The state and future of African publishing: the role of APNET

African Publishers Network currently has 42 member-countries and has contributed to the promotion of African publishing, but there is still a long way to go. Here’s more about the African publishing industry.

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Before 1992, publishing industries on the African continent were island unto themselves. So insular were their operations that, by and large, each publisher acted as if their problems were peculiar to themselves. The African publisher was vaguely aware of the existence of publishers in other countries, but these were mere echoes ricocheting on the periphery of consciousness – without any real impact. No publishers knew exactly what their counterparts were really doing elsewhere in Africa, including neighbouring countries.

Formation of APNET

After several attempts to break this isolation, a think-tank of African publishers with proven track records congregated in Harare, Zimbabwe in February 1992 to brain-storm on how to form a network of publishers to promote African publishing holistically. African Publishers Network (APNET) was established that same year to bring together national publishers associations and publishing communities to strengthen indigenous publishing throughout Africa. APNET is a pan-African, non-profit making network with a Secretariat in Accra, Ghana. Since its formation, the Network has operationalised with an unbroken mission to strengthen African publishing through networking, training and trade promotion to fully meet Africa’s social, political, economic and cultural reality.

African Publishers Network currently has 42 member-countries and has contributed to the promotion of African publishing. Over 30 capacity building programmes have been organised to sharpen the skills of publishers of national publishers associations (NPAs). This has reflected in the content development of African books. Publishers have benefitted from trade and international relation promotion, research, relevant publications and information sharing and publishing institute. Currently, in the midst of financial challenges, APNET is making strides to live to its core objectives and mandate.

The state of books

African publishers focus on 4 major areas: Textbooks, Supplementary readers, Reference books and other Non-fiction such as biographies, history books, religious books, scholarly books, etc.

The annual turnover of African book industry is estimated at around one billion US dollars. The textbook publishing has dominated African book publishing and provides a synopsis of the development of educational and school book publishing on the continent. Textbook publishing, both for schools and tertiary education, occupy a great size of the textbook market and can amount to over 85% of total revenue of the book industries and of published titles. Many African countries share similar experiences in the textbook sector including challenging factors such as lack of national book policies, inconsistent educational and fiscal policies, weak book chain and frequently changing curriculum and teaching syllabuses (leaving publishers stuck with obsolete books), as well as slow payment to publishers for books supplied to schools or through government agencies.

The publishing of supplementary readers has seen impressive development regarding contents, cover and layout design and print quality. Over the years, Africans and the world at large have witnessed rich stories that capture traditions, culture and behavioural traits full of lessons. So many African writers have been outstanding and each country has some writers who they would refer to as “the face of writing.” Ngugi wa Thiongo (Kenya), Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Ama Atta Aidoo, Atukwei Okai, Amma Darko, Lawrence Darmani (Ghana), Mustapha Tlili (Tunisia) and the list continues.

The results have been amazing: Africans are on awards long lists, on awards short lists, or winning the awards outright. Prestigious awards such as the Etisalat Prize for Literature (now 9 mobile) and Lumina Foundation’s Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, have been instituted to recognise our gifted ones right here on the continent – at home. Nowadays, our writers are making headlines regularly in international book news. Teju Cole (Nigeria); Binyavanga Wainaina (Kenya); Yewande Omotoso (Nigeria/South Africa); Tomi Adeyemi (Nigeria/USA); Biyi Bandele (Nigeria); Noo Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria); Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria); Mona Eltahawy (Egypt); Sisonke Msimang (South Africa); Yvonne Owuor (Kenya); Helon Habila (Nigeria); Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Nigeria); Elnathan John (Nigeria; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria); Ayobami Adebayo (Nigeria). Minna Salami (Nigeria); Imbolo Mbue (Cameroon); Yaa Gyasi (Ghana); Fiston Mwanza Mujila (DRC). So many more are emerging and standing out, globally.

Reference books are gradually increasing to include dictionary in local languages. Publishers do not focus much on non-fiction such as biographies, history books, religious books.

Digital publishing

Though African publishing has embraced digital publishing as the modern model of publishing to widen the promotion and sales of books to the world, it has not reached its expected destination. Still the majority of school learners and the youth who form high percentage of the reading population do not have access to tablets, computers and other electronic devices suitable for reading. The populace also need massive education. Most African publishers have not explored the digital publishing for the fear of piracy. However, digital publishing is gradually increasing in Africa.

Copyright and Piracy

A serious menace that has had adverse effects on book publishing is piracy, coupled with inadequate enforcement of copyright laws in most African countries. It is estimated that publishers lose some 40% of the textbook market to pirates annually. To make the fight against pirates worse, some pirates appear professional in that illegality, thus producing books to look like the original. Copyright protection faces many challenges in the region; infringement of copyright and related rights continue to plague the book and creative industries and needs to be tackled from a policy and practical perspective,” in order to create a sound policy framework both at the national and regional level.

It is an area authors, publishers and the copyright office need to form a consortium to strongly sensitize, patrol and arrest pirates.

Future Role of APNET

i. Establish publishers associations: It is one of the objectives of APNET to create publishers association in a country that does not have. The essence of the association is to bring publishers together in an organised working environment, provide training for them and to facilitate effective advocacy action. The association is the first point of contact for international bodies who want to contact publishers of that country. About 12 countries do not have publishers associations and 14 publishers associations are not well organised. All these require the support of APNET. It is the vision of APNET to have publishers associations in all African countries.

ii. Establishment of Reproduction Rights Organisations (RROs): APNET will partner the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFFRO) to establish and develop RROs for the benefit of writers and publishers. This can provide some financial support to the publishers associations to ensure it survival. Currently, about 14 African countries have RROs. They are:Burkina Faso (BBDA), Ivory Coast (BURIDA), Ghana (CopyGhana), Malawi (COSOMA), South Africa (DARLO), Kenya (KOPIKEN), Tanzania (Kopitan), Mauritius (MRMS), Nigeria (REPRONIG), Cameroun (SOCILADRA), Senegal (SODAV), Uganda (URRO), Zambia (ZARRSO) and Zimbabwe (Zimcopy).

iii. Capacity building of NPAs: There are a number of workshops that are relevant to most of the publishers associations and publishers based on the survey conducted. For instance: training on the development of national book policies, electronic publishing, copyright, marketing / book trade and editing.

iv. Advocacy / sensitization programmes / stakeholder engagements: African governments need constant advocacy or stakeholder engagements to properly understand the role of publishers and the place of books in the economic, human and national development. This would help to influence policies to the betterment of book publishing.

v. Re-establishment of publishing training programmes: APNET used to run African Publishing Institute (API). It was an integrated pan-African training programme. It conducts short intensive courses, trains trainers and places attachments. API had a curriculum specially designed to meet the needs of African publishing. Training was done by national publishers.

APNET has a lot of projects and programmes to discharge to advance book publishing across Africa. It is our hope that donors and potential sponsors will redefine and redirect their focus to support African publishing through APNET.

The publishing business generally and textbook publishing in Africa more specifically have bright prospects. Publishers are demonstrating professionalism to satisfy readers with the right quantity, quality, and variety.

For more info, contact: Ernest Oppong, Ag.Executive Director, African Publishers Network (APNET), Email: info.africanpublishers@gmail.com or visit www.african-publishers.ne

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