We need to restore the sanctity of the book chain – Booksellers President
The traditional structure in the book industry is one where authors write, publishers publish and booksellers sell. This is however now observed in the breach, leading to avoidable conflicts in the sector. What is the way out? Our Correspondent spoke with the President of the Booksellers Association of Nigeria, BAN & MD, CSS Bookshops Limited, Mr. Oluwadare Michael Oluwatuyi and he had a lot to of insights on how best the challenge can be handled. Excerpts:
Self-published authors are complaining of not getting their money’s worth even from books supplied to bookstores. What do you think is the problem?
I sympathise with them but we must also break it down: most self published authors are the cause of their own predicament. Take your works to established publishers; your works will be given good publicity, be availed of the necessary marketing inputs and will then be in a better position to enjoy greater patronage in the Bookshops. The hard truth is that the offerings of most self published works are not worthy of serious merchandise contracts with reputable bookshops because they don’t pass the quality test, most of the time.
But some authors say that in their experience, it really does not help them to do all the work and then get someone else to step in and literally take everything…
Again, I do agree that there are issues and it looks to me like at the bottom of it all could be the fact that those authors don’t trust that publishers will be fair to them. Again, there may be authors with perhaps exaggerated notions of themselves and their output and who are of the opinion that their books will sell automatically. But then they must remember that the publisher is an investor and takes business decisions in tandem with market considerations. And to understand it, we have to zero in on that core imperative of the book making process, marketing.
When you have published just one title as is the case with many self-published authors, such authors find it convenient to drop it at bookshops on sale or return basis, that is, booksellers pay for only the quantities sold. But it takes a lot of effort to market it as it most times gets lost among other titles on the shelves especially when the book is of lesser pages and the spines of such books are hardly noticeable. Sometimes, the bookseller would even have paid up for the books supplied by the author before realising that the books had not even been sold. But if you give that title to a reputable publisher, the title is sold alongside other similar titles and the challenge of not fully confirming and determining if it had actually been sold would have been minimized.
Related to this are the high costs that are incurred in the bookselling process and which is ordinarily made lighter when there is a larger numbers of titles to be sold. Bookselling costs involve things like staffing, security, warehousing, preservation and storage. There are also issues like book-keeping, inventory management, publicity and promotions. These all involve costs and in other cases too, for effective stock taking to be carried out and payment arrangements effected, bookshops with branches have to distribute the titles supplied to them, follow up on sales progress and call for periodic stock taking in order that they may now have coordinated reports to present to their clients. But while all of this is going on, some self-published authors may have gone away with the impression that their books have already sold out.
So what would be your advice for self-published authors?
Self publishers should endeavour as much as possible to understand how the system works and follow the rules. The book is written and sold within an ecosystem that involves many parties. Authors should fully educate themselves about the entire range of activities in the book chain and immerse themselves better. We really need to restore the sanctity of the book chain.
Also, authors should write for specific audiences. If it is an academic work, it should be fashioned after the curriculum. Books are in themselves no longer essential commodities in Nigeria as at today, hence authors should not expect miracles overnight. Equally, the pricing mechanisms employed by many self-published authors are somewhat arbitrary and sometimes too high, hence the books attract less numbers of buyers. There are also other preliminary but fundamental things like the quality of paper used, the quality of printing achieved and the number of pages in the published text. Going a notch higher is the well-known printing dynamic: if the number of copies printed is too small, it could affect both the quality of the printed matter as well as the consequent pricing mechanism. These are integrated processes that are best served from a standpoint of experience and knowledge which most times come from very deep periods of involvement and immersion with the industry overall. So I will ask that one who wants to get into self-publishing or who wants to remain in that arena to very well count the costs.
But does it mean that the complaints by the self-published authors are completely baseless? Is every bookseller and publisher a saint?
No, I will not say that booksellers and publishers are saints. But speaking as President of the Booksellers Association of Nigeria, BAN, I can categorically say that we continue to work around the clock to ensure a very high degree of self-regulation among our members. We impose very high business ethics standards on ourselves and do have a Code of Conduct guiding our operations. We endorse the operations of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and join them in anti-piracy sensitization campaigns. We are at the moment updating our Directory of Booksellers so that we can have one handy document that best documents all the active booksellers in the country. We are part of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust, NBFT that brings together the major book industry stakeholder groups in the country and which annually organizes the Nigerian International Bookfair, NIBF.
Indeed, we believe that the best regulation you can get for a sector is self-regulation. So we will keep boosting our internal processes to ensure that the practice of bookselling continues to deliver on its promise for us and for our nation.
One final point, the World just marked World Book Day; are Nigerians reading enough?
Your question may not get a direct answer from me very quickly because it borders on the statistical and for that we will need that a field survey be conducted. Indeed, for us at the Booksellers Association of Nigeria, we hope that we can, working together with other stakeholder groups going forward, get around someday to carrying out that survey. What we have however done now, and continue to do at the moment, are to vigorously encourage our members to be continually engaged in reading promotions initiatives as often as they find expression opportunities. For World Book Day this year for example, we sent out a note to all booksellers in the country that can to organize reading promotions events. I can report that my primary organization, CSS Bookshops Limited, Laterna Ventures and several others hosted such events. We will therefore continue to stand to be counted in efforts to boost the reading culture in our country.
And finally, if I will speak to the subject just based on my own personal observation, I think that we can and should still read more.
Mr Oluwadare Michael Oluwatuyi, President, Booksellers Association of Nigeria, BAN