Path to boosting the African Book Ecosystem
By Dare Oluwatuyi
One of the more recent reading promotions initiatives that I have been associated with is the UN SDGs Book Clubs African Chapter.
Under the scheme, adopted titles which necessarily touch on the set SDG objectives are expected to be branded by the publishers, popularised by all book ecosystem partners and sold and put up by booksellers and libraries in the respective African nations.
However, the reality remains that it is still very difficult in Africa to get such titles published in English from say, Ghana available in other Anglophone countries. Similarly, books published in French from Cameroon are not easily available in other Francophone countries. And then we can talk about the other more humongous challenge of getting books, across the languages divide, to African readers within the same broader continental arena. For example, how do you get an Angolan bestseller published in Portuguese to a reader in Lagos whose working language is English?
Therefore, there is a need for African publishers under the aegis of agencies like the African Publishers Network, APNET, the Pan African Booksellers Association, PABA and the UN SDGs Books Clubs African Chapter, and exploring schemes like the African Continental Free Trade Are, AFCFTA, to develop even better frameworks through which these titles will be made available across the 55 African countries. And in my view, one quick way this can be done is by intensifying the selling more and more of the rights of such titles to identified publishers or Booksellers in each region (West, East, Central, Southern and North).
In my reckoning, it is very expedient that such action is taken without further delay. This is because, some of the feelers we are already getting is that publishers from Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia, for example, may have already started publishing books authored by Africans for the SDGs Goals scheme. While not trying to be protectionist in any regard, the reality is that a non-moderated take over by non-Africans of the intrinsic African book market would further distort the scenario for the local book trade across the continent. This would not really benefit anyone in the long run.
And the facts are so simple. With the financial and technological advantages enjoyed by the publishers from Asia, North America, the Middle East and Europe over their African counterparts at the moment, their greater penetration into the continent’s book trade, except on moderated terms, will soon lead to their virtual take over of the markets. They have the finance and technology to produce the books better and cheaper than us at the moment. By the time this is achieved, we will not be able to compete with the foreign African- published titles in our own market.
And this comes with quite severe implications that some of us are very willing to discuss further at fora like the forthcoming May 10-13, 22nd edition of the Nigerian International Book Fair, NIBF. And again we emphasise, our advocacy is not to shut off foreign players from African markets. It is rather one to ensure that we will at best have a more level playing field that allows room for fairer competition and win-win collaborations that do not leave the local industry at a gross disadvantage. And even a threat of extinction.
That point made, one way to further ensure the long term sustainability of the local African book ecosystem is for governments, communities and corporates in Africa to very rightly discern that it is in everyone’s interest that the ecosystem is given a much deserved boost. And there are simple ways to do this including ensuring that public libraries are annually stocked with books to continue to stoke the reading fire.
These and other related concerns is why the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters in Nigeria, NBRP has presently convened the Lagos Book Walk to hold on April 27. And I can report that the entire Nigerian book ecosystem has resolved to participate in the walk so as to collectively send out a very strong message that indeed, we hurt ourselves collectively as a people overall if we do not give the book ecosystem and reading culture the attention we must give to it. Or come to think of it, which of us has not been helped by books and reading?
Dare Oluwatuyi is President of the Booksellers Association of Nigeria and Chairman of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust, organisers of the Nigerian International Book Fair, NIBF