These pages offer occasional news items of interest to book industry practitioners, especially the book professions in Africa.
African Books Collective (ABC), the African owned and governed worldwide marketing and distribution organization for books from Africa celebrated its 30th year of trading in 2020, during which time it successfully transitioned from a donor-dependent NGO to a self-sustaining and independent social enterprise. To celebrate the occasion Africa in Words, a blog that focuses on cultural production and Africa, has published a series of insightful profiles and interviews with small independent African publishers, “shining a spotlight on those who make up ABC today”, preceded by a conversation with Justin Cox, CEO of ABC. Click on the links below.
Interview with Justin Cox:
Interviews with individual publishers:
Q&A: Words on the Times – Menzi Thango of Bhiyoza Publishers [South Africa]
Q&A: Words on the Times Nick Mulgrew, Uhlanga Press [South Africa]
African Books Collective – A Timeline
The Oxford, UK-based African Books Collective is 30 years old! It’s been an eventful few decades, they say, “and so we felt it was time to share a flavour of how the vision of a few passionate publishers, on the continent and beyond, led to the phenomenon that is African Books Collective. … Join us for a trip down memory lane at pivotal moments in our history – looking at the key debates we were engaged in during those times – arriving at where we are today. Click through to in-depth articles and photos from some of the Collective’s members.” The Collective now numbers 150 African publishers from 22 countries.
Digital Publishing is Dawning in Africa, but Please don’t Forget the Printed Book in Africa Quite Yet is a thought-provoking article by Scott Walter and Charles Temple, and forms a chapter to appear in a forthcoming book No Shelf Required 3: The New Era for E-Books and Digital Content, edited by Mirela Roncevic and Peyton Stafford (American Library Association, forthcoming 2021). Too many children in developing countries don’t read well, the authors say, and because people learn to read by reading, addressing the dearth of reading materials must be a priority of development agencies. Digital technology does offer the hope of filling the gap, but as the authors argue, “the cost of hardware is still a bottleneck; and more seriously, since readers need materials of high quality that are relevant to their lives, there is a need to sustain viable publishers in developing counties who can produce those materials. But the flood of digitized materials from abroad and the push for open licensing runs the risk of undermining local publishers. A sustainable way to improve literacy in developing countries should include support to those publishers.”
Akoss Ofori-Mensah, the Ghanaian founder of Sub-Saharan Publishers sets out The Pandemic’s Impact on African Publishers, and describes the importance of the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund to assist the continent’s book trade through these very difficult and hugely uncertain times. The $800,000 fund provided by Dubai Cares supports literacy, book access, indigenous publishing, and library restoration in Africa, and is administered by the International Publishers Association (IPA). The IPA Africa Publishing Innovation Committee is responsible for selecting which applicants will receive grants under the Fund. It is made up of senior publishing leaders from African countries, including Ofori-Mensah, who takes stock here of the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishers on the continent: Practically all publishers in Africa are hurting, she reports, but unlike solutions suggested by some others – who evangelise the benefits of digital and advocate digital solutions – “digital formats are not the helpful alternative for consumers and publishers.” Publishers who produce e-books are few in Ghana, she says, “and few people have the necessary reading devices. The Ghana Library Authority has set up e-reading facilities in their libraries but these are available only in the regional capitals. Reading and learning online are possible for young people who have the necessary devices—tablets, phones, etc. But in some rural areas in Ghana, there’s no electricity, so the question of e-learning doesn’t even arise.”
Developing a Publishing Infrastructure in Mozambique is a wide-ranging article by Sandra Tamele, the founder and publisher of Mozambique-based Editora Trinta Zero Nove [Editora 30.09], the first publishing house in Mozambique dedicated to literature in translation. The new venture seeks to publish authors and narratives that are representative, relevant, inclusive, and inspiring for its readers. Its mission, she says, is “to give stories a voice, and I mean literally, because in addition to publishing in print, Editora 30.09 is committed to publishing audiobooks as a way of democratizing reading, and inviting the participation of the forty-nine percent of Mozambique's population that is illiterate, mostly women and girls.” However, running a start-up publisher in Mozambique is challenging, “particularly because sales are low due to a non-existent distribution network and too few bookshops, all located in the capital city; these often demand that local books are provided on consignment and then fail to pay the publishers when they do sell. Most of the fifty-three public libraries in the country are underfunded and in a state of disrepair. Books and reading for pleasure are not a high priority for the government.”
In early 2020, Editora signed a distribution agreement with the Oxford-based African Books Collective (the non-profit distribution collective owned by publishers on the continent), as part of an attempt to convince Mozambican authors “to see more clearly that they no longer needed to rely on US-based publishers to make their works universally available.”
The inaugural James Currey Prize for African Literature 2021 is a new annual award “for the best unpublished work of fiction written in English by any writer, set in Africa or on Africans in Africa or in Diaspora.” It was established in 2020 by Nigerian writer, filmmaker and publisher of Hattus Books, Onyeka Nwelue, in honour of James Currey, who has long been recognized to be one of the leading publishers of academic publications on Africa, with a strong commitment to distribute books about African studies in Africa by way of co-editions with African publishers. Currey is also well known for his work over many years in developing the pioneering ‘African Writers Series’ for Heinemann Educational Books, alongside the then AWS series editor Chinua Achebe.
The new prize is administered by the Johannesburg World Arts Agency, and the jury is chaired by Sarah Inya Lawal. Rules and entry requirements, eligible entries, conditions, etc. are set out on the website. The winner receives £1,000.
Note: See also this recent Interview with James Currey.
A (Very) Brief History of African Publishing, from Independence to the Present by Jatinder Padda, seeks to provide a brief account of the development of African publishing from the years following independence from European powers through to today. Indigenous publishing, she says, is integral to national identity and cultural, social, and economic development, reflecting a people’s history and experience, belief systems, and their related expressions through language, writing, and art. “Publishing preserves, enhances, and develops a society’s culture and its interaction with others. And against many post-independence challenges, African publishers have continued to innovate to spread the word.” There have been significant challenges from COVID-19 over the course of the past year, adding to the many challenges the book and cultural sectors perennially face. However, “undoubtedly publishers will find a way through. From a small band of publishing risk-takers in the 1960s, publishing across the continent has grown to all corners. African publishers have achieved remarkable things with the odds stacked against them. Imagine what they can achieve with the digital revolution before them.”
An article by Mary Jay, Co-publishing with Africa North–South–North reports about a new partnership between the African Books Collective (ABC) and the International African Institute (IAI) “to effect ethical co-publishing practice between Northern and African publishers.” The new initiative is designed to broker Northern scholarly publications being available to African scholars and researchers in general, and especially to those who have collaborated in the research. The initiative also seeks to recognise the realities of the paucity of North-South and South-North scholarly publishing partnerships, “whilst at the same time seeking to re-calibrate a fair place for African publishers in the world of scholarship.” As part of the project, it has also been recognised that there is a need for a definitive database of African scholarly publishers to be established, “whereby Northern publishers or authors can make contact to effect co-publications; the purpose is to direct Northern publishers or authors towards potential partners for their books.” To this end, the IAI is working to establish such a database, which will become available shortly. It will be searchable by country, language, types of publications (books, journals, academic/scholarly, literary), subjects published, and ISBN prefixes if relevant.
In her conclusion Jay says “Co-editions sent by PDF on equitable terms can change the desirable objective of making Northern research available in Africa; similarly, partnerships South-North can empower African scholars and publishers within the continent to make their works available in the North.”
Note: See also the IAI’s Publishing and Co-publishing Books in African Studies: Guidelines for Authors which “seek to assist academic authors publishing in African studies as to their options for co-publishing in the African continent.”
The Association of University Presses (AUPresses) has launched the pilot programme of a welcome new initiative “that seeks to deepen transnational dialogue and collaboration among mission-driven scholarly publishers.” The AUPresses Global Partner Program will pair member presses with non- member presses in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, aiming not only to amplify the work of presses in the ‘Global South’, but also to expand the knowledge base of the university press community worldwide. During the programme’s pilot year, African Minds from South Africa will partner with Duke University Press from the United States, while Makerere University Press from Uganda will partner with Liverpool University Press from the United Kingdom.
Note: See also this report about the recently revitalized Makerere University Press.
A pre-print version of Women in African Publishing and the Book Trade: A Series of Profiles has recently been uploaded on Academia.edu, with the final version to appear in The African Book Publishing Record 47, no. 1 (2021). A kind of mini who’s who, these profiles are intended to be a showcase of the variety, richness and energy of women involved in book publishing and the book trade in Africa today, as well some of the women who have made significant contributions to the African book sector in the past. This initial series of profiles focusses on 24 women in publishing in nine countries in English-speaking sub-Saharan Africa, and includes links to articles about, and interviews and conversations with them, as well as select bibliographies of articles or books written by them.
Frankfurt Rights, a digital platform for international rights and license trade established by the Frankfurt Book Fair, designed for making contacts and sharing of information, is currently seeking African publishers to sign up. James Murua, of the James Murua Literary Blog, is coordinating the registration for this new platform for African publishers. According to Murua “the focus is on publishers for whom it is difficult to create visibility for their titles and who are also not used to this very convenient way of trading rights, licenses, and permissions. It is also an endeavour to create new links for publishers to be part of the international rights community, not just by being part of the catalogue, but also by providing training and best practices in rights trading. A final goal is to bring the whole publishing world to the platform and one day have a unified platform so that it becomes an easy-to-use tool for everyone.”
Some interesting views and ideas are offered in a new paper in the Global Journal of Transformative Education Collaborative Teams for Self Publishing - A Model for Creating Locally Relevant Educational Books.
Written by Tom J. McConnell and Barbara Giorgio-Booher, the article describes a collaborative model for the development of locally-produced, culturally relevant educational materials in Africa and elsewhere. “Producing new high-quality materials may seem out of reach to educators who lack experience in illustration and publishing or have little access to commercial publishers. We share a model used to develop a series of books called Conservation Tales in collaboration with university faculty, students, and scientists. The model presents a way for local educators to create books to make education more relevant and accessible for children. The model leverages skills of artists, writers, and content experts to provide a rich learning experience for readers and an affordable option for self-publishing.” (From the abstract)
‘Publishing and Book Culture’ is a new book series of research-focused collections of ‘elements’ on aspects of publishing and book culture, published by Cambridge University Press as part of the Cambridge Elements series. The new series aims to fill the demand for easily accessible, quality texts available for teaching and research in the diverse and dynamic fields of publishing and book culture.
Four Africa-related titles recently published are:
Underdevelopment and African Literature. Emerging Forms of Reading by Sarah Brouillette Also freely accessible at https://www.academia.edu/44819372/Underdevelopment_and_African_Literature_Emerging_Forms_of_Reading
African Literature and the CIA. Networks of Authorship and Publishing by Caroline Davis During the period of decolonisation in Africa, the CIA covertly subsidised a number of African authors, editors and publishers as part of its anti-communist propaganda strategy. This fascinating study seeks “to unravel the hidden networks and associations underpinning African literary publishing in the 1960s.” It evaluates the success of the CIA in secretly infiltrating and influencing African literary magazines and publishing firms, and examines the extent to which new circuits of cultural and literary power emerged.
Publishing Against Apartheid South Africa. A Case Study of Ravan Press by Elizabeth le Roux In many parts of the world, oppositional publishing has emerged in contexts of state oppression. In South Africa, censorship laws were enacted in the 1960s, and the next decade saw increased pressure on freedom of speech and publishing. With growing restrictions on information, activist publishing emerged. This insightful case study scrutinises the history of the most vocal and arguably the most radical of this group, Ravan Press. Using extensive archival material, interviews and the books themselves, it examines what the history of Ravan Press reveals about the role of oppositional print culture.
Reading Spaces in South Africa, 1850–1920s by Archie L. Dick
In a recent article Nigerian Literature Needed Editors. Two Women Stepped in to Groom Them, Otosirieze Obi-Young reports about the founding of the Society of Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria (SBMEN), where two women publishers, Anwuli Ojogwu of Narrative Landscape Press and Enajite Efemuaye, formerly of Kachifo Publishers, are seeking to lay a solid foundation for the future in building capacity and cultivate skills for new editors. In December 2017 the two women sat down and decided to co-found an organization to coach young editors. The following year SBMEN was formed, partly modelled on the UK’s Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). The new association “aims to serve as a standards-setting organization by promoting editorial excellence and professionalism in the industry through guidance in global best practices and knowledge partnerships with experts from around the world.” It provides training and resources, performance assessment activities, advisory services, hosts networking events and offers a directory with job listings, all designed to increase proficiency in editing. and advance the careers and businesses of members. The organization currently also holds four classes a year on editing fiction, nonfiction, magazines, and work on online platforms.
Most of Ojogwu’s inspirations have come from old-fashioned but now legendary editors who left lasting legacies. Such as Maxwell Perkins (1884 –1947), Editor at the publishing house of Charles Scribner’s Sons, who discovered and edited writers such as Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. Ojugwu says “I am fascinated by how he set the tone for the work that would define a generation. I wanted to do that here [in Nigeria], help shape the work.”
Kenyan veteran publisher Henry Chakava has been described as the ‘Godfather of African publishing’. He became Kenya's first African book editor in 1972, when there were virtually no books or educational material published in African languages. In this conversation on the BBC World Service ‘Witness History’ series, he tells Rebecca Kesby “why he devoted his life to preserving and enriching the region's languages, and why he believes even more must be done to make sure they survive and thrive in the future.” (Released 21 January 2021)
An extended ‘Notes & News’ section in the African Book Publishing Record vol. 46, no. 3, 2020 (pp. 275-293, free access) contains a series of interviews by Olatoun Gabi-Williams of Borders Literature for All Nations with publishing industry attendees at the International Publishers Association (IPA) Africa Seminar in Nairobi in June 2019. Notably with Elliot Agyare of Smartline Publishers in Ghana and President of the Commonwealth Book Publishers Association , Gill Moodie of NB Publishers in South Africa, and with Gbadega Adedapo, current President of the Nigerian Publishers Association. The interviews are followed by a wide-ranging critical appraisal of the IPA summit: its objectives, the conference programme and the various panels, proposed action plans, and their likely short-term or long-term impact. Williams also addresses the need for publishing education and book industry data collection, copyright issues, the necessity to strengthening the publishing eco-system, publishing in African languages, and the new digital publishing landscape and its promise for African publishers: “The African book industry must leverage the digital revolution to accelerate its growth” she says.
Note: Olatoun Gabi-Williams also reports about a partnership formed by the IPA with the Nairobi-based Insight Wells Research to undertake a pilot programme called ‘Pulse of the African Publishing Industry Survey’ – designed to inform policy, advocacy, and planning for future seminars – and the publication of an African Publishers Survey 2019. This was described on the Insight Wells Facebook pages “as the first comprehensive report on the state of publishers in Africa [which it is not]”, and that the findings were to be disseminated during the IPA Nairobi meeting. Subsequently it was rescheduled to be published in time for the IPA 2020 summit in Marrakech, Morocco (later postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic), but this document does not appear to have been published to date.
Rebuilding and Reimagining Kenya’s Libraries is a transcript of a conversation with Kenyan writer and publisher Wanjiru Koinange, and with Angela Wachuka, former Executive Director of the Kwani Trust and co-founder of the Book Bunk project, that restores iconic library buildings – and also hugely outdated library collections! – in the Kenyan capital and elsewhere across the East African nation. Book Bunk is a social impact firm founded in October 2017. As part of its mission it states: “We imagine that public libraries can be steered to become more than just repositories, acting as sites of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership and information exchange. We see them as sites of heritage, public art, memory and as critical spaces in Nairobi and Kenya’s creative economy ecology.”
Released by the International Publishers Association (IPA) in October 2020 Licensing Practices in a Global Digital Market presents a (freely accessible) comprehensive overview of how licensing actually works in different publishing sectors and regions. It includes chapters from international experts in K-12 education, STM publishing, as well as regional experts from Africa and Asia, and perspectives from authors and reproduction rights organizations.
South African publisher Brian Wafawarowa, a former Chair of the Publishers Association of South Africa, contributes Chapter 3 Licensing: Experiences and perspectives from Africa. Wafawarowa says that in recent years licensing by African publishers has grown modestly with initiatives led by the African Publishers Network (APNET), The Global Book Alliance (GBA) and WIPO facilitating trade both between African countries and with the rest of the world. “Many examples exist of this type of licensing activity including for schools’ editions; low-price editions of higher education textbooks; local licences for scholarly research; and general publications for translation. Licensing has facilitated access to copyrighted works for African citizens for cultural, education and scholarly research purposes, at affordable prices. It has also allowed some African publishers to expand into global markets, especially in children’s literature and folklore.” Whilst the digitization process has been slower than in more industrialized nations, mainly due to infrastructural issues, it is now gradually accelerating: “Publishers are creating a growing body of digital content to meet the needs of e-learning in schools and universities, leading to the development of a wealth of new licensing and distribution arrangements.” As challenges around infrastructure are overcome, “the next challenge is financing the digital transition and finding suitable business models to ensure a return on investment, while maintaining affordability for educational institutions.”
However, Wafawarowa reports that there has now emerged a mistaken belief among government and education authorities that ‘digital’ should mean ‘free’, and that copyright law is in some way a barrier. There are currently moves by the South African government to amend the law to allow technology companies to package other peoples’ content with their technology for educational purposes without compensation to the authors and publishers of the original work—“to devastating effect for authors and publisher alike”, Wafawarowa says. He argues that “African publishers have managed to sustain themselves and expand their outreach through licensing with positive outcomes for their countries, especially in education. They are moving forward rapidly with developing the technological capabilities to innovate and supply digital resources and solutions: But they need the confidence that the traditional international copyright regime will continue to ensure that authors and publishers are properly compensated if they to be enabled to play their critical role in the economic and social development of the continent.”
African Academics May Perish Even When They Have Published says this University World News report. “A weak publishing industry in Africa, including the lack of distribution hubs and an intra-Africa book trade; curricula, pedagogy and learning processes still rooted in the colonial situation and the absence of a scholarship culture, are factors that are undermining the development and production of academic books on the continent.” According to Francis Nyamnjoh, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, “various factors, including mediocre content, invisibility (because of the subject matter or because the writer may be unknown and from a developing country), the remoteness of the publisher (which may not have a wide reach) and poor marketing and distribution, mean that African academics perish even when they have published.” Moreover, “the technical and financial difficulties facing the publishing industry in Africa also work against African scholars seeking to fulfil the academic requirement of publishing,” Professor Nyamnjoh is quoted as saying.
Note: On this topic see also How African is the ‘African Studies Review’? in which the journal’s editor-in chief, Benjamin N. Lawrance, acknowledges that the African Studies Review, published by the (US) African Studies Association, “has a long way to go before most Africa-based scholars recognize it as an especially African journal.”
The Sustainable Development Goals Book Club – African Chapter is shortly to be launched, and African children’s books on sustainability and equality are to be highlighted through this latest SDG book Club. The new, multilingual initiative brings together book sector organizations from across the African continent to commit, and to augment, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Book Club with a collection of English, French, Arabic and Kiswahili books about the different goals for children.
The book club will launch on World Book Day (23 April 2021) and will feature quality African books that deal with the themes of the SDGs. Submissions are now open, and a selection committee formed by the different partners will pick a shortlist for each SDG.
A New Continental Platform for Open Access Publishing, of journals, monographs and textbooks in Africa has been developed by the University of Cape Town (UCT) through its library service. The platform enables the African research community to share their scholarly content, which could advance the growth and development of local research aimed at benefiting African society. The major publishing houses “have inadvertently northernised the publishing landscape,” according to Dr Reggie Raju, the director of research and learning at UCT Libraries. These publishing houses, he says, “are driven by the fundamental principles of economics; that is, they will publish that which will be bought. It is the Global North that has the buying capacity. … There is a desperate need for the democratisation and de-northernisation of the publishing landscape–a publishing process that promotes social justice and the inclusion of African researchers and research output into mainstream research processes.”
The latest issue of the ANFASA Magazine from the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa, “dedicated to empowering authors”, contains a number of thought-provoking articles under the general theme of ‘Some reflections on a changing environment’: Maria Frahm-Arp writes on “Textbooks, Decoloniality and Higher Education”; Keyan Tomaselli reflects on “Open Science, Open Access: What Will Plan S Open and/or Close?”; Hetta Pieterse examines the challenges and prospects of funding for open access publishing/books in Africa; while Lee-Ann Tong, in an article on intellectual property for authors, seeks to demystify the complexities of copyright.
Conceptualizing, Financing and Infrastructuring: Perspectives on Open Access in and from Africa (free access), by Angela Okune, Sulaiman Adebowale, Eve Gray, Angela Mumo, and Ruth Oniang’o, is timely article in the latest issue of Development and Change (vol. 52, issue 2, 2021). Contemporary scholarly publishing on the African continent remains largely dominated by Western corporate academic publishers, the authors say: “Even as the notion of open access has gained popularity, a growing body of scholarship indicates that the concept is in fact re‐ entrenching the power of traditional academic publishers under a revised business model. This piece offers perspectives from African scholars and activists on the politics of open access, revealing different experiences of and imaginaries for open access in Africa. The piece is supplemented by data from the in‐depth discussion that informed it, which is published on an open‐source platform in an effort to invite readers to also lend their analytic perspectives and contribute towards iterative analysis and ongoing dialogue.” (From the abstract)