Stakeholders in publishing and the book trade, on February 28th,convened on the English department, University of Lagos to discuss the pros and cons the industry has had to deal with over the years. It was another interactive session for writers, students and publishers to address the challenges plaguing the publishing and book industry.
The theme: “The Book tTade and Publishing in Nigeria, was in retrospect the antecedents of the boom and fall years of the trade. Succinctly put by Head Department of English, Hope Eghagha as “a culture under pressure and crackling from the weight of neglect by the government and stakeholders” the infrastructural and fundamental gap which appears to be the missing link in the industry and the need to ensure the resuscitation of the reading culture formed the basis of the discourse that sparked off conversations at the forum.
In Eghagha’s address, he noted that the book process had too many issues to tackle from availability of books, governments subvention to accessing e-books and marketing, all of which required joint efforts form stakeholders to set right. Growing concern was fixated on how to reduce these challenges so much that the average person in an obscure part of the nation can be reached.
With the tone of conversation set, guest speaker, Kolade Mosuro, Patron, Nigerian Booksellers Association of Nigeria, Publisher of the recent JP Clark’s collection of poems, Remains of the tide took the floor to give an analysis on the Book process and trade in Nigeria.
Mosuro who easily comes across as one who has spent a better part of his life imbibing material culture not only made this clear in his presentation but left an impression with the audience on the importance of living a book filled life. He noted that there had to be some form of meeting and connection with books. While he outlined details of book creation and the challenges plaguing the industry at the interactive session he scored points on the essence of reading. He noted that the book was a survivor vis-à-vis modern form.
According to him, the history of the book trade in Nigeria draws its roots from the induction campaign of western education by the church missionary society in the 1850 who established the CMS bookshop to handle the sale and distribution books became the major source of educational materials and soon grew from Lagos to other parts. The success became the mother of all other missionary bookshops. The publishing arm also became the forerunner of publishing in Nigeria”, he explained. The book trade, quite successful in the beginning began to experience a lull from about 1983.
A successful leadership, economic stability and the availability of structures like the post office marked the boom era of the book years, a period that set the educational line between the north and the south. “The emergence of regional governments in the 1950s brought an added dimension into the book trade in Nigeria. The government of Western Region, particularly, articulated a programme for widespread education and training, so much so that education was free at the primary school level. Government schools were built, community after community were in competition to build schools, and religious mission schools were not left behind, all in an effort to develop quality education and manner. The 1950s were certainly an explosive time in the enrollment of students in schools in the south and in the development of education. The purchase of books in the south introduced a culture and attitude to books. They were seen as necessary tools, cultural assets as well as prized possessions.
The publishing industry, therefore, emerged more strongly in the south than in the north. To this day, there is a preponderance of publishers, booksellers, published authors, and printers in the south compared to the North in spite of the population advantage of the North”.
More inhibitions branched out during the discourse and attention was drawn largely to it that the survival of the book rests on the relationship between the maker and user. Books will only become useful if they get to the hands of those who need it. In a society where the book culture is not potent, the attendant effect ripples through the educational system, publishing industry and the public is dragged into the consequences. This weighs down on creativity and stability for writers and on the other hand positions the nation on the lower rung of world knowledge.
Mosuro, said: T”he less we use books the more prohibitive they become and the more we censor our nation from the body of world knowledge. The book, a lifelong tool for creation of wealth and power and government on its part do engage in provision of books for schools but have only contractual interest which do not necessarily address the intrinsic value of education. His concern widened with the lack of acquisition culture inherent in the school systems. He inferred that books are only peripheral to the academic life of students whose source of materials are mostly from nonfunctional bookshops and libraries that have no content.
He called for the University bodies to address these issues among other challenges. Most importantly, he noted that the broken chain of the trade can only be found when the attitude to reading and the acquisition culture improves from a personal disposition.” If you do not have books in your private collection, this is a reflection of you. As for the Universities, you have not addressed enough the reason for your being. The incessant spate of strikes harms the University system in a way that you have never quantitatively and comprehensively assessed. Let us just take a narrow view of it. When an academic year of nine months is collapsed into seven months or less, it leaves little room beyond class notes for study. The compression of school does not lead you to books, it does not give you breadth and it does not give you a thorough academic culture. It does not give you academic rigour. It only forces you to an acceleration of the term so that the semester will close. So our Universities now lack good book culture, weak utility culture and poor attitude to books such that you have no acquisition culture to your most important tool in life”.
Describing the book as a die hard, Mosuro stated that modern innovations does not take away from the book and should not be perceived as a threat. Regardless of the forms the book takes on it does not reduce it as an agent of change. The book is a resilient and will come in one form or the other, however it must compliment technology.
In conclusion, Mosuro noted that for any change to happen the love for books had to be brought back. Since there was no way writers could keep writing with no one to read this would only close the door further on survival chance: “Our print runs cannot sustain marketing and sustain the publishing industry. When we do not buy, the authors are not rewarded and creativity is stifled. The nation is the poorer for it. Writing thrives the most on a reward system. The uses of books sustain knowledge, promote creativity and sustain the publishing industry”.