this time the broadcasts are in French with introductory texts in both French and English. Full transcripts may be added at a later time. The EditAfrica Sessions are broadcast and freely accessible (and downloadable) on diverse platforms.
Podcast Session no. 1: Introductory Session 13:56mins. In French.
Podcast Session no. 2: IPA’s Seminar in Nairobi: Of Transformational Events and African Publishing Industry’s Sustainability 22:51mins. In French. Introductory Text in English for Session no 2.
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.
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.
- 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.
Colleen Higgs is a publisher, a publishing activist and a writer, and the founder of the Cape Town based Modjaji Books, the publishing company which she founded in 2007, and which is now widely recognized to be one the leading independent feminist presses not only in Africa but in the world. In a recent blog posting, Publishing and Money, she says “money has been at the heart of my work as a publisher. Not enough money. Not ever. But somehow I’m still here eleven years later. Nothing is certain. Nothing is guaranteed, even for those who have financial reserves, which I don’t. However, coming clean about the money side of how I’ve operated as a small independent publisher feels important, even if it feels more awkward than talking about some sexual fetish or predilection I might have.” Publishing is a cost intensive business, and this is a cautionary tale for any would-be small publisher, and from which one could well conclude that life as a small indie publisher isn’t much fun! However, while independent publishing with only modest financial resources can be a nerve wracking, anxiety filled enterprise and is not for the fainthearted, “the non-financial rewards are immeasurable” Higgs says.
Note: this article is also accessible at http://www.modjajibooks.co.za/my-first-column-for-bookrepublic-why-modjaji-books/
In an engaging sequel to the above, Publishing as a Zen Practice, she continuous by saying “publishing is not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes I wonder why I decided to go into publishing, using my own money when it’s a business that is fraught with so many hundreds of possible places where you can go disaster. Some cost money, some cost face. It’s a business that keeps you humble and on your toes.” She goes on to say “I think publishing is teaching me a kind of Zen practice, of doing my best to make sure there are as few mistakes as possible and trying not to repeat the same ones and forgiving myself and others, and taking it in my stride and learning not to allow a publishing version of ‘road rage’ to get the better of me.” Helpfully, and candidly, she then sets out the nature of “a few of the errors” – no less than 33 of them – during her eleven years in publishing thus far. This could well prove to be a very useful checklist of the pitfalls to avoid for small independent and/or novice publishers anywhere!
In the second of a series of interesting interviews with speakers at the recent International Publishers Association (IPA) Lagos Regional Seminar Ama Dadson, CEO and founder of AkooBooks, Ghana’s first publisher and digital distributor of African audiobooks, says It’s an Exciting Time for Publishing in Africa. The audiobook industry, Dadson asserts, is worth over US$2 billion, and while the bulk of that market is in the West, “with the explosion of African writing talent and the advent of new digital technologies for distribution, comes the opportunity for Africa to be part of that revolution and to offer new digital publishing services to a global community. Affordability of mobile data/phone ownership is key here. Our customers may be unable to afford our audiobooks if the costs of mobile data are too high. However, there are now audio speakers that are voice-enabled which are able to be used in a group or classroom setting, e.g. the Echo dot.3. Awareness of ‘Audio literacy’ is a new concept and we will have to drive the adoption of it and the benefits of audiobooks among young Africans.” The AkooBooks programme also promotes audio literacy and pilots it in local languages, “bringing a wealth of ideas and experiences to people who are illiterate in English. Written text is derived from oral storytelling, so it follows that audiobooks are capturing the enthusiasm of old oral traditions.”
In an earlier IPA interview, Make Authors Rich Again, Okechukwu Ofili, Nigerian entrepreneur and founder of the book reading/publishing platform OkadaBooks, offers some rather provocative or at least contentious views: “At OkadaBooks our information motto”, Ofili says, is to “make authors rich again”, and so this piece should perhaps make happy reading for authors who want to get rich quick and find fame and fortune. Unfortunately the fact is of course that, apart from the top bestselling authors, most writers don't get rich writing books. Actually most writers can’t even earn a living from their writing. (Various recent surveys have revealed that about 54% of traditionally-published authors and almost 80% of go-it-alone self-published writers are making less than $1,000 or ca. £770 a year). Ofili also says the IPA “can help Nigerian publishers by going past the layers fluff we like to put up and getting us to focus on what is key. And what is key is ‘money’, publishers want to know how to make money. A lot of publishers are not making as much money as they should be making.”
Could it be that some publishers, in many parts of the world, while running their operations with strictly business-like efficiency, have a slightly different ethos than that of Mr Ofili, and for them publishing is perhaps something more than just making loads of money?
New forms of literature are emerging in African megacities, outside the established publishing industry. The Uppsala-based Nordic Africa Institute Library African Street Literature Project aims to make such material accessible through the NAI library, and to explore how the urban context is affecting literary form. Seeking to break new ground, this innovative project covers emerging literary forms such as digital and spoken word poetry, blog fiction, street theatre and graphic novels, as well as alternative ways of publishing novels and short stories. The NAI library has been instrumental from the outset in developing ways of categorising and making searchable a very diverse range of material, which also includes Internet links and YouTube clips. The collection ranges from small photocopied collections of poetry to foto-novelas (illustrated novels), comic books, literary magazines and plays. The NAI’s chief librarian Åsa Lund Moberg says “collecting African street literature at the NAI library creates new opportunities for literary works to reach new readers and researchers. The process is also a bibliographical challenge that could break new ground for making different kinds of literature accessible.” Find out what is already in this growing collection at this link.
James Murua’s lively Literature Blog offers not only a steady stream of news and reviews from the African literary scene, but also reports about book awards and prizes, as well as including interviews, podcasts, author profiles, and more. A categories menu facilitates quick access, by country or by topic/genre. There are also regular postings about book and journal publishing, book fairs, and news about book industry-related conferences, seminars, and meetings. For example, it recently reported about the “Lettres d’Afrique: Changing the Narrative” programme held during the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair, an extensive series of events and panel discussions designed to promote international networking between African publishers and those from elsewhere, and intended to provide visibility for the hugely diverse range of current African publishing output from throughout the continent.
These posts have included:
Frankfurt Book Fair 2018: Sights from the African Contingent
Frankfurt Book Fair 2018: African Book Fairs and Literary Festivals
Frankfurt Book Fair 2018: Rights in African Languages
Frankfurt Book Fair 2018: Tsitsi Dangarembga (in conversation with Ilija Trojanow)
Edited by Ulrich Talla Wamba, Publishers & Books is a new monthly book trade magazine (print and online, subscription-based) from the African Observatory of Professional Publishers in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The first four issues of the magazine – sub-titled ‘Mensuel d’Afrique-Magazine Spécialisé & Professionel-Livres et Éditions’ – contain a variety of informative news, interviews, reports about book fairs and other book promotional events, as well as short articles (primarily in French) about the book world and the publishing industries in Africa. In the first issue there is an insightful interview with Kenyan e-book entrepreneur Alexander Nderitu, a profile of Cameroonian publisher Editions CLE, together with a special section of contributions on the e-book in Africa, and the new opportunities now offered to African publishers keen to exploit the digital markets. A list of recent content can be found here.
In African Books Collective’s informative series of opinion papers and interviews Readafricanbooks, Stephanie Kitchen of the International African Institute is in conversation with Ernest Oppong, Acting CEO of the African Publishers Network which, after being dormant for several years, has recently been revived and launched a new website. In this interview he talks about the ‘new’ APNET’s plans for the future and their immediate objectives, one of which is “creating a national book policy and determining action plans to formulate those policies, and to implement a legal framework within which local governments and the publishing industry can work together.” Longer term objectives include “establishing mutual collaboration among African publishers and their respective governments; strengthening and consolidating training resources in Africa; partnering with some African universities and running publishing training programmes.” African publishers, he asserts, have “a number of challenges with their respective governments due to the following reasons: African government see indigenous publishers as a threat; there is non-adherence of national book policies and procedures by government; [and there is] the attempt of governments to take over textbook publishing in most countries.” He says that “the solution to these unfortunate occurrences is to establish legal backing for national book policies so that no individual in any government office can unduly manipulate the policy against publishers.”
Analysing Law and Policy, and the Contributions of Government Sponsored Institutions to Publishing Development by Anatu Kande Mahama is an outstanding and meticulously documented recent PhD thesis presented at Loughborough University, which examines law and policy in the book publishing industry in Ghana, together with an evaluation of the success of government-sponsored institutions that have been established in support of publishing and book development in the country. It seeks to provide an understanding of the socio-cultural and economic conditions under which policies were formulated, and as such it is probably the first qualitative content analysis of book publishing law and policy, which, although vitally important to publishing development, is an area that has been neglected in the research on the African book industries. Issues concerning publishing development in Ghana and in other countries in Africa, the author says, have attracted considerable debate and coverage in the literature, but the focus of the debate has mainly centred on challenges confronting publishing development in the continent, and the promotion of sustainable schoolbooks provision. While there is quite a substantial body of existing literature on the historical development of book publishing in Africa and its challenges, the role of law and policy, and the contributions of government-sponsored institutions to publishing development, has not adequately been investigated. This thesis therefore provides the first analysis of law and policy in one African country as it relates to the book sector.
The research examines the rationale for policy formulation, the policy-making process itself, the experiences of various stakeholders in the formulation of these policies, and issues relating to the implementation of policy. It also assesses the success of government-sponsored institutions by examining how their work has influenced book development and publishing in the country. The data for the research comprised legislation, policy documents, and recorded interviews, which were analysed using the framework that was developed for book policy analysis. In offering a range useful recommendations for good practice, Mahama says “the findings of this thesis should prompt government and other stakeholders in the book publishing industry to review the existing textbooks policy towards the formulation of a national book policy that properly positions the book publishing industry as a strategic national industry that would contribute to the general development of the country. … A comprehensive National Book Policy is essential and requires the political will of both publishers and government for it to be achieved.”
African University Presses and the Institutional Logic of the Knowledge Commons by Thierry M. Luescher and François van Schalkwyk and published in a recent issue of Learned Publishing (v. 31, issue S1, 2018, free access; also at https://www.academia.edu/37359038/African_university_presses_and_the_institutional_logic_of_the_knowledge_commons) investigates the current status and the challenges faced by university presses in Africa, looking particularly at the institutional perspective. Four case studies from Ethiopia (Addis Ababa University Press and Wollega University Press), Kenya (University of Nairobi Press) and South Africa (Wits University Press) show how different presses adapt their practices and adopt new technologies. “Interpreted through an institutional logics perspective, the status of the university presses is described according to established editorial and market logics, to which a third, hypothetical logic of the knowledge commons, is added.”
Several key points emerged from the study, namely:
(1) African university presses are constrained by their institutional support and outlook.
(2) Younger, emerging, African university presses are more able to adopt the logic of the knowledge commons rather than presses that follow the older editorial or market models.
(3) African university presses are well aware of opportunities afforded by new technologies, but are not making full use of these opportunities.
(4) Technological opportunities are mainly understood in terms of creating marketing and distribution channels complementary to the existing print‐based model focused on local markets.
- 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) http://www.adeanet.org/en/working-groups/books-and-learning-materials 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:
- 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.
- Training and research: Establish an online training platform for the African book industry and enable national associations develop effective communication plans with policy makers.
- Local languages: Facilitate efforts toward standardizing cross-border and international orthography; and encourage and support linkages and collaborations for local language development.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Editafrica.com 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 email@example.com.
- 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.”
Bookrepublic.com is an interesting new Nigerian blog maintained by Folarin Olaniyi, containing news items, author interviews, and articles. Some recent posts have included a variety of short articles and perspectives on publishing, books, and reading in Nigeria, including these:
- I Started Selling Books Because Of Poverty- Street Book Seller
- Nigerian Publishers Give Salient Reasons Why they Go Abroad To Print. Calls for Government Intervention
- Literature and the Creative Economy: Finding Relevance and Overcoming Misconceptions on the Book Industry’s Contributions to a Nation’s Economic Well-Being
- How The Nigerian Paper Manufacturing Companies Became Defunct
- Nigerian Book Lovers Voice their Opinion on the Advent of E-books in the Book Publishing Industry
- 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.
On this topic see also Publishers, Authors and Africa’s Cultural Development: Do the African Intelligentsia and the African States Care?, a keynote address delivered by Tanzanian publisher Walter Bgoya, and as described in our January 2018 news brief.
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.
- 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.”
Edited by Agatha Akonor-Mills, Ghana Book News is an informative new publication from the Ghana Book Publishers Association, carrying news about the activities of the Association, reports about the annual Ghana International Book Fair, and other book promotional events. It also includes short contributions about book industry workshops and training for book professionals, reading programmes, copyright issues, the need for high standards of professionalism in book production, and more. Two issues have been published to date:
No. 1 http://ghanabookpublishers.org/downloads/gbpa_newsletter_1. pdf
No 2 http://ghanabookpublishers.org/downloads/gbpa_newsletter_2. pdf
The Academic Book in the South: Conference Report. This two-day conference, held on 7-8 March 2016, was organized by the British Library in association with The Academic Book of the Future project. This is the conference report put together by Stephanie Kitchen and includes succinct summaries of papers presented by plenary speakers, including a small number from Africa that offer interesting insights.
Video recordings of presentations dealing with African book and journal publishing can be viewed at these links:
Walter Bgoya Panel: Academic Publishing in the South
Akoss Ofori-Mensah Academic Publishing in the South: The Ghanaian Experience
Stephanie Kitchen et al Academic Authorship and Knowledge Production
Storyfy Tweets of papers, themes, and conversations.
Final Panel Discussion & Concluding Comments
- 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.”
- Issue no. 475 (22 September 2017) of University World News is a Special Report entitled African Scholarly Publishing – Network Aims to Strengthen African Scholarly Publishing. It reports about a meeting hosted by Witwatersrand University Press, held in Johannesburg on 30 August 2017, that brought together a number of African scholarly publishers to discuss a wide-ranging study undertaken by François van Schalkwyk and Thierry Luescher entitled the The African University Press. One of the meeting’s recommendations was to set up a network of university presses, as well as other scholarly publishers, to be called African Monograph Publishers Network/AMPNet, intended as a network for collaboration, experience-sharing, and advocacy. This UWN Special Report includes a general round-up of the meeting, accompanied by a series of articles and commentary contributed by some of the participants. Details below.
Karen MacGregor Network Aims to Strengthen African Scholarly Publishing.
Justin Cox ABC – Taking African Scholarly Books to the World.
Veronica Klipp The Costs of Losing Local Research to Global Publishers.
Another version also at
Thierry Luescher and François van Schalkwyk Universities Need Imaginative, ICT-enhanced Presses.
Karen MacGregor Research Offers Ways Forward for University Presses.
Francis Nyamnjoh and Kathryn Toure Desire for Knowledge – Langaa and Publishing in Africa.
Hans Zell The African University Press – A Gloomy Picture. [Commentary]
https://www.academia.edu/34690740/The_African_University_Press_-_A_Gloomy_Picture [with an Appendix added, “Pan-African and regional book professional organizations, groups, and networks in sub-Saharan Africa: An inventory”]
- 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.”
- 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 https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1URiTsMVkeM12DlZT7IfxqcYgVEt0hohIi4xIy983FI8/edit#gid=0.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Book donation programmes for Africa is the topic of a special issue of African Research & Documentation. Journal of SCOLMA - the UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa no. 127 (2015) [published 2017]. Entitled Book Donation Programmes for Africa: Time for a Reappraisal? Two Perspectives, it is a wide-ranging, extensively documented two-part investigation that earlier appeared in a pre-print online version freely accessible at the links below. The study aims to provide a balanced account, presenting a variety of viewpoints about both the benefits and the potential negative consequences of book aid. It is hoped that the article will open debate, and responses and feedback is invited for publication in a subsequent issue. Feedback from receiving libraries, and the views of African publishers, is particularly welcome, and it is hoped that a measure of debate, and dialogue, will ensue.
Responses and feedback to:Terry Barringer, Editor, African Research & Documentation TABarringe@aol.com
Read or download the pre-print online versions at these links:
Part I: Book Donation Programmes in English-speaking Africa, by by Hans M. Zell
Part II: Le don de livre, mais à quel prix, et en échange de quoi? Un regard sur le don de livre en Afrique francophone, by Raphaël Thierry (in French, with an abstract in English)
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.