The state of publishing in Ghana
Eric Ofei is Managing Director of Afram Publications (Gh) Ltd, Interim president of Ghana Printers and Paper Converters Association, and Immediate Past President of the Ghana Book Publishers Association. Address: Afram Publications, PO Box M18, Accra, Ghana. Fax +233 21 778715
An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Bellagio Publishing Network meeting in Accra on 7 November 1996
The Ghana Book Publishers Association (GBPA) was 21 years old in March this year. For much of this time the GBPA was spineless but in 1991 the Canadian Organisation for Development through Education (CODE) came to our aid with institutional support which enabled the association to offer something in return for the dues members had paid and had become weary of paying.
Capacity building came in the form of seminars, bookfairs, workshops and office equipment. Publishers paid token sums of money to benefit from these programmes. This attracted other publishers outside the fold so our membership rose from 19 in 1991 to 56 at present. The Ghana Book Publishers Association is now a strong publishing association.
GBPA continues to offer its members the needed leadership and direction which explains why the entire executive council was returned unopposed when its first two-year term expired. That does not mean there have been no problems, but the problems are seen as challenges.
As many researchers will know, our past histories include the free textbook scheme, which eroded any book-buying culture that was left with Ghanaians after independence; and the near collapse of bookshops because textbooks, which are the mainstay of booksellers, are distributed free by the government. The process of changing attitudes has been slow, as should be expected, but the local bookfairs that GBPA has been organising around the regions have gradually made people aware that books are not for free. Indeed, in certain geographical areas parents as well as pupils have responded positively to the need to buy books.
National book policy
Books are a national resource which should be regarded as an integral part of the socio-cultural and educational policy of a country. National book policies help to make publishing decisions and delineate exactly what and how things should be done.
In Ghana there is no official national book policy. The Ghana Book Development Council is currently reviving attempts made earlier by individuals and organisations to put a book policy in place. The first meeting brought together all the stakeholders, who then tasked a committee to collate all information relevant to writing a national book policy for Ghana. It is envisaged that a national colloquium will be called to finalise it.
In the absence of a national book policy, however, certain developments continue to take place which affect book publishing. And since this is so, it has been the avowed aim of GBPA to make its voice heard louder than before. Quite recently the government inaugurated the Educational Reform Committee, which sadly had no representative from the GBPA. GBPA took advantage of a ceremony to inform the Deputy Minister of Education about the need to have a publisher serve on the committee. The message went far, but when the invitation finally came to GBPA, the committee had finished its report.
Compulsory Basic Education
Free compulsory universal basic education (FCUBE), which seeks to `make schooling from Basic Stage 1 through 9 free and compulsory for all school-age children by the year 2005', is now a constitutional requirement. The implementation calls for using the best brains available and involving all the stakeholders in education, but sadly enough the GBPA has been sidelined. Indeed, many publishing-oriented activities are planned and implemented by the policy makers without first consulting or seeking counsel with the GBPA. We hear of them only when implementation becomes a problem. In order to avert a disaster, the GBPA has set up a think-tank to study in detail the documents the government has issued on FCUBE and make recommendations for publishers' full involvement in the FCUBE implementation programme.
GBPA intends to seek audience with the parliamentary committee responsible for education - not forgetting the use of personal contacts - with the view to discussing GBPA's recommendations.
A closer look at FCUBE reveals that the Curriculum Research and Development Division (CRDD) of the Ministry of Education will be strengthened to undertake certain key roles such as curriculum review and development, the writing of syllabuses, teachers' handbooks and textbooks.
The GBPA considers that the CRDD's role should be only to write the syllabuses; they should then facilitate the involvement of publishers in the writing and production of textbooks and teachers' handbooks, a specialised area which calls for professionals. People employed at the CRDD are not publishing professionals. This is why the GBPA would like to be involved in the decision making, implementation and review process of FCUBE.
It has not been reverses all along. GBPA has also been listened to in certain quarters. We were able to negotiate with the Customs, Excise and Preventive Services the waiver of 15 per cent sales tax on imported printing goods meant for book publishing. We are still pursuing the possibility of a waiver for import duty from the Ministry of Finance, which is responsible for formulating policies. The Ghana government intends to reintroduce a refined version of value- added tax in 1998; we are initiating moves to get the necessary waivers, since imported books come in tax-exempt because Ghana is a signatory to the Florence Agreement.
Another success was the opportunity afforded 12 members of GBPA to participate in a World Bank-funded programme of the Non-Formal Education Division (NFED) of the Ministry of Education, for the publication of post-literacy materials in 15 Ghanaian languages. The programme provided graduated subsidies for publishing in a given language. The amount involved was approximately US$500,000. NFED has also bought large quantities of the titles to distribute in their book boxes. This initial supply to the new literates will make the books known and increase demand for them. And following the provision of the agreement signed between NFED and GBPA, book promotional tours are currently going on in all the district capitals to link publishers with the local NFED officials and booksellers. GBPA is also at the threshold of signing an agreement with the Ministry of Education for reprinting about 40 titles of senior secondary school textbooks.
Government's involvement in book publishing
Should the government be involved in book publishing or not? Some people call the government's involvement a necessary evil while others ask why the government is preaching privatisation and divesting its share of the parastatal sector, but increasing its involvement in the business of book publishing.
Textbooks are the largest single part of publishing in any developing country; in some countries they are virtually the only viable part of the publishing industry. It must be stated that a book industry without access to the textbook market is a dying industry, because the textbook market is the side of the bread that is buttered for the publisher and bookseller. Presently the textbook market is shut to the Ghanaian publisher.
The situation is compounded when only the government's textbook is prescribed and all others get only the `recommended textbook' tag even though the prescribed textbook is not necessarily the best. Employees who are drafted into writing panels do not yield the best results. The ministry assembles teachers to undertake textbook writing and pays them an honorarium. The writers may feel dissatisfied for not receiving royalties and are not likely to give of their best. Books must be allowed to compete amongst themselves so that one can get the best out of one's little resources.
Government involvement in book publishing should not stifle local initiatives. The publisher is the professional who will sustain the programme when all funds from donor agencies are curtailed. It is a painful situation that the present arrangement in Ghana, where the publisher continues to be sidelined, does not lend itself to sustainability.
The money the donor agencies provide should be used to strengthen local capacity. This is why indigenous publishers and printers are trying to lobby for a quota for all World Bank funded programmes. But if local publishers and printers always have to compete alongside the multinationals in international competitive bidding, the World Bank loans will enrich the same donors and leave Ghana the poorer.
This explains why GBPA thought it should be involved at the planning stages of FCUBE. Some may argue that the programme is too demanding of local expertise, but a consultative meeting between the planners and the publishers may have revealed a solution such as collaborative publishing between local and foreign publishers.
One of the greatest problems for the Ghanaian publisher is the lack of financing for book publishing. In Ghana return on investment is slow at best. It is therefore not surprising that capital flows to industries that offer better returns.
When one walks into a bank one sees the lending rates of the various economic activities displayed conspicuously. We are yet to see publishing or education listed as an economic activity attracting its own lending rates. Maybe this is because neither the government nor the banks consider publishing an industry, and this eliminates access to some kinds of credit. The banks need to see themselves as contributing something more to education than they are presently doing. They can do this by not demanding too much by way of collateral and by lowering the rate of interest for would-be borrowers in the book publishing sector. The present interest rate averaging about 48 per cent does not augur well for book publishers, whose products have long gestation periods. It does not make business sense to borrow money to publish a new book whose market one is not absolutely sure of. It is better to use profits for new books and loans for reprints. GBPA intends making presentations to the government to encourage some designated banks to lend money at a low interest rate to publishers.
The need for the Ministry of Education to consult the practitioners in the book industry when matters concerning publishing arise cannot be overemphasised. The lack of consultation results in blunders being committed because, as stated earlier, officials at the Ministry of Education are not publishing professionals.
Let's examine this recent case: a printer had, without authority, printed and marketed a government/local publisher co-published textbook. He was caught and summoned to appear before the top brass of the Ministry of Education. He confessed printing and selling without authority. The printer's `punishment' was to pay 10 per cent royalty on the quantity of books he claimed he had printed. He had sold only about one-third of the alleged quantity printed. This `yet to be sold' catch has afforded the printer the opportunity to print more titles and copies of government books to sell to the public, claiming he has been authorised to sell and pay royalties. Meanwhile the 10 per cent royalty was based not on the net invoiced value, but on the production cost, which figure the printer alone provided. And as a penalty he was asked to pay two per cent of the total production cost, amounting to 1.9 million Ghanaian cedis, less than US$1,000. And so the printer continues to print and sell without even bothering to pay any royalty or penalty because no dateline/deadline was given.
The handling of the case has not been professional, to say the least, and has made some printers say `then we shall also print and sell and pay royalties'. This is indeed an unfortunate situation because the copyright administrator is unable to act effectively. It is a sad affair.
In the face of high interest rates, soaring inflation and the ever-falling value of our currency, the publisher manages somehow to survive. The capacity is right here, from the one-person publisher to the big-time publisher. Not only the capacity but the quality is good, thanks to the book industry course at the University of Science and Technology which supplies the industry with skilled personnel.
Book Aid International has been gracious to give some individual publishers books on publishing. These professional books are in turn made available to the public for their improvement in publishing techniques. The Ghana Book Trust, a CODE-funded non-governmental organisation, buys books from registered members of the GBPA for distribution to library centres that have been created by the district assemblies. (Ghana has 110 districts but not all have libraries.) Danida has demarcated the Western Region for literacy development and has a three-year support programme with the Ghana Book Trust which entails buying locally published books for the area.
All these initiatives have strengthened local publishing and the GBPA is eagerly looking forward to the day when the government will buy at least a thousand copies of each `recommended' book for distribution to schools and community libraries.
Printing presses have acquired some sophistication. A lot of two-colour and four-colour machines are being bought nowadays. The finishing has improved considerably. In short, the book printers have improved their capacity and efficiency to support publishing activities.
A publisher is presently the interim chairman of the Ghana Printers and Paper Converters Association. His role is to bring them together, to co-ordinate seminars and workshops to improve efficiency, quality and delivery schedules and finally to let them know that piracy kills the entire book industry.
We welcome collaboration with our counterparts from the African continent and those outside our shores. We look forward to partnerships with foreigners who would license, co-publish or co-finance a project with a local publisher. Holding an agency for a foreign publisher is also an attractive option. The economic climate in Ghana is very good for all to take advantage of. We are looking forward into the not too distant future when the GBPA will be able to make financial contributions to APNET to help our less fortunate national publishing associations stand on their feet. [end] [BPN, no 20, 1997, p. 14-15]
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