Publishing firms in Nigeria are doing better than their African counterparts in terms of content, design, packaging which has made Nigeria a major force in the publishing industry in Africa, according to the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, University Press Plc, Mr. Kolawole, who is the immediate past Chairman of the Nigerian Book Trust Fair. In this interview with Damiete Braide, he enjoins booksellers to change their orientation when they attend a book fair, and discard the notion of instant moneymaking, rather to get recognition from book readers who will patronise them after the book fair. He also speaks on how he came into publishing, prospects of the publishing industry in Nigeria, danger posed by e-learning to publishing, and what it takes to organise a book fair, among others.
How can investing in knowledge economy help Nigeria?
That is the way forward for Nigeria. It is something that can be done immediately, and you get a quick reward. The government is emphasising on non-export generation revenue to diversify the economy. The knowledge economy is one that can give quick returns, if you want to start an agricultural industry, it takes time to set up the industry and get things done. The knowledge economy is an area that has been neglected; it appears that nobody thinks about it. If we invest in it, foreign exchange can come from different areas. We need a government that will encourage the knowledge economy and help to encourage it to grow. One of the things that Nigeria is credited for in the country and outside the country is that we have intelligent and creative individuals and we should tap into it, which is one of our strengths. It will help to take Nigeria from over dependence on oil and take us to a higher level of economic success.
I came into publishing into 2001, but, before then, I was working in a bank as Chartered Secretary and Administrator and applied for the position of the Company Secretary and Legal Adviser to University Press in 2001. I moved from the banking industry to publishing industry and, after four years of working with University Press Plc, I was appointed Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the company, and that is the beginning of my sojourn in the publishing.
Nigerian authors usually complain about not getting royalties from publishers. How do authors under your imprint fare?
At University Press Plc, our authors receive their royalties as at when due. Our authors have acknowledged that we are consistent with our royalties. At a particular period in the year, they get their royalties statements and, later, they have their accounts credited. We are known for that; we are fair to all publishers. It is the heritage from the management, and it has been our history. Our authors are satisfied with our relationship with them, because we are reliable in terms of royalty payments.
Why is it difficult to publish new creative writers as done abroad, as the emphasis now appears to be on textbook authors?
There are so many reasons that can be adduced for that problem. On a business note, you would say any organisation that is into any form of business will feel the pulse of the society or customers because you have to know what they want. Today, the most profitable aspect of publishing in Nigeria is textbook publishing, and that is where you find most of the publishers publishing. As a result of the fact that the reading culture of Nigeria has dwindled a lot, creative writing is not too profitable except if you get creative writing into school booklist, then you can make sales and achieve some level of success.
The fact that it is not easy to get them into book list has made it unattractive for publishers in Nigeria, because the area where the money is is in textbook publishing. That does not mean that publishers in Nigeria don’t publish creative writings; they publish at so many levels. Even, at indigenous languages, there are so many story books. Surprisingly, up-and-coming publishers and renowned publishers are involved in creative writings. It is still there, but not as much as it used to be; but the fact is, based on what is happening in the economy, it is where the money is, and that is where publishers are focusing on. It is unfortunate that you cannot produce for the archives, but you have to produce something that you are able to sell and, because people are not buying such works that much any more, publishers are not willing to invest in them.
What are the prospects of the publishing industry with the prevailing circumstances in Nigeria?
It is like any other business in Nigeria today. When you look at the economic situation, it is highly challenging. Most of the inputs you need for publishing –for when you prepare books, you also print –are all imported and, with the forex issues, it has become more challenging. Other challenges include piracy in the system, low purchasing power of customers because of the economy. But it is not different from what other people in other industries are facing. I believe that there is still a prospect in it, because education is a key component of the present administration’s focus and, if that focus is strengthened, publishers will benefit from it. I am also hoping that no matter how things are today in Nigeria, it will always get better. The economic situation affects every industry, publishing no exception. But the future of publishing is bright, and that is why we have more people coming into publishing in the country, even when those who are in it are complaining. In recent times, there are publishers outside Africa coming to Nigeria to establish their business, because Nigeria has the population. No matter how difficult things are today, I believe things will get better some day.
In your own view, what are the comparisons between Nigerian publishers and their foreign counterparts?
I don’t think that there is much difference in terms of our area of focus. One of the challenges that we have with publishing in Nigeria and to the developed world is that publishers in Nigeria need to be more creative in terms of what they produce. If you go to a book fair outside the country, you will see foreign publishers tapping different areas of publishing because knowledge is limitless. You can find a foreign publisher who is focused on publishing books only on insects, and that is their own niche; but publishers in Nigeria, unfortunately, just follow the crowd. A publisher in Nigeria comes up with a good issue, and every other publisher also comes up with the same idea, which is one of the major challenges of Nigerian publishers. We need to be able to create a niche for ourselves that will make publishing houses different from others.
There are some publishers in Nigeria who are very creative; they come up with an idea and almost every other publisher goes into that same thing. Also, University Press Plc was the first company to publish books on mental mathematics in Nigeria, but, today, almost all the other publishers have books on mental mathematics also. Once a publishing company is successful at one item, other publishing houses go into that same thing.
We need to standardise and regulate what we do so that publishers can come with good qualities of books. It should not be a free-for-all society where those who are not literate are involved in publishing of books and you read those books, and you wonder why people will allow such books to be used in Nigerian schools.
In developed countries, piracy is not as rampant as it is in Nigeria. When you invest in a book, you are able to get your money back, but, in Nigeria, you invest so much in publishing of books, and when the books are not selling, nobody disturbs you; but immediately you break even, the pirates come in, and they make life very difficult for the publishing house. Comparatively, when you compare publishing in Nigeria with their African counterparts, you will find out that we are doing better than them. In terms of content, design, packaging etc., Nigeria publishers can hold their heads high even anywhere in the world.
How do you cope with your competitors in the publishing industry?
You have to know your customers and be focused. Do not be dragged into unhealthy rivalry with your competitors. I believe that you need to have your own strategy or niche work on it and actualise your strategy which we have adopted. We don’t believe in following the crowd, and we believe that, in our approach, we respond to competitors by coming up with another strategy that will help us to gain market share and be able to fight the challenge.
What are the milestones you achieved as the immediate past chairman of Nigerian Publishers Association?
One of the things that achieved was to ensure that there was unity between renowned and up-and-coming publishers in the country. Sometimes, the up-and-coming publishers feel that they are sidelined by renowned publishers, and there are always problems arising from such. What I did was to ensure that everyone was well represented. We took care of the interests of every member of the association, and got them to participate in the activities of the association. We tried to protect their interests.
In terms of piracy, we did a lot to fight piracy during my tenure. We established a relationship with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to fight piracy at the ports and we had a synergy in that area. We were able to work effectively with Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and they really assisted in ensuring that piracy was tackled in the country.
It was also during my tenure that we tried to give Nigerian publishers the global appeal and exposure that they had in terms of attending trainings for publishers outside the country, and also they exhibited their works at major international book fairs. It exposed Nigeria to the world and made foreigners come to Nigeria to do business especially in the publishing industry. I give credit to other executive members of the association which made it possible for us to work together as a team and we were able to achieve much progress. Currently, I also commend the current executive members of the association because they are working hard to take it beyond where we stopped.
What are the dangers posed to the publishing industry by the gradual shift to e-learning?
I don’t think there are dangers posed to publishing houses in Nigeria because the world is a global village and the challenges will be there in terms of adapting to the e-learning platform. The reality is that you move with the customers that you have. For example, the market that we have in Nigeria, normal print texts are still the most favoured because the focus is on textbook publishing.
That is not to say that e-learning will not still come someday to share part of the market with the conventional printed materials but the reality is that whatever you are producing, you are looking at your customers. Today, print is still the most attractive to Nigerians, and I am sure that Nigerian publishers are working hard on adapting to e-publishing. There are quite a number of Nigerian publishers who are involved in one form of e-publishing or the other, and I am sure that as the market grows, they will adapt to it.
It is only those publishers who are not able to evolve that will suffer the consequences, but I believe that we are able to face the challenges. The challenges will come in the nearest future; however, it will not wipe out entirely the print aspect of publishing. If we are involved in other forms of publishing as it is done in developed countries, then our very existence will have been threatened, but I believe that e-publishing/e-learning and the conventional publishing will still exist side-by-side. There are no dangers at all. In every challenge, it is an opportunity for publishers to be proactive and take up the challenges and they will survive over the wave of e-learning/e-publishing and succeed.
What magic did you do that you were able to turn around the fortune of University Press Plc positively?
I give God the glory for everything, because there is no magic in it, but, as an individual, you have to understand that a tree does not make a forest. An individual cannot make all the differences in the world without a team to work with. I believe that. When I came in, with my team, we identified the problems that were on ground. We, thus, mapped out a strategy to lift the company out of the situation that it was at that time and to take it to a higher level from where my predecessor had stopped and, with the team working together, we succeeded in fashioning out our approach and, by God’s grace, it has been successful.
One of the things that I have noticed in life generally is that procrastination is always present in what people do. We spend so much time trying to arrive at a decision, but implementation has always been a problem. For me, when I have taken time to study a situation and I think that something should be done, I want it done immediately, and that, I feel, has worked for me. We have been supported very well by the board of directors and they gave us the room to operate to operate freely and explore the ideas that we have which has been successful.
As the immediate past president of Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA), what does it take to organise a successful book fair?
As the immediate past Chairman of Nigerian Book Fair Trust, organising a book fair requires a lot of hard work with a strong secretariat for the book fair trust to put a book fair together. It is very complicated, but it requires hard work and dedication, and whoever is in charge must be prepared to put in that hard work. You also need a lot of international exposure, because whatever that you are doing has to meet international standards and, if you don’t have that exposure to what is happening around the world in other book fairs, you can’t incorporate it into what you are doing.
Kudos should go to the secretariat, because they did a wonderful job. The book fair has been in existence before I became the chairman of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust, and it was a growing fair at that time. From there, we took it to a higher level that my predecessor dis, and I believe that those who are in charge now will also take it to a higher level.
During the last book fair, booksellers complained of poor patronage from Nigerians. What was the cause?
The major cause of poor patronage of books during the book fair was the economic situation in the country. When you have so many state governors unable to pay salaries to workers, where do you expect people to have the purchasing power to buy books? Even those in private organisations have challenges confronting them, so buying of books is not a priority to them. Due to the poor reading culture in the country, you will find out that people don’t buy books to read. Also, some people come to book fairs not to buy books but to come and see the new development and familarise themselves with what is going on. Some people would purchase the books that they want to buy after the book fair.
How do you relax and what time do you have for your family considering your tight schedules?
I ensure that when am in town, I am always at home with my family. After work, I go home and stay with my family, because I know that I travel a lot within and outside the country. I relax by watching television with my family and spend time with my family.