Better bookselling: The place of data

 

Getting the data, using the data: A presentation on the Booksellers Association of Nigeria, BAN’s Nigerian Booksellers Directory 2020 project by Mr. Richard Mammah on the subject ‘Introducing the Booksellers Directory: Locating the Booksellers in your neighbourhood’ as part of proceedings at the Nigeria Virtual Bookfair, 2020 held on Friday, September 4, 2020.

 

Good evening, the President of BAN, the moderator, co-panelist and participants,

 

Definition: The Assignment

As I see it, my task here is fairly simple. I am to follow on the presentation made by my co-panelist, Mr. Adegbola Adesina and fill us in on the implementation processes that were engaged in gathering data for the forthcoming book, the Nigerian Booksellers Directory, while also making a few other associated remarks. So let me do just that.

 

Field Experience Note

The field experience from the data gathering process has been most instructive. We crisscrossed the nation and talked to respondents across several states. We met with enthusiastic respondents who freely offered data on their work but we also met with others who insisted on double-checking on us and trying to confirm that the information we were seeking was of the nature that they should freely release to us. At the end, some did not return to us. But even in some of these instances, some of our back-up data gathering methods (in the form of references and third party approaches) helped us move the project a few miles further down the streets.

Again, through our elaborate three-track process of checking and verification, we were also able to exclude among others, ‘stationery shops’ that did not meet the necessary mark, while also weeding out shops that were no longer active, and equally incorporating new entrants that have only recently entered the sector.

Suffice it however to note that the proper and adequate final verification and confirmation of data entries by as many listed organizations as is possible is most important towards ensuring the full success of this project. Accordingly, the data that has been collated is being turned over to the BAN secretariat so that the association can use its own communication platforms to reach out to and request final inputs and clarifications from members.

 

‘Heart of the Matter: Numbers, Negotiations and Advocacy’

Overall however, one of the things we believe would come as a benefit from a project of this nature is that it would not only cure the basic ignorance about putting a handle on bookseller numbers and the scope and range of the bookselling business in the country, it would also provide data with which the sector would further drive and expand its necessary membership building, advocacy and negotiation goals. Indeed, this is one important factor why we believe and indeed insist that booksellers and by extension too, all of the book trade should be data conscious. It is also what has informed our over two-decade long engagement with gathering book trade data as we know how impactful and beneficial it is in undertaking negotiations and carrying out advocacy initiatives with governments, international players and other stakeholders.

 

Collateral Impact on the Integrity and Trust Environment

Related to this is the positive impact a project like this would bring on boosting the basic trust and integrity climate within which booksellers conduct their business in the country. It is therefore important and appropriate that people turn in data on their operations so we can properly document them and this would in turn help enhance their individual and corporate credibility and in the process, separate the wheat from the chaff while also helping to further boost the overall image of bookselling and booksellers in the country.

 

Process Continuity and Future Updating

Now we come to matters of process continuity and future thoughts on updating and review of the Directory. This effort in particular is coming after some earlier initiatives in 2002, 2003 and 2005. It is important to continue to work at updating content in this regard in both its print and online modules because this is now urgently demanded by the times in which we live and also because businesses come and businesses go. In the course of researching and confirming information for inclusion in this edition of the directory project for example, we were confronted with the reality that some booksellers named in earlier publications had now gone out of business while new ones had similarly also come in. While this is the normal fare with businesses the world over, it is however important for purposes of data credibility and accuracy that steps be taken to ensure real-time production of data that would-be users can freely access and most profitably use. To underscore this point somewhat further, in the course of this exercise, our researchers in the Federal Capital Territory found out that based on the initial data they were handed to verify, about 20 percent of booksellers in the FCT had either relocated from the addresses they had been given or even closed shop. Conversely also, they found a number of new entrants that were not on the signal lists that they had with them.

 

Constraints

Some booksellers were reluctant to volunteer information on income and turnover matters. This can be explained as it is attributable to culture and privacy matters. However, we want to encourage those who did not properly appreciate the import of that requirement to recognize that it is in the overall interest of the association to put numbers to its overall contribution to the national economy. It helps in the overall negotiations process.

 

Potentials

As stated, it has indeed been a most interesting experience and one other point which we cannot gloss over has to do with the sheer range of potentials for further growth and expansion of the bookselling business in the country as well as it s room for even greater contributions to the National Economy.

 

As would be seen in the publication itself, a sizeable number of the bookshops listed in the directory are small-holder firms that range from the mom-and-pop category to the lower end of the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, SMEs spectrum. Only a few are mid-sized.

 

But going around, one could see a lot of repressed potential that could be unlocked and tapped by training, enhanced networking, innovation and the basic introduction of, and/or better use of Information Technology.

 

And this is where the present task of strengthening the Booksellers Association and the very instructive theme of the bookfair this year comes in handy. With greater networking at the association level and the increased deployment of Information Technology tools in the Nigerian bookselling field, there is an almost sure guarantee that there would be a corresponding opening up and expansion of the sector. Just thinking: What if the NYSC scheme trains and equips a thousand bright, young graduates with functional laptops and sends them out to undertake their primary assignment as IT support personnel at bookshops annually across the next three years? This may not be the exact plan but from my reading of Christensen, Dillon and Efosa’s The Prosperity Paradox earlier in the year, I have come to be almost fully converted to the idea that innovation surely does make the difference.

 

Indeed, with some 4000 shops all across the country, what is needed is to find more and more ways of boosting capacity and productivity levels in the sector. For a country of 200million people, if we get it right, there will be more people reading, more people buying books, more people employed to help run and manage the bookstores and more profits to booksellers and the rest of the book chain as well as more taxes for government.

 

We got involved in this project because we believe it is a win-win for all. #WeStillBelieve

 

Thank you and God bless.

 

Richard Mammah

Lagos, Nigeria

 

Pix: Mr. Michael Oluwadare Oluwatuyi, President, Booksellers Association of Nigeria, BAN

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