London Book Fair: “Journey of African Publishing”

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  • The London Book Fair featured a session titled “Journey of African Publishing”
  • Lawrence Njagi said Africans already had their audiobooks long before stories were put down on paper.
  • The issue of the importance of policy in the development of publishing in Africa was raised.

The London Book Fair featured a session titled “Journey of African Publishing”

During the London Book Fair that was held from the 18th to the 20th of April, one of the sessions featured “Journey of African Publishing”. This witnessed the presence of several prominent members of the International Publishers Association, there were participants from South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. Brian Wafawarowa, president of the South African Publishers Association and CEO of Juta and Company, moderated the session.

Brian started his moderation by highlighting how difficult the journey of African publishing has been even though publishing industry players today began working in the 1980s and 1990s on the ground that had already been prepared for them. He also pointed out how content is increasingly coming from the continent these days and how people are going through a digital transition.

Lawrence Njagi said Africans already had their audiobooks long before stories were put down on paper.

One of the speakers, Lawrence Njagi the managing director of Mountain Top Educational Publishers in Kenya talked about the importance of posing certain questions like “When did publishing in Africa begin?” Certainly not with missionaries in East Africa who came, as he put it, with a Bible and a gun. He explained how Africa already had their audiobooks long before stories were put down on paper, with the mothers and grandmothers who told and retold stories over time. That said, today, 95 percent of books produced in the region are textbooks, Njagi said, and he’d like to see more children reading, and more people reading trade publications. 

Another speaker, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, founder and publishing director of Cassava Republic Press in Nigeria and the UK said that when she founded Cassava Republic 17 years ago, she was interested in seeing books written by Black people but also published by Black people. She said taking possession of the production was important, and today it’s exciting to see more trade publishers being established.

The challenge of getting more books to readers, she said, is price. “The question is not whether people want to read but how to make books available for people. … We need more Africans owning the means of production.” It’s encouraging that Africans are coming “to know each other and not having to make a detour via Europe.”

The issue of the importance of policy in the development of publishing in Africa was raised.

Another speaker, Gbadega Adedapo, CEO and managing director of Accessible Publishers in Nigeria stressed the importance of policy in the development of publishing in Africa, which is “moving fast.” He mentioned the International Publishers Association seminar in 2018, during which he spoke about the challenges of rampant piracy in Nigeria. The Nigerian president recently signed a new bill to curb piracy, and in Lagos in February, the Nigerian Copyrights Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nigerian Publishers Association and the Booksellers Association of Nigeria to curb piracy.

Mercy Kirui, senior manager for content at eKitabu in Kenya said she and her team work with more than 100 African publishers digitizing more than 5,000 titles. She said that publishers have started to use technology for processing and packaging, and an increasing number of platforms are being created to provide access to information. Technology can be used to assess cataloging, to track how information is being used, and to measure the impact of what you’re providing. But “technology is not the solution to everything,” she added. 

“We fetishize technology, but it should not be a prosthetic for what we do,” said Bakare-Yusuf. “People still want to read physical books, but they need to be accessible and affordable. I’m interested in how to develop selling 

rights from one country to another so publishers can publish the books locally—and how to make it cheaper for us to produce books.”

Circling back to policy, Njagi explained why there is a need for private publishers to be able to compete with government publishers, otherwise, copyright and publishers cease to exist. He said that government usually controls policy, and each time there’s an election, the new government chooses whether they want to continue a certain policy in place. He pointed out the need to influence policy at a national level in a positive way.

This event has managed to air the points of view of African Publishers, and it is really interesting.

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