Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 30, May 2002 



Katherine Salahi
Coordinator, Bellagio Publishing Network

The news reaches us as we go to press that the rest of the world is at last waking up to Africa's literary talent. Three giants of African twentieth century fiction - Chinua Achebe, Naguib Mahfouz and Tayeb Salih - are up among the greats in a newly published list of the world's 100 best works of fiction. About time, too.

Would the 100 writers taking part in the exercise have reached the same conclusions without Africa's 100 Best Books, the two-year competition sparked by frustration at a millennium list without an African name to its credit? The competition reaches its grand finale in Cape Town this July, where the great and the good in African writing will take part in the awards ceremony and celebrations. Doubts about the creative value of such literary exercises should be weighed against their potential for drawing in new readers, inspiring new writers, and helping to strengthen publishers, booksellers, libraries - indeed all the elements of the book chain in Africa. Many of the books on the winning list were published outside the continent, some are out of print, others are not easily obtainable both within and outside their country of origin, few are available in translation. If Africa's 100 Best Books becomes the engine of growth it set out to be, it will be a job well done. We have published the full 100 Best Books List in this issue, as part of our contribution to 'shouting from the mountain top'.

The revolutionary implications of information and communication technologies (ICT) for the publishing industry are starting to penetrate deep, to the joy of some and the horror of others. As Firoze Manji reminds us in his article on Fahamu and 'Pambazuka News', the technology is not neutral, and we must continue to question who controls it, for whom, at the same time as exploring how it can be used most effectively to our advantage. Sulaiman Adebowale's article on print-on-demand (POD) helps demystify the technology and encourages publishers to think through the likely impact for the industry, with the emphasis on POD as a development of direct relevance to the small and medium enterprises that are most African publishing.

Becky Fishman sets a scientific cat among the publishing pigeons in her pro-scholarship anti-(traditional) publisher account of new developments in the dissemination of scientific research. As she notes, these are challenging times in publishing. The current open access debate in academic publishing raises vital questions on the role of publishers in the wider structure, of our influence in fostering or inhibiting progress in our societies. But it also brings up questions on how we need to respond to issues that may impact on our survival as an industry.

Copyright, or rather its infringement, is one of the hottest topics for publishers and authors in relation to ICT, where none of the old rules really work and satisfactory new ones have yet to be developed. But Brian Wafawarowa's painful-to-read account of book piracy in South Africa reminds us that conventional copyright violations are still crippling a struggling industry in Africa, and will continue to do so unless we continue to press for legislation, law enforcement and education.

Three new web sites offer support to African publishing or will do so in the near future. Afrilivres plans to market and promote Francophone African books, the Observatory of African Cultural Policies includes information about many issues and events of relevance to the book chain, and look out for our own revamped Bellagio Publishing Network web site, with newsletters and much more, available online shortly.  [end]  [BPN, no 30, 2002, p 2.]

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