Key Challenges of the Nigerian Book Sector
Part of my work this week has revolved around reading and researching the problems of the Nigerian book/publishing industry. Today I completed a list of questions/posers (included in a brief for an event my firm is working on) which I believe are central to the challenge. By ‘central’ I do not mean exhaustive, and I hope that this post will generate sufficient responses from people passionate about deploying strategies for sustainable change in the publishing industry. (Henry Chikava’s Book Marketing and Distribution: The Achilles Heel of African Publishing was very instructive.)
- Illiteracy: Close to 60% of Nigerians are said to be literate in the English language (National Literary Survey, 2010) and yet the usual argument is that ‘Nigerians don’t read.’ Does the problem transcend the number of Nigerians that are literate, and extends to the willingness/ability of content providers to deploy content for the tens of millions able to receive and access content?
- Marketing: What are the ways in which publishers can win the attention of the potential book market, get it to buy and read books, and sustain its interest in books which is, as highlighted, potentially huge in a country of over 150 million people?
- Marketing concepts: Have publishers in Nigeria sufficiently applied marketing concepts to the business of publishing in Nigeria?
- Infrastructure: Do book promoters possess the basic infrastructure for promotion of books? What are these infrastructures?
- Market research: How much information is available to the publisher who is interested in researching the market? Are there channels through which adequate information about the market can be obtained?
- Distribution: Will aiming to make books “widely available and inexpensive” as opposed to offering books with “the most qualitative and innovative features” drive the interest of a greater number of book buyers?
- Multi-sector approaches: What roles can other practitioners in other sectors of the creative industry play in driving a multifaceted approach to book distribution?
- Publishing as business or responsibility: Should publishing be considered primarily as a business or as a cultural responsibility? Or both? In a related context, should publishing be audience-driven or author-driven? What are the advantages or disadvantages of either option?
- Booksellers: How can publishers and booksellers enjoy a hitch-free relationship, ultimately putting the customer at the centre? Also, how can the void created by the absence of large department stores be filled?
- Future of the book: Is new technology the only direction to be considered in relation to the future of print books? Interestingly, Kyle Bean remarked that “books also have personality — they have textures and smells which the internet can’t offer.” Is the argument perhaps one of seeking alternatives to the book-form and not only arguing that the time for its demise has come? To what extent can the argument that paper books have visual appeal (as opposed to digital books that are intangible) keep it in the market for as long as possible?
- Quality control: Is it possible to define and evolve a quality control regime for the country’s publishing industry? Are there adequate regulations, and how could they be implemented?
- Class structure: How does class structure affect interest in book sales? In Henry Chikava’s opinion: “General books, including fiction, do well where there is a developed middle class with more time for leisure and a disposable income.”
- Poverty and underdevelopment: A poser on profiteering in the book industry is found in Henry Chikava’s declaration: “…a vicious circle which is difficult to break out of without tackling the larger problems of poverty and underdevelopment.”
- Book development council: what are the prospects, advantages, challenges of such an initiative? How may it function? How can the industry avoid a saviour-mentality from international (donor) organizations?
- Dealing with government: To what extent is government assistance for the book industry necessary? To what extent is it useless? Can industry practitioners deal with the government in a manner that will not be considered slavish? Are there possible/genuine fears about censorship?
- Intellectual property: Will the ultimate assault against piracy be a book industry in which demand for books by consumers is equated with supply by publishers? Is piracy the only threat to intellectual property in Nigeria? Are there other malignant challenges?