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At authors’ forum, publishers, writers seek peaceful relationship for viable book industry

By Benjamin Olisah
22 July 2018   |   4:05 am
Resolving the row between publishers and writers will continue to dominate discussion in the book industry. Issues such as, betrayal of trust, non-payment of royalties, inability to meet expectations, poor marketing and sale of books and breach of contract are major causes of the confrontation....

Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo

Resolving the row between publishers and writers will continue to dominate discussion in the book industry. Issues such as, betrayal of trust, non-payment of royalties, inability to meet expectations, poor marketing and sale of books and breach of contract are major causes of the confrontation.All these were highlighted at the Authors’ Forum, a University Press Plc’s interventionist programme in the book chain, held recently at Kakanfo Inn, Ibadan.

The event attracted renowned publishers and authors, who came to find solutions to challenges facing the industry. Now in its ninth year, the forum, over the years, has addressed issues affecting writers, booksellers, and publishers, as well as provided talking point to the role of government in the book chain and the field of education.

Some of the dignitaries present include, Prof. (Eze) Chukwuemeka Ike, Prof. Niyi Osundare, Chief Oladejo Okediji, Prof. Charles Asadu, Prof. Remi Raji, President, Mathematical Association of Nigeria, Dr. Sunday Adeniran, and President, Akomolede Ile Naijiria, Mrs. Faleye. The widows of late Yoruba culture icons, Prof. Ishola Akinwunmi and Alagba Adebayo Faleti, also attended the event.

While welcoming guests, Chairman of University Press Plc, Dr. Lalekan Are, stated that the lingering face-off between authors and publishers must be addressed.He noted that the relationship between them should be symbiotic, and therefore, must not be tainted by unnecessary acrimony.According to him, “relationship between authors and publishers is mutually rewarding. Good authors bring fortune to the publishers, just as reputable publishers promote authors beyond their shores. Publishers and authors are like Siamese twins, whose dependence on one another cannot be undermined. You will agree with me that the relationship between them, apart from being mutually rewarding, also produces a synergy that oils the wheel of educational development and advancement of the nation. The roles of authors and publishers remain distinct, each dependent on the other for the successful development of a publishing project.”

Are stated that he knew that authors expect much from publishers, but due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, publishers do not always meet their expectations and this leads to crisis of confidence between them.Are continued, “the fact is arguable that authors, either of educational books or literary works always have a high opinion of their books with publishers, and as such, expect good and appreciable royalties at the end of each financial year. On the other hand, the publishing companies, as business organisations, are faced with different realities from that of the authors. The dwindling reading culture is a perennial problem in the industry that affects sales, daunting economic challenges, piracy orchestrated by technological advancement, unstable government policy and biting overhead costs are some of the unavoidable realities that publishers have to cope with when a book is published. This eventually results to quarrel at the end.”
He further enjoined both parties to work hand-in-hand in order to see the successful completion of their books and enjoy the dividends of their labour.“It is a fact that without the authors there can be no publishing industry,” he stated. “Both the author and the publisher have one shared goal in mind and that is to make a book succeed, and both should possess a passion for this. Whatever means of meeting that goal, they should work collaboratively in order to create a good book for its readers.”

Keynote speaker, Professor Akachi Ezeigbo, spoke on ‘Building a Partnership that Works: The Relationship between Authors and Publishers in Nigeria.’ In highlighting the means of creating sustainable relationship between publisher and authors, the professor of English and notable writer, called for a joint effort by both parties to combat the numerous challenges confronting them.

Ezeigbo bemoaned the breach of contract between both parties and inadequate account of sales on the part of publishers to be major causes for the quarrel. She lambasted publishers for not keeping to the agreements stipulated in the contracts and failing to give proper account made on the sale of books, thereby, making authors lose faith in them and carrying out legal action against them.

“The partnership between the two parties involves either an outright sale of the copyright or profit-sharing arrangement,” she said. “The contract spells out the details of the business/commercial relationship between authors and publishers. In Nigeria, authors take their work directly to publishers, who may or may not, accept them. Unfortunately, most publishers do not bother to return manuscripts or may keep them for ages before anything is heard from them. From my conversations with fellow authors, I know that most Nigerian writers are unhappy with their publishers, whom they accuse of a number of failings. They accuse publishers of not keeping to the terms of the contract agreement. They complain that publishers rob them of the rewards of their labour, by not paying them royalties either regularly or even at all. And publishers are condemned for not marketing book effectively, as their distribution strategies are not always effective.”
For the purpose of balance, the author of Nigerian Civil War thriller, Roses and Bullets, also accused authors of self-publishing, impatience and high patronage of online platforms so as to pay less for publishing and earn more.According to her, “the blame, however, should not be placed entirely on the doorpost of publishers. They are faced with lots of challenges like piracy, bad government policies, poor market and low literacy level. This does not mean that the authors themselves have no blame.

“I have found out that some potential authors, not keen on going through the trouble of publishers, now resort to publishing their books themselves. We have found out that when these books are published, they lack the quality that would have been rendered by notable publishers and these books are full of errors, which would have been prevented if they had some trust and patience with publishers.

“Another thing I have noticed is that contemporary authors now prefer to patronise online publishers, who, most often, do not give them the services commensurate to the money spent. These electronic publishers do not have a wide market as that of the print and they seem to be the one gaining from the authors’ sweat without offering them much.”On making peace between the two parties, Ezeigbo made some suggestions. According to her, “the relationship between them, like every other relationship, cannot be perfect. I am of the opinion that both parties should remain together and work in harmony. Though, authors have the option to self-publish, they are better off working with publishers. Money is not everything. Working with publishers would make them enjoy support, assistance, encouragement, especially in the areas of editorial skills, design and layout, marketing and distribution. They need more than the money e-books promise.

“Writers need people; they need the publishing houses and their team of workers, editors, marketers, etc. Publishing house represent a world where authors can appreciate people, love them and be loved and supported. A world where they can be heard as well as be seen and appreciated. However, for all these to happen, both parties must be honest and empathetic to each other.”There were several reactions from the audience, as they lent their voices to the ongoing rift between publishers and writers. Notable was the recommendation of iconic poet, Osundare, who shared his experiences as a writer.The poet said he had faced the common challenges of every Nigerian author, but made use of common sense to solve them.

“This issue is not new to us in the literary and publishing world,” he stated. “It has always existed. There have been several postulations on how to solve the problem, but they were not that effective. I, as an author, have experienced worse. But I saw them as challenges that occur and I went about solving them with wisdom. I knew what the publishers faced on a daily basis and I was aware that I still needed them in the successful completion of my books. Therefore, I was with them throughout the rough times and I have never regretted my decisions.”

Osundare urged organisers of the forum not to relent in their efforts at achieving a peaceful resolution of issues between them and authors, adding, “what University Press Plc has been doing for nine years now is highly commendable and must be encouraged by the Nigerian literary sector. We must see that we support them by implementing their policies into the day-to-day business activities between publishers and authors. I believe that by putting this into practice, this issue will, in no time, be in the past.”