By Samuel Okere
PUBLISHING in Nigeria is experiencing a serious survival threat. This is attributable to among other factors, the state of the economy, the reading culture, and evolving media trends. On the state of the economy, the solution is not too easy to project. Some four years ago, Professor Pawan Budwan , Editor-in-Chief of British Academy of Management, reviewing the socio-economic landscape of Nigeria, expressed fear regarding rising inflation, weak growth and high interest rates (Budwan, 2018).The cumulative effect of these three factors on organisations including publishing is a struggle for survival. Today, that bleak picture of our socio-economic reality has not abated. This is especially so, with the current exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar and continued inflationary rate and high cost of living.
The reading culture in Nigeria (although a controversial issue because of different schools of thought on whether or not Nigeria is a reading nation) has not radically improved. To heighten the whole situation is the digital technology which has come to our age as a sweeping revolutionary pressure. This has radically affected the ‘taste bud’ of readers as it has dictated a change in the mode of production and distribution of literacy products. The above scenario puts every orgnisation and its management on a high demand for thinking out of the box if they have to survive (Njagi, 2021). The concern here is on how our own organisation – the publishing industry – will survive, and remain afloat and relevant as a major contributor to national development. Hence the title of this discourse – Publishing in Nigeria: Imperative of Change, Growth and Sustainability.
The discourse shall follow a diagnostic-prescriptive approach. This is because we are here to seek solution. As solution seekers, we shall also follow the Socratic method of inquiry by posing questions, which answers we hope, will lead us to our ultimate goal. On this note therefore, we begin with the following questions: What is the state of publishing in Nigeria? What prevailing factors are necessitating change consideration in publishing in Nigeria? How will publishing in Nigeria attain growth and sustainability in the face of these prevailing factors?
The State of Publishing in Nigeria
FROM the earliest efforts of Reverend Masterton Hope Waddell, the Presbyterian missionary, up until now, the story of publishing has always been one of change and search for sustainability. History records that Hope Waddell set up the first publishing house with a printing press in 1846 as soon as he arrived Calabar that very year (Okere, 2022, Tamuno, 1973). He began with the reprinting of pamphlets which he had brought along with him from Ireland. He then progressed into transcribing and translating Efik and Ibibio folktales into English. Then he went on into producing Arithmetic and Mathematical tables. Thus with this, he laid the foundation for an enterprise that would blossom into a full-fledged industry. When eventually private individuals and corporate bodies ventured into publishing and with the growing literacy level, the need for charting a cause for growth and sustainability became inevitable.
Since the beginning of the last century until the present, publishing and publishers in Nigeria have had to contend with varying public images and expectations. This has led to what one would refer to as induced and acquired circumstances. Induced circumstances would be associated with all the extraneous factors inherent in the social climate. This includes but not limited to government regulations of the economy and the polity, literacy level and attitude to reading and acquisition of books, revolutionary pressures occasioned by scientific and technological innovations among others. Acquired circumstances on the other hand would be associated with all the internal factors that originate from within the publishing industry itself. Prominent among these is the management and organization of the publishing industry. Upon this hangs every other factor. Whether one is concerned with induced or acquired circumstances, the overall effect on publishing has never left much to be desired.
Discussions on the state of publishing in Nigeria have often centered on the induced circumstances (extraneous factors). After all, our present discourse had almost tended towards that perspective. By the way, did we not begin by creating a bleak socio-economic climate which predictably would choke publishing to death? Let me quickly remind us that today, we shall adopt a paradigm shift in our discourse. While we are not unmindful of the negative effects of the extraneous factors including unhealthy socio-economic climate in which publishing is operating, we would do well for ourselves by undertaking an inward search.
We shall be focusing our attention on acquired circumstances (the extraneous factors). The reason is because this is the aspect that we can have some level of control. We are here therefore, to address how the internal environment (internal/acquired factors) of publishing can be harnessed to bring about growth and sustainability. We are here to address the inevitable change that has met us as publishers. We are here to seek ways of for an enduring and profitable publishing experience. We are here to put our house in order so as to be able to confront and indeed surmount the invading induced circumstances (extraneous factors) that are threatening our very existence and the sustainability of our calling – publishing.
Simply put, publishing in Nigeria is in a state of inevitable change. It is facing the threat of sustainability. It is in a challenged situation to carve out an existence for itself or cease to exist. The state of publishing in Nigeria is one that requires internal assessment as a way of launching out for success. While the extraneous factors are impinging on publishing, there is the need to consider the prospects of change for sustainability. This we hope to do by addressing the internal factors and proposing ways of turning them to our best advantage. Prevailing Factors necessitating Change Consideration in Publishing in Nigeria.
In 2019, African publishers network (APNET) did a continental survey on capacity development needs and practices among member counties. Nigeria, that is, Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) listed three areas of need namely: innovative book publishing management; maximizing e-publishing for accessible books; and harnessing the social media in book marketing/ promotion(APNET, 2019). The understanding is that these three areas are critical to the sustainability of publishing in Nigeria. Incidentally, these three areas of need that NPA has identified fit properly into the scope of internal factors which is our point of view in this discourse. The underlying assumption for these three critical areas of need is the fact that we are in a changing world. With change comes the need for reassessment, reorganization and refocusing.
Our world is in a state of change as a result of technological revolution. Globally, every facet of human endeavour is experiencing this change. It brings with it the consciousness of questioning the status quo in production and human relations. While the more industrialized nations of the world are designing new ways and techniques to grapple with this inevitable change, the less industrialized ones such as Nigeria are only waiting to consume and apply whatever new measures that these industrialized nations would design. The situation therefore leaves us with total dependence and most times helplessness. The question is, for how long shall we remain dependent on the creations of other nations to solve our own problems. It is in light of this that we shall begin to probe more into our discourse today so as to identify ways by which publishing in Nigeria can attain growth and sustainability.
Publishing in Nigeria: Attainment of Growth and Sustainability
TO be able to address this crucial segment of our discourse, we shall consider what we shall term the nine indices of growth in publishing. These are Numerical strength, Generic product development, Visibility, Evolving technology, Self preservation, Corporate social responsibility, Inclusivity, Professionalism, and Reference point input.
The essence of focusing on these indices is to see how far publishing in Nigeria has grown. By weighing the rate and direction of growth against these indices, we would be able to determine for ourselves appropriate steps to take in positioning or better still, repositioning publishing in Nigeria for sustainability in the face of inevitable changing circumstances of our existence. We shall begin our evaluation from the vantage position of strength. Numerical Strength
Any one following the history and development of publishing in Nigeria will surely give credit to the fact that it has recorded tremendous growth in the area of numerical strength. From the humble experiment of Hope Waddell in Calabar, publishing in Nigeria has grown and blossomed. The emergence of the „Big Five and the Sixth‟ (Adesanoye, 2005) formed the bridge between foreign and national investment and participation in publishing. This is referring to the establishment and coming to prominence of the following publishing houses, University Press Plc, Longman Nigeria Plc, Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Limited, Evans Brothers (Nigeria Publishers ) Limited, Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria ) Plc, and Ibadan University Press.
Let us do a fast tracking exercise to 1965 when Nigerian Publishers Association was established. At that time, one could count the number of publishing houses existing in Nigeria. Today, the story is positively different. At the last count, NPA has on its directory, a total of 289 members. This indeed is progress. This indeed is growth. We have grown from a negligible number to a formidable number in terms of membership. And this also spans nearly the whole of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. We give kudos to the leadership of NPA from its formative stage up tothe present.
SELF- PRESERVATION is a natural instinct. It shows the degree to which humans are aware of their environments, and are conscious of the factors that may impinge on their existence and survival. It demands an action to ensure that some reasonable measure of action be taken to guard against those forces so as to ensure a continued existence and achievement of one’s goals and fulfillment in life. As part of the growth indices in publishing, self-preservation warrants that publishers be conscious of the factors that militate against their smooth operations of investment and attainment of returns-on-investment. In our Nigerian context, a major factor that is militating against our attaining return on investment is the issue of piracy.
The leadership of NPA and Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) must be congratulated in this regard. They have put so much effort in sensitization, mobilization and confrontation to foreclose the activities of book pirates. So much financial and material resources have gone into this fight. Nigerian publishers have grown remarkably strong in respect of self-preservation effort. For as long as the prospect of easy profit presents itself, book pirates are likely to keep making efforts. However, with the current trend of advocacy, raids and legal actions that NPA in partnership with Nigerian Copyright Commission are adopting, it is hoped that before long, the activities of book pirates will either be totally eliminated or at least brought to the barest minimum.
Generic Product Development
FROM inception, publishing and publishers in Nigeria have had to contend with meeting the hunger need of our primary and post primary institutions. In relation to generic product development therefore, publishing in Nigeria has grown towards what is known as educational publishing. This is also called el-hi publishing, referring to the elementary/primary and secondary/high school target audience that it meets. Concentration in educational publishing has no doubt met reasonably the need of this segment of readership. Somehow, it seems less risky to venture into especially, if one or the house makes the right decisions bothering on contacts, economy of scale and in-house organization. It is a genre of publishing that seems to have a captive market. No wonder, over 70% of the membership of NPA are primarily educational publishers. This no doubt is growth. But there is more to it.
Generically, we have a gamut of other readership groups that require textbooks for knowledge impartation and acquisition. For instance, the whole of the post-secondary level of education, from the colleges of education, the polytechnics to the universities have textbook needs which require the attention of Nigerian publishers. At present, almost every textbook of note in virtually all the disciplines that are being used in Nigerian tertiary education level are products of foreign publishers. The same thing applies to the professional disciplines, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) disciplines. We cannot talk of growth in product development when we have paid little or no attention to scholarly publishing. It is true that scholarly publishing requires serious investment in research for content development, but then, publishing itself is a serious financial investment. We should also bear in mind that publishing as a member of the media family has so much of social responsibility expectation. How can we be socially responsible when we have neglected the intellectual development need of our tertiary education?
Today, ranking in tertiary education especially the university system is measured among other factors, in terms of quality of research and publications output of the lecturers. In order to satisfy this need, our academics are forced into publishing tourism. This is a situation where all their research outputs that would seek high impact are sent to foreign publishing houses. The primary reason for this is the fact that Nigerian publishers are not deliberately investing in tertiary publishing for scholarly communication. By the way, the likes of Elsevier, Routledge/Taylor and Francis, SAGE, among others are all commercial publishers. But they have all caught a niche for themselves in tertiary publishing. All the journals that are to reckon with in many of the disciplines are managed by these publishing houses and their likes. How many publishing houses in Nigeria are involved in any form of academic journal publishing?
Nigerian publishers have the intellectual capacity to engage in tertiary publishing, be it for textbooks or for academic journals. For as long as we are not investing in tertiary publishing, we are inadvertently encouraging vanity publishing which most members of the academia are doing to fill the gap. We all know the many limitations of vanity publishing both in the content and the form of the books. We are also encouraging howbeit unwittingly, the continued flooding of our market with foreign textbooks which most times the end-users are finding difficult to relate with the socio-cultural background. Learning and impartation of knowledge would be a lot easier when the books and their authors share the same socio-cultural experience with the end-users. India is a typical success story in this regard. We can even do better than India.
Regarding journal publishing, there is so much that Nigerian publishers can do. We can encourage the university presses in this regard. This is actually their primary constituency. The more endowed member-firms of NPA (those with more personnel capacity) should look the way of scholarly publishing both in terms of textbooks and academic journals. There can also be some partnership where such publications can be made on the basis of a joint imprint. The modality can always be worked out.
Growth must be multi-dimensional. We must grow from numerical strength to generic product development. We have to diversify our market and be of wider service to the reading community. This of course will help us to be seen not just to exist but to impact society on a wider scale. This will lead us to the issue of visibility as a growth index.
THIS is one sure way by which we can measure the growth of publishing in the present age. We are in a changing world where physical barrier of space and time is being rapidly bridged. It was fashionable to have physical presence in as many locations as is possible. With the emergence of digital technology, that is no longer a necessity. The digital age has brought about an easy and virtual way of doing things. What is required of us is to buy into the digital space and be globally visible. To be globally visible is to make one’s presence felt in the digital sphere irrespective of the physical location where the publishing house is operating from. A unique advantage of global visibility is what we may call the illusion of size and capacity. The digital space can magnify even the most insignificant publishing house. You can acquire all the size you need in digital space even when you are in reality operating in a one-room office space in any remote part of the world.
Global visibility guarantees real time distribution of the finished product. It allows for easy transaction between the house and the authors on the one hand and the house and the various other members of the publishing chain. It is not the intention of this presentation to deny the best efforts of Nigerian publishers in this regard. It is rather an occasion for inward search. How many Nigerian publishers including NPA, the parent body are globally visible? To be globally visible goes beyond a mere mention on face book or Instagram. Global visibility requires that the publishing house would own a functional website. A functional website is one that is available, accessible, aesthetically appealing, with a high level of engagement, and is constantly being updated for currency. When a publishing house deliberately acquires global visibility, it is making a bold statement that it has bought into the digital revolution. Besides the dedicated website, we can and indeed should create additional or support online presence by now opening social media accounts to locate our readers and authors. This leads us to the issue of growing in the direction of the current trend of evolving technology which is digitally driven.
THE world is evolving and changing in many aspects of executing functions and developing content. Here in Nigeria, we are almost being overtaken by digital technology. Today’s and tomorrow’s reader is a digital native who would cherish to have the books in digital format. It is getting rather late for us in joining the digital revolution. Electronic publishing has come to stay. How many of our titles are in electronic format. Be it basic electronic books or audio formats. The day is far spent. Where are we? On the many benefits of electronic publishing, we join Mutegi (2021) to say that “Electronic publishing has become a contemporary and global publishing model that gives unlimited access to e-books; facilitate expanded market, business deals and exchange of culture. E-books also enhance visibility of authors and publishing organizations to the global community.”
Part of the reason sometimes for the low response to subscribing to electronic publishing is the fear of piracy. Even with the hard copy format, we are still battling with piracy. However, we suggest that we can do our own designs including evolving our own digital platforms and security measures. Instead of putting all the books on the internet, we can put the abstract and lock up the main book. We can make segments of individual books accessible at a token. This can be done chapter by chapter. A lot of foreign publishers are using this design to attract high patronage to their books online. We can also encourage reading online by subscriptions. Sales can be made by viewing and downloading publications from the internet. We should identify, encourage and promote indigenous platforms where we can create our own search engines. This can be done by identifying and promoting indigenous cyber-tech individuals. All that is needed is the will to embrace change for growth.
While gathering data for this presentation, I made effort to reach out to some stakeholders from the divide of author-ship, reviewer-ship and reader-ship. One of them, a journalist and book reviewer corroborated our stance on the imminence of Nigerian publishers to buy into the digital and electronic publishing project. In his own words, he expressed it thus:
The association (referring to NPA) or its members should develop digital platforms that authors can use to publish their works. I think it will be a lot easier for both publishers and authors to do so. Then the members can create a network or bank of virtual editors that they can edit the works and be paid accordingly. This will be a lot cheaper for the publishers and neater for everyone. Then they can also connect to digital marketing platforms that can market books and deliver hard copies where they are needed (Obe, 2022).
At present, Babcock University Press is working on a digital platform that will give ease of access to the entire membership of both the publishing chain and the book chain. We call on the leadership of NPA to give support to this initiative. This platform which we have proposed the name Babcock Sabi (www.babcocksabi.com) though still at the formative stage, when actualized, is expected to fulfill the many advantages of electronic publishing:
Negligible investment by the publisher translates to a greater willingness to take on untried writers and manuscripts lengths.
Faster publishing time for accepted manuscripts. Rather than waiting for longer for a manuscript to be printed. There’s a higher chance of online content going viral. When people view your content they like it then they start sharing it on social media and other digital channels instantly.
Writers have the ability to update the text often and easily at virtually no cost. This is particularly handy for works related to fast-moving industries.
E-publishing offers greater longevity for works with slower sales, electronic storage affords unlimited archiving.
Digital materials are extremely portable which gives your readers the chance to continue reading everywhere they go (Mutegi, 2021).
Corporate Social Responsibility
RICHARD Crabbe, a publishing consultant to the World Bank and one-time President of African Publishing Network (APNET), in a lecture he presented in November 2021 at the African continental programme of Train the Trainers workshop in Conakry Guinea maintained that a major function of consideration for African publishers is the issue of corporate social responsibility (Crabbe, 2021). We make bold to say that Nigerian publishers must not only think corporate social responsibility, but they must act it and be seen to be doing it. It is a measure of growth that publishing in Nigeria must consider. Corporate social responsibility yields multiple benefits for the organization that invests in it. It helps in improving the image of the organization as well as providing a tension-free environment for the organization to carry out her operations for sustainability (Aslaksen H. M., Hildebrandt C., and Johnsen H. G., 2021; Asha, 2019; Claudia Frigerio, 2017 ).
The leadership of Nigerian publishers Association has not too long ago led out in this regard by extending good will in tangible measure to the Universal Basic Education office at Abuja. That gift of a branded vehicle among others speaks volumes of our understanding of corporate social responsibility. There are however several other areas that we can consider for our corporate social responsibility effort. The academic community is a major stakeholder that we must consider and as a matter of urgency. Let us reach out to this cluster of demographics that provides us with both content creation capacity and readership audience. We need to work out feasible ways of organizing free seminars and training workshops on writing and publishing for this community. Our foreign colleagues are already doing this. We are fast losing our market to them. With digital technology, we can schedule webinars for this purpose. The time for this is now.
For the readership audience at the primary/secondary and tertiary levels, the leadership of NPA should consider as a matter of urgency the need to sponsor educational enlightenment programmes. We can sponsor quiz and debate competitions among schools which will be aired on major communication networks in the country. It is an avenue through which we can also extend our advocacy of ant-piracy and other copyright violations as well as the advocacy for improved readership culture. This is in addition to promoting our products. We can also consider adaptation of excerpts of our books into drama for exhibition among this demographic. The benefits are endless. Corporate social responsibility has many facets. The opportunities are there for us to exploit. Embarking on it is a major index of growth and sustainability for publishing in Nigeria.
CLOSELY related to corporate social responsibility is the issue of inclusivity. When considering growth indices for publishing in Nigeria, we must weigh it against how we have accommodated and provided for every reading demographic in our list building effort. Since 2016, the world has begun to pay special attention to the reading needs of the blind and visually impaired as well as persons with other forms of reading challenges. This is translated into what is known as Marrakesh Treaty. The search for growth and sustainability can only be complete when Nigerian publishers deliberately plan and implement the terms of Marrakesh Treaty in their publishing programmes.
NIGERIAN publishers must think professionalism. For too long, we have remained as jobbers in publishing. We must migrate from jobbing to professionalism. It is a matter of administrative will. The leadership of NPA is endowed with the human and material capacity to ensure that publishing leaves this stage of an all-comers thing where it is at present to a noble profession that it is. We must not always wait for the western world to chart this course for us. We need it, and we must go for it. Today, advertising is a profession in Nigeria. The same goes for library service. One has to be chartered to practise in those two areas. Publishing cannot be said to be growing in Nigeria when it remains at this rudimentary stage of gate-crashing. For as long as publishing in Nigeria remains at this stage, whatever that is being practised can at best be described as quackery.
There are different ways of approaching this matter. The first that comes to mind is the publishing institute. No doubt, this has been a long-term plan of the leadership of NPA, but we have to act fast. A publishing institute must not wait until every physical infrastructure like a secretariat complex is built. We can begin from where we are and use the facilities of the more established member-firms for providing hands-on-experience opportunities for the trainees. While we are managing our institute, we must advance the cause of professionalism to degree awarding trainings. With the exception of University of Ibadan which has a degree programme at the masters level, one is yet to know of any other Nigerian university that is deliberate in this regard. Lagos State University had some time in the past designed a very lofty publishing programme in the communication department. Its continued execution is still being expected.
Another opportunity is presenting itself to us. Communication and media studies discipline is being unbundled in Nigerian universities. What this means is that the hitherto department of mass communication, media studies, communication and language arts or by whatever name individual universities have been designating them is being restructured to exist as a school/faculty with component units/sequences as departments. This is where we fit. Incidentally, publishing is not being represented in this arrangement. It is not still late to liaise with the various communication and media bodies such as African Council for Communication Education (ACCE) and Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) which are championing this cause. Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) is fully represented here. The same applies to Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).
Following on this is the issue of collaboration with the tertiary institutions to make our presence felt. Several other professions are collaborating with the tertiary institutions in what is termed a meeting of the town and the gown. Let us consider what it would be like when NPA endows a professorial chair in any of the universities. It is something we must consider. This is a sure way to grow. This is a sure way to think sustainability.
ASSOCIATION of American Publishers (AAP) has grown to be a reference point. In matters of publishing, the view of AAP is often sought. This is growth. This is sustainability. By the time Nigerian publishers have refocused publishing for growth and sustainability, the view of NPA would be sought as of authority. We would become a reference point for advancement. We would be consulted for interpretation and direction. We would be earning for ourselves the respect that is due us as guardians of the word and literacy. At present, NPA has an outlet of reference with the Publisher and the Newsletter as its official publications. In the past, The Publisher had served as a research output presentation which if it had been sustained would have been a standard and world class reference point. May I appeal to the leadership of NPA to consider as a matter of priority, the resuscitation of The Publisher. Let The Publisher serve its purpose as a standard journal for research output in empirical and conceptual issues while the News Bulletin would serve purely as a news and information magazine. They should have separate editorial boards with appropriate personnel that would be empowered to carry out their separate functions.
PUBLISHING is a noble profession. It is at the fulcrum of individual growth and national development. Those of us that have found ourselves in this profession must not let it die. We are in a changing world. Every mode of production and social relations is changing. Technology is driving the change. Yet, ideas are at the centre. Publishing thrives on ideas. We have got the ideas. We have technology at our disposal. Let us harness and harmonise them. As we consider growth and sustainability in a changing world, we should always consider the growth indices of numerical strength, generic product development, visibility, evolving technology, self-preservation, corporate social responsibility, inclusivity, professionalism, and reference point input. This is the sure way to measure growth. This is the sure way to plan for sustainability.
I thank the leadership of Nigerian Publishers Association for giving me this privilege of sharing my thoughts on how publishing in Nigeria can tackle the inherent problems in its internal environment in order to attain growth and sustainability. I have benefitted so much from publishing and the membership of Nigerian Publishers Association. Publishing is a noble profession. It is a noble academic discipline. I share in the two divides. Together we shall work to grow publishing for sustainability from Nigeria to Africa and the rest of the world.
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- Okere, an Associate Professor of Publishing & Media Studies at the Department of Mass Communication and Director of Babcock University Press, Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria, presented this keynote speech at the Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) Workshop at the 21st edition of Nigeria International Book Fair (NIBF) 2022 at Harbour Point Events Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Friday, May 13, 2022.