By Anote Ajeluorou and Greg Austin Nwakunor
Nigeria’s book scene obviously experiences many challenges just as opportunities, potential opportunities, are said to be plentiful. While opportunities abound, given the country’s large population that could have made millionaires out of authors plying their writing trade, the challenges seem so overwhelming that authors’ hope of ever getting rich from their creative imagination looks slim.
Many in the book chain see piracy, as one of the major challenges that must be tackled with as much innovativeness as those who engage in this crime have deployed in recent years to cut them out.
The need to adopt new business models to curb piracy was advocated in Port Harcourt at the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 opening at the session dedicated to ‘The Nigerian Book Industry: Challenges and Opportunities’, with publishers, booksellers, librarians and authors also actively participating. But in all it was the submission of Director, Copyright Institute, Mr. John Asein, that most resonated, as a possibly workable framework if those in the book industry could act in c oncert to fight a common enemy that has become so sophisticated that pirated books are better packaged than original ones. Most times, publishers are hard put to differentiate between pirated copies and their own.
Asein’s proposition was to the effect that publishers needed to change their business model so as to curb piracy by adopting a multi-dimensional approach. The approach, he informed, was by way of designing a designated channel of book sales instead of the current haphazard one where books are sold on the streets even by urchins. That way, he said, books could be tracked to their sources and pirates easily nabbed whenever they infiltrate the channel or create suspicious alternatives.
According to Asein, “We must adopt a multi-dimensional approach. Why not design a channel of book sales instead of selling on the streets so they can be tracked through effective monitoring? Once books are coming in volumes of containers at the ports, we at Nigeria Copyright Commission get alerted and we verify which publisher owns them. We need to look at the right business model so we can flush pirates out. Once you are able to track the channel it becomes easy. We can try out one state as a model and then apply it to others”.
Lagos-based Litramed Publications Ltd boss, Otunba Solarin, submitted that his firm was perhaps the greatest victim of piracy in the country and lamented the losses he suffers yearly as a result. He blamed his woes and those of his colleagues in the sector on lack of distribution channels for books. He said in spite of his company having 11 distribution depots across the country, pirates were still at work feasting on his books.
“There are no booksellers or marketers to push books to readers,” Solarin lamented. “But informal marketers are getting involved in book marketing now like Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM) church setting up shop at the local airport in Lagos”.
But also the publishers and the others in the book chain raised concerns about other issues that pose challenges to their business. They stated that publishing continues to suffer numerous limitations that have hindered its growth and it was why the sector has remained in the realm of potentiality and yet to yield its full bounty to operators in it. With Nigeria’s large population, operators agreed that publishing ought to do well but high cost of imported printing materials like paper, ink, plates, machines among others have created room for Asian countries to thrive at the expense of local operators. Ironically, these same Asians, largely printers, are also those fueling large-scale piracy that is destroying local book business.
According to Mr. Aladesuyi of Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA), operators in the sector were yet to scratch the surface of the business potential in books, saying, “We haven’t even scratched the surface in book publishing. The opportunities are enormous, so also are the challenges but publishers survive through sheer resilience. Our population is a huge possibility. Affordability of books is a challenge. Piracy is a challenge, with pirated copies looking better than original ones and all coming from Asia, and at cheaper prices”.
Chief Operating Officer at Farafina Books and author of Fine Boys, Dr. Eghosa Imasuen, argued for the empowerment of NCC so it could be stronger in enforcing its mandate of arresting pirates and prosecuting them. He noted, “We need to make it painful for anyone who commits book crime”.
A lady retired librarian informed at the dismay of guests how public and institutional libraries were aiding and abetting the piracy of books when they stock their libraries with pirated copies. She said it was against the norm they met and left behind, which has become bastardised over time.
Boss of Ibadan-based Bookcraft Ltd, Mr. Bankole Olayebi, cited government’s inconsistent policy as being partly responsible for poor returns in the book sector. He recalled the recent obnoxious and hasty policy of imposing 50 per cent tax on imported books, which policy was also withdrawn when operators cried foul, saying it was like returning the country to the dark ages and that it amounted to succumbing to Boko Haram’s silly ideologue of scrapping western education!
Olayebi also lamented lack of infrastructure in the book sector to make books easily accessible, as they were all imported with no local input. As the official publisher of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Olayebi said he couldn’t give accurate figures how much the eminent writer’s books fetch. According to him, none school text publishers like him “don’t have the resources to market books”, and so are greatly handicapped in how much they can fetch their authors in terms of royalties.
However, contrary to misleading assertions that Nigerians don’t read and that there is a dying reading culture, the panellists affirmed that indeed Nigerians read a lot. But they admitted that the constraints enumerated so hindered readers’ easy access to books. Also, it was noted that Nigerians were a hugely aspirational people, a situation that explains the explosion in motivational, inspiration books and those on leadership, as they want to get ahead in a competitive world.
According to Pastor Remi Morgan of Lanterna Bookshop, “There is quite an effective demand for religious books. We’re an aspirational people. The most popular books people demand are on leadership because most people find themselves in leadership positions not prepared. So, there’s demand for books on self-help, self-improvement but patronage is still modest”.
Also for Olayebi, “Nigerians want to read; they are keen on getting information. But the book market is a potential market!”
THERE was also a panel of young authors, mostly young women, who discussed ‘Blogging and Digital Publishing’, as both alternative and complimentary to traditional publishing. Yet again, they highlighted the opportunities that abound in blogging and digital publishing that take advantage of the internet or worldwide web. They charged young and old authors alike to hop onto the digital portal train and experience the amazing world it offers in book publishing.
While inadequate power, poor internet connectivity, lack of access to computers or laptops were cited as challenges, they observed that those who were daring could still forge ahead regardless and make a small fortune from online publishing. They said this could happen provided such authors have the right content that has been well edited for public consumption before uploading it online.
Opportunities in digital publishing, it was agreed, were outstanding and that it was like magic, as it was fast and instantaneous. They also said it has endless possibilities, with a lot of profit to be made from it if properly managed.