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Our challenges, by Indigenous publishers

Books play a vital role in the development of a society and an individual. For a country to fully utilize its potential and revolutionize itself…

Books play a vital role in the development of a society and an individual. For a country to fully utilize its potential and revolutionize itself , the society must promote book development and publishing. In Nigeria, millions are spent on publishing books without profit due to piracy. Paying royalties to authors despite not making profit has remained an impossibility to run an independent publishing house in Nigeria. The quest for qualitative publishing has driven so many creative minds abroad to get their books published. With a country that has produced the likes of renowned world authors such as late Professor Chinua Chebe and Professor Wole, Soyinka Chimamanda Adichie, among others, still trying to find its feet in the publishing sector is giving great concerns to most publishers.
Last year, Chairman, Literamed Publications Nigeria Limited Yinka Lawal-Solarin said a major problem militating against the growth of the Nigerian publishing industry is the non-implementation of the National Book Policy 31 years after it was developed by the Federal Government.
The National Book Policy abhors a situation where one textbook is shared among five or more pupils. According to the policy, such situation is to say the least, disturbing and therefore, not suitable for learning. It recommends increase in the production of textbooks to reach a target figure of five textbooks per pupil.
The policy also states that government should ensure that textbooks are made from more high quality materials, and motivate indigenous authors to take interest in writing textbooks which portray the Nigerian cultural milieu. The policy also encourages local book production and authorship.
 About the industry
Ibrahim Sheme founder of Informart Publishers, Kaduna, inspired by the book publishing industry as a student in the United Kingdom,   returned to Nigeria and established Informart in 1995 with a focus to be publishing books written by new authors especially talented women writers .
 His view of what we call ‘indigenous’ book publishing industry in Nigeria actually began as a fall-out of the economic crisis of the early ‘90s. “The formal, more establised publishing firms were before then mostly foreign owned, like Longmans and Heinemann or those aligned to foreign ones, such as Hudahuda in Zaria. But of course there were some university presses that offered publishing services. That economic crisis, which was occasioned by the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), made life difficult for most businesses, including the book publishing ones. The publishers in particular devised ways of surviving, such as focusing more on publishing textbooks for schools and spurning new creative works except those in the exam syllabus”.
Sheme says that process frustrated authors, especially those who had written literary books, to set up their own publishing outfits to supply their works to the market. Some of them, as well as some business-minded folks, offered the service to other would-be authors. “I think the more established companies could not also handle the deluge of manuscripts coming out of the restless Nigerians, and so there came more publishers,” he said, adding that “since that time there has been an upswing in the number of indigenous publishing concerns.”
Other challenges are the quality of the books being produced by the indigenous publishers in terms of production finesse, cover art and design, grammar and even the quality of the content in a lot of cases.
“I think it has not been easy for many indigenous publishers in recent years. As the economic situation spiralled out of control, so also their fortune. Many have closed down because there was no capital to continue, while the rest have been struggling. Out of the dark clouds, however, there are some sparks of hope as new investors with new ideas come up to carry the publishing business a notch higher. These are also aided by new printing technologies and the shrinking of the world into a global village, making it possible for a local publisher to print his book overseas,” Sheme said.
Ibrahim Malumfashi is the CEO of two publishing concerns, Fibas Publicationsand Garkuwa Publications. Professor Malumfashi says there is a phenomenal but stunted growth in the industry. “There is no clear cut policy on what the industry should look like. What should be the focus and how to harness the very much potential abound. Almost all the indigenous publishers I know in this part of the country have no fixed addresses, most are mobile publishers or if you like suitcase publishers. The very few that one can say are real publishers do not take into cognizance the essence and ideals of the profession. Any work can be accepted for publication, not minding whether the script is worth publishing or not. As such, you find many works not really accepted by the reading public.”
We have two publishing outfits; one was called Fisbas Publications established in 1990, with headquarters in Kaduna. Under that outfit we publish books on literature, history, religion and politics. We were more into indigenous publishing. This became necessary as most publishers we noticed were/are more into textbook publishing meant for secondary schools.  We transformed the Fisbas Publications to Garkuwa Publications and moved the company to Sokoto in 1999, to consist of publications of newspapers and magazines, apart from book publishing. We have Garkuwa as well as Hantsi that have seen the light of the day since 2000. We have also published textbooks like Adabin Abubakar Imam, Kunne Ya Girmi Kaka 1-3 (Fairy Tales) as well as Jagoran Ilmin Walwalar Harshe and Fasihin Mazan Jiya that are in the press. 
Richard Ali, Chief Operating Officer, Perresia Publishing is of the opinion that the industry has been hit very hard by the military regimes.  “There seems to have been a concerted effort to destroy any sector of the Nigerian society where dissent could be incubated. The publishing industry, in that it is an adjunct to the educational sector, and the fact that the book remains an unequaled tool for mass agitation and mobilization, made it an obvious target. One by one the big publishing companies closed shop and this saw the rise of the stopgap measure and vanity publishing becoming the norm in Nigeria. By 1999, the industry was just about dead. I belong to a new flowering group of publishing just under a decade old. Kachifo Ltd opened up shop in the early 2000s with their Farafina Books imprint. My company, Parresia Publishers, came up just about three years ago. The industry is growing again and that is important. The 2000s saw a great flowering of new Nigerian talents. Helon Habila won the Caine Prize in 2001; Chimamanda Adichie won the OrangePrize in 2008 or so, for example. Parresia’s own author, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, won the BBC African Performance prize in 2007 and a story from the book we published last year,  The Whispering Trees, was shortlisted for the £10,000 Caine Prize just last year. This is a clear sign that the industry is burgeoning if the relevant authorities attaches great importance to the sector”
Competitiveness and regulation
Sheme in his opinion does not think the industry has competition. “There are so many manuscripts out there to the extent that our publishers are being choosy. This is not good for the industry and has not helped its growth. Any business climate does better if there is an intense competition among stakeholders. In spite of the increase in the number of publishers, many of the books being ppublished  are still low. Authors and their works don’t get publicised. Part of the reasons is that this is an industry where there is very little, if any, regulation. Anybody with a laptop (or even without it) can become a publisher by simply registering a business name with the local ministry of commerce. Some even do it under fake companies or firms that were not registered for the business. The Publishers Association appears to be a one-man-show without any bother for the issues involved. Hence the absence of an atmosphere of competitiveness.”
“Talking about competition like I said before, the market is just now opening up so competition in the cutthroat sense of the word does not exist presently. Farafina, Cassava Republic, Parresia, Origami, Cordite Books, we are all complementing each other, to get quality books out, to get the authentic Nigerian story out there. On the other hand, the potential market for books, while numbering in the millions, beggars the size of the actual market for books in Nigeria which numbers only in the low hundreds of thousands. This is a factor of the high cost of book production, necessitated by the collapse of indigenous paper mills and the collapse of distribution infrastructure such as bookstores and marketing companies. We are all working individually and in synergy to bridge this huge gap of numbers because the future of our business depends on this” Richard Ali.
Prospects of the industry
There are prospects for the publishing industry, but they all depend on the economic fortunes of Nigeria. “When you talk of prospects of the industry this country has a huge population, which can be geared towards a big market for booksellers. But then due to the irresponsibility of our leaders this vast population resource has been left unempowered economically and is largely illiterate. The average Nigerian does not list buying books on a monthly basis as one of their priorities. Majority of Nigerians are concerned more about what they will eat and wear than what to read,” Sheme says
According to Richard Ali, “the prospects are enormous. Apart from the actual people employed by publishing houses such as ours, there are printers, marketers, distributors, agents and so many other professionals who stand to make more money down line if the industry were to come to its own again. So, the prospects are huge. We need the input of the government, of donors and other funders to begin to achieve the prospects of the flourishing Nigerian publishing industry. It is a part of the creative industries, just like Nollywood, and if we pay good structural attention to it it stands to employ hundreds of thousands of people of all levels of skill each year.”
Comparison with foreign counterparts
When it comes to comparison with foreign publishing houses, Ibrahim Sheme has this to say “Well, as with most things, foreign-made products are always better packaged and are regarded superior to the local ones. There is the question of ethics; out there in developed countries there are rules and regulations for engaging in any kind of business. There are institutions that  keep  watch on anything one wants to do, all towards ensuring that certain standards are met. 
As a result, foreign publishers produce better books. Even the authors there must attain some standards with their books before they could dream of getting it published. Thousands of books are rejected even if they are written by highly skilled people. But when a book does get published, you find the product very delectable both to the eye and to the mind. The paper, the print and the design are attractive. And the content is pleasant, without any typos.
The problem with us here is the kind  ‘money for hand back for ground’ publishers we operate here. These are publishers whose sole motive for being in the business is money. They are like the roadside printers; you pay them first before they publish you. Some don’t even read a manuscript before they produce it.
“Before you compare with the western world have we been able to standardize our polity here? There is also no clear cut policy on marketing and distribution. This has been the bane of the industry in this part of the country for many years. Many works published in say Kaduna or Kano may not necessarily be accessible in other parts of the North talk less of the whole country before you even talk of it going international. Added to that, since most of the publishers are not publishers per say, that is taking into account they publish you with your money, you find that most published works are substandard, while some are printed by road side printers and ultimately the works ended dumped with the author, who end up distributing very few free of charge, just to acknowledge him/her as being published. That is why after some years you find most works published are not available even to the author and publisher. We still have a lot to do if we are to compare ourselves with the advanced countries. They invest a lot into the reading culture of their society. We should take a cue from them and do same here too if we are to make any significant progress and impact in the society. An enabling environment should be created for Indigenous publishers by the government” Ibrahim Malumfashi.

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