Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Marketing and selling books in Africa

seminars at the London Book Fair, March 2000

Rachel Wiggans
Rachel Wiggans is Assistant Co-ordinator of the Bellagio Publishing Network

At the London Book Fair in March 2000 the Southern African Book Development Education Trust (SABDET) in association with the Zimbabwe International Book Fair organised two seminars on marketing and selling books in Africa. The first, on 'Changes in Government Procurement - Policy and Practice', chaired by Richard Crabbe, presented case studies from Zambia, Tanzania and Gambia where state control and centralisation of textbook provision is being dismantled. The speakers described the intention of the policy change in each country and some of the successes and problems in implementation.

Changes in Procurement

Shadreck Hakalima of Zambia's Procurement and Supplies Unit described the move from the centralised policy immediately after independence in 1963, through the gradual introduction of limited competition in publishing, to increasing liberalization. Despite the advantages of competition, Shadreck Hakalima drew attention to some of the problems that have come from donor policies. In 1997 a scheme was set up by co-operating partners giving schools money to purchase books in proportion to the numbers of children in the school. As a result 80 per cent of schools were visited by publishers. Although staff appreciated the visits, they undermined booksellers, and schools had a narrower range of books from which to select.

Donors' tendering processes can also lead to difficulties. Books, unlike cars or desks, should be perceived as a special category of purchase with the user being involved in making the final decision. International competitive bidding criteria mean that bids are often evaluated by price when in practice quality of paper, binding and content are the most important.

Bengt Lindahl, from Graphium Consult, Sweden, who has worked with Tanzania's Book Management Unit, described Tanzania's experience. At independence, education for all was a priority. By the early 1970s the prohibitive cost of imported textbooks resulted in the government taking over textbook publishing supported by UNESCO and UNICEF who supplied printing machinery, and by Sida who supplied paper.

The intention was to make textbooks cheaper and give local control over content. In practice, publishing costs were not adequately controlled, and books were often produced by curriculum developers without recent classroom experience and teachers who lacked writing ability. Absence of professional publishing expertise meant that books were less pedagogically effective, and books with errors were reprinted year after year.

In 1991, the government decided that textbooks should be published and distributed commercially. Publishing training was carried out, covering all aspects from development to distribution, and publishers were contracted to produce books written in support of a new curriculum. In the tendering process the quality of production and content was taken into account as well as cost. To strengthen their financial capacity, publishers received cash on delivery when the first print run of each title was delivered to the Ministry of Education. Profits from the first printing were re-invested in reprints and the development of new titles. The lack of local printing capacity and paper shortage have forced publishers to use printers from abroad, but by 1999 a total of 90 titles had been published covering the full range of subjects.

Theo George of Macmillan Education described Gambia's Textbook Revolving Fund Scheme (TRF). In the 1970s and 1980s Gambian schools were suffering a serious shortage of textbooks. The first National Education Conference in 1987 decided on changes to book supply and in 1992 a 'textbook revolving fund' was set up in the Ministry of Education. The aims were to make more books available in core subjects at primary and middle level, to make textbooks more affordable to students, to improve textbook quality, and to ensure a sustainable supply of funds to replace and update books. Textbooks are written by staff at the Curriculum Research and Development Division to support new education syllabi. The pupils' books are printed in Hong Kong by Macmillan Education whilst the teachers' manuals are printed by the Book Production and Material Resources Unit in Kanifing. It is hoped that all books will eventually be printed in Gambia.

By the end of year three, 400,000 pupils' and teachers' books had been published and distributed to schools, at a cost of US$900,000 loaned by the World Bank. The scheme has been generally welcomed as a solution to textbook provision in Gambia. The initial success was mainly due to the support given by parents and teachers. Students pay an annual fee of between US$2 and US$15 to use the books. The fees fund replacement copies as well as the extra books needed as pupil numbers increase.

The TRF is administered at three levels. At national level the Ministry of Education distributes books to the six regions and manages the fee income. Regional officers distribute the books on to schools in their areas, collect fees and monitor the use of books in each school. Schools distribute books to pupils and collect their fees which can either be paid in instalments or shared with another pupil. A few exemptions have been set aside in each region for families who cannot afford any fee. Fee income is increasing yearly but the scheme's ultimate success will depend on whether it can be effectively sustained.

Not everything has gone smoothly: information flow between schools and managers has proved hugely inadequate; the Textbook Fund Administrators saw the new tasks as an added burden with no benefits to themselves - some have had to travel long distances from the regions to bank large sums of money without adequate protection or support. Some parents are unwilling or unable to pay fees, and in some cases books arrived so late that fee refunds had to be made. These problems highlight the need for much closer co-operation between all parties involved in the scheme.

After the presentations a range of issues were raised from the floor.
• state to commercial monopoly - there was concern at the predominance of Macmillan Education in Gambian textbook provision. Theo George put the lack of a local publishing and bookselling industry down to the country's small population (1.2 million).
• school choice - how much has really changed, from a school's perspective, with the same people still involved both on state and donor side?
• booksellers tend to be marginalized in donor-funded schemes. Donors need to understand the book trade better, to realise the importance of external funding in the development of bookselling, and be more willing to support commercial entities. Booksellers should be provided with greater opportunities to become involved in the book tendering process.
• external competition - local publishers need to be able to compete fairly in processes that are transparent. In some cases domestic preference clauses should be introduced.

Enterprise and Success

The second seminar, 'Bookselling and Booksellers - Enterprise and Success', chaired by Ruth Makotsi, looked at some of the challenges booksellers face and how they are being met. Lily Nyariki, from Moi University Bookshop, presented the situation faced by Kenyan booksellers.

Kenya has over 1000 booksellers in two main categories: those mainly selling textbooks - local and imported - and those selling university material. Each of the five public universities has its own shop. Only 45 booksellers are members of Kenya's Booksellers and Stationers Association (KBSA) but despite the low membership, KBSA is effective. It was involved in a dialogue with the government during a recent Dutch funded textbook project to enable booksellers to bid, successfully, for tenders to get books into the school system.

Most booksellers travel to Nairobi to obtain their stock, although some publishers do distribute to regional centres. No taxes are levied on books in Kenya. Discount margins of around 25 per cent are fairly well agreed within the book trade and for established booksellers publishers normally give 60 days to pay. New businesses, however, tend to encounter mistrust. The book business peaks between November and March which creates difficulties during the rest of the year.

Unfortunately the bibliographical sources booksellers require, such as publishers' catalogues and bibliographies (particularly for books ordered from overseas) are not easy to come by. Only one edition of Kenya Books in Print has been published by the Kenya Publishers Association, and the Kenya National Library Service (KNLS), which is the national ISBN agency, has been having problems producing the Kenya National Bibliography. The last one to appear was in 1996.

No formal bookselling training exists in Kenya though there is now a demand for a regular training programme to induct staff in bookshop skills. The Pan African Booksellers Association (PABA), recently established to give booksellers a greater voice and to act as a lobby, has made training an essential component of its capacity building programme. With the support of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) Working Group on Books and Learning Materials, PABA has recently run workshops in Ethiopia, Ghana and Malawi.

Boifang von Rudloff of the Botswana Book Centre agreed that although the effects of the technological revolution are beginning to filter through, booksellers are still dependent on published sources of information about books, which are scarce.

Botswana faces particular challenges, being a large country with a population sometimes deemed too small (1.5 million) to support a book industry. Vast distances between publishers and their end users make book distribution difficult. The Ministry of Education is the largest contributor to the book trade, both by increasing literacy rates which thereby raise demand for a wider range of publications, and in book purchase. But, although middle level schools are allowed to select books and order through booksellers, textbooks at primary and junior levels are distributed by publishers direct to schools. Cutting out the bookshops undermines the important role they have to play
Gibrin Adam, of EPP Books Services, Ghana, told the meeting that bookselling began in Ghana through church missions developing publishing and bookselling in support of their educational programmes. The later introduction of a free textbook policy practically killed the book trade, and when the government took over distribution to schools, books arrived either late or not at all. In the late 1980s and early 1990s a new environment was created giving booksellers the opportunity to solve the book famine.

Although booksellers continue to face problems with the weak economy, the daily depreciation of the Ghanaian currency, and credit facilities at rates of 40 to 45 per cent, there are ways to overcome the problems.

EPP Books Services set about finding out what the customer might want, rather than guessing as in the past, so as to provide as wide a range of books as possible to meet public demand whilst avoiding the problem of unwanted stock left on the shelves. Children do want to read but sadly they have not been provided with the books they want to read. The philosophy of 'this is what we want to sell' needs to be replaced by 'what is it that people wish to read'.

Prices are important. Booksellers push for higher discounts from publishers not as a request for charity, but because reduced prices would increase sales to everyone's advantage.

Promotion and publicity are essential to bookselling. The best books should be selected and they should be displayed well. EPP takes a proactive approach with schools, collecting syllabi, identifying books in use and suggesting alternative new suitable titles. Simple techniques can be effective: leafleting schools, sending catalogues with relevant titles marked, providing sample copies and following up with a visit. Book exhibitions, television and radio promotions, and even sales vans strategically parked in the market place can also work.

Bookselling belongs as an equal partner with publishing within the book trade, and if booksellers are to succeed they must be brought into the broader picture, especially in programmes financed by the government or external donors. [end] [BPN, no 26–27, 2000, p. 12.]

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