… Bookselling remains weakest link in the book chain in Africa
… Invest in technology, digitalize bookselling operations
By Godwin Okondo
THE Booksellers Association of Nigeria (BAN) had its conference at the Nigerian International Book Fair 2022 on Saturday, May 14 to discuss ways of improving book patronage and reading culture among Nigerians. It had as theme ‘Repositioning Bookselling in Nigeria: A Call to Greater Action’ which held physically and virtually, and featured professionals in the book trade.
President of the Booksellers Association of Nigeria (BAN), Mr. Oluwadare Oluwatuyi, while welcoming guests to the event, said, “You will agree with me that the world continues to be caught up in a swirl of sorts. Mercifully, Covid-19 is not as insurmountable as it looked sometime ago, but Ukraine/Russia is here. And the 2023 elections are ahead. The reality we seem to have on our hands now is one of juggling calm and chaos in an almost continuing dynamic.
“As booksellers, we need to be above the currents and the only way I see us doing this is through sessions like this where we engage in analysis of trends, present and future, with a bid to being better positioned and prepared to navigate the waters and to keep on paddling.”
“Beginning from home, it is imperative that as booksellers we ask ourselves with the need to better apprehend all that is going on around us and more so as it affects us. Here, and particularly in view of the larger theme, let us also make the point that it is expedient for us as booksellers to continue to contribute to setting the ground rules for our trade through ensuring that our association becomes stronger and stronger. It will also involve that we would individually and collectively commit to playing by the rules as defined. It is in so doing that we can best guarantee the good health and prosperity of our respective engagements in peace and soundness too.
“It is in this wise that I also underscore the import of the broad theme of the fair, ‘Copyright and Sustainable Development in the Book Ecosystem: Setting a New Agenda,’ and encourage us all to ensure that we continue to give maximum support to the crusade for a piracy-free book sector in Nigeria.”
Oluwatoyi also called on governments, through the respective ministries of education of information and culture, to do more for the publishing industry as a whole. Although he appreciated the Nigeria Copyright Commission and National Library of Nigeria for the key roles they played in this year’s book fair, Oluwatuyi argued that government needed to support the industry more in view of its importance as driver of education and enlightenment that provides springboard for a modern society.
“We also cannot leave this podium without calling on government to do its bit by us in the book ecosystem,” he said. “Good enough, agencies like the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), National Library of Nigeria (NLN) are here with us this year. But we need more and more engagement. The National Assembly, the (federal and states’) ministries of education and Ministry of Information and Culture must do more for the book ecosystem. We will also appreciate that the offices of the Vice President and the President get deeply involved. If Nigeria wins on the book front, it would have won on many fronts. Let all hands therefore be on deck to ensure this.”
A bookseller expert CEO of Fuller Yield Ventures, Lagos, Mr. Steve Olayinka, laid out some of the challenges booksellers face to include having more collaborations, using data to drive their businesses, leveraging on technology and utilising the new media to maximum effect.
According to Olayinka, “We need more collaborators outside the booksellers association, who we can rest on their shoulders. We need to revive our thinking and see the business as different from what it used to be. We are liberating, empowering, consolidating people’s minds and helping to build a balanced society.
“Students will be the pillar of the society when we are gone, but if they’re not educated, they will not be able to carry out this assignment. We need to see beyond selling books. We are working to help build a better society, so we need a set of people in the bookselling industry to redefine our business as booksellers, people that understand the mindset of the community and people.
“We need think tanks that will redefine our business abilities. If we don’t reinvent our understanding of the business, the business dies. Our agenda is to rethink our existence.
“As booksellers, it is your job to make bookselling exciting. We need to stimulate the appetite of the buyers. We want to make book reading a necessity for human existence. We should strive, as an association, for data collection. What is not measured cannot be improvised upon. We need experts to analyze this data we gather, so we can utilize the information to improve book reading. Data collection tells us whether something is good or bad. You must be able to interpret the data to know what it’s leading to. To work with the data collected, we need to invest in technology and digitalize our operations.”
“We also need to look out for organizations interested in liberating people’s minds. These are people we should partner with – agencies and NGO’s, some of which are looking for who to partner.”
“Social media is the cheapest means of communication today. Through this, we can get the public engaged on what they are supposed to do. You need people who are creative, can come up with content, because they will make our job of repositioning a lot better. Make your message simple and direct, avoid unnecessary data and maintain consistency.”
Also, book development specialist at the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), Lily Nyariki, enjoined Africans to embrace reading culture. She also lamented that bookselling in Africa provides the weakest link in the publishing value chain, and urged booksellers to raise their game by taking advantage of book fairs around the world, so as to enrich their stock of books to meet the book yearnings of their communities.
“We must embrace reading culture as Africans,” Nyariki said. “Bookselling remains the weakest link in the book chain in Africa. We need to make Africa a reading continent, but we are far from achieving that dream. We should be able to sell digitally, and also advertise our products globally.
“Lots of book fairs are held all over the world, and they reach out to a lot of publishers in Africa, but how many of us have been able to attend these book fairs? We need to acquire new books for our bookstores and community. The world of commerce is constantly changing and evolving, so businesses must strive to build a very good customer service.”