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Book industry loses N10bn to COVID-19 pandemic

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
30 August 2020   |   4:14 am
Udoka Nwaehike is a graphics designer and printer. He is alo an events planner. He was just begining activities for the year after his yearly vacation in February...


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Udoka Nwaehike is a graphics designer and printer. He is alo an events planner. He was just begining activities for the year after his yearly vacation in February when he heard the news that governmnet has locked down the country because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

You can imagine his experience across the printing industry, where thousands of workers learned their year ended in March.

Nwaehike, the chief executive of 24 Degrees Communication, said, “we have not done anything meaningful this year. Business is dull and we are managing to pay staff salaries.”

You can also apply Nwaehike’s experience to the book industry: What is the state of mind of the originator of book content or writers? What have the publishers been doing to survive? What is the state of the businesses (Publishers) that help package good contents that they deliver to the intended readers, either for examination purposes or others like leisure reading or entertainment, amusement, enlightenment, etc?

What has been the state of libraries? When will they ever be open to the public in this era of partial lockdown? If, in spite of the challenges, good content gets packaged into books, where is the financial capacity to take them to printers who publish them to physical copies Nigerian end-users largely prefer? Even, when the books are printed, what is the state of the booksellers, who by default, should showcase these books and get them delivered to the readers? Or better still, are the readers willing to pay at an unprecedented period such as this, when attention has largely been shifted from books to food and health?

The COVID-19 Pandemic, and the urgent measures being taken by governments around the world to contain it, are having a huge impact on many aspects of daily life. With schools closing, urgent research required and many people asked to stay at home, publishers around the world have been stepping forward to do their bit.

At the same time, the closure of bookshops, cancellation of book fairs, and general uncertainty is putting many parts of the publishing industry under great pressure with many counting on government economic stimulus packages to help them survive the economic crisis resulting from the health crisis.

To this end, stakeholders in the book industry have called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, critically support the industry. They expressed concern that COVID-19 pandemic has presented the industry with enormous challenges and as such, “the industry needs massive support from the Federal Government.”

Speaking to The Guardian ahead of the Nigeria Virtual Book Fair 2020, which is slated to hold between September 1, and 7, 2020, Gbadega Adedapo, President, Nigerian Publishers Association and Chairman – Nigerian Book Fair Trust, said helping the book industry’s value chain to bounce back as soon as possible is synonymous with sustaining education and literacy.

This year’s fair is loaded with interesting programmes such as, the book fair conference, panelists discussion, exhibition, book sales, children programmes, buying and selling of rights, networking and several mind-blowing webinar sessions organised by various key stakeholders like authors, publishers, printers, booksellers and librarians, Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) and others.

According to Adedapo, “it is disheartening to know that the fate of authors, publishers, printers, booksellers, librarians (the entire book chain) hangs in the balance and depends on the timely responses received from the people, but especially from the Federal Government.”

Adedapo said, “our hope is not lost, as the book industry players are facing a turbulent time in their businesses as a result of the pandemic virus and we hope that resumption of school operations will open up activities for the sector.”

He said the novel coronavirus pandemic came when no one or business ever prepared for it.

“Even if business owners knew beforehand, scarcely would they have envisaged the gravity of its effects and hardly would their preparations have sufficed to cater for the damages and the disruptions it brought. Its effects began when the industry started cancelling book and reading events, when schools were shut down and movement and activities’ restrictions (lockdown) became the new normal to curtail its spread,” Adedapo said.

While saying that the book industry remains the major driver of education and literacy in Nigeria, he called on government to help the industry, which he said, has lost over 10 billion Naira, through palliative measures. This could be done with dedicated grants and accessible funds that would aid the industry in its effort on product development and supply engagement.

“We are crying out to the Federal Government not to let education slide into an unredeemable state of retardation. Since book is the bedrock of an educated society and its development. Now is the time to act on behalf of the book and save it.

“The only way to be better equipped to fight the deadly virus is for the book industry to be at its optimum capacity to produce enlightenment materials for the general public to consume. Only books can do this. But the book needs to survive in order to achieve this.”

According to Azafi Omoluabi of Parresia Publishers, Nigeria no longer has as many “people wanting to publish books due to the paucity of funds”, and “when we get authors who are willing to publish, the cost of publishing scares a few of them.”

However, Omoluabi does not think the government can do anything at this time, since it did not, in the past. “This is an industry that government has overlooked and has not shown any interest in.”

Eghosa Imasuen of Narrative Landscape also believes that the book industry’s challenge has not been properly captured in the creative sector.

He is angry that government generally assumes that entertainment is what the creative sector is all about. “What we have seen from our experience since entering the book industry is that there is a perception that books are part of the education sector and not the creative industry. This implicit bias from policymakers results in incomplete interventions from the government. If a book publisher reaches out to this ministry they will be told that the intervention was designed for film, theatre and music. That we should lobby education departments. It is a lacuna that needs filling and we continue to strive to fill it with information to and education of, pardon the pun, the policymakers. We need help and our work is culturally relevant.”

Imasuen said, “the pandemic had been a trying period for our business. From long turnaround times for shipments of printed books, increase in cost of materials for local printers, to reductions in the buying capacity of our most powerful constituents in the industry, the reading public, the pressure on our bottom line has been devastating. On the one-hand, even the school year has been disrupted, this affecting the education sub-sector of the publishing industry. On the other, discretionary reading, already fighting the distraction of mobile and electronic visual content, has shown a downturn in revenue.”

For Servio Gbadamosi of Winepress Limited, “from the announcement of the first coronavirus case in Nigeria, we already began to feel the impact of the pandemic on the book publishing industry. The printing presses were adjusting to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a publisher like myself had to adjust to the demands of the times. Goods and consignment meant to be shipped into the country from China were held back because of the lockdown imposed by China and the goods already in transit could not reach their destination in a hurry so this meant higher demands leading to higher costs.”

He said, “these were some of the issues we were already dealing with; the increased cost of printing paper and in some cases scarcity of certain production implements. As we know, high production costs lead to high prices of goods. However, by the time a lockdown was imposed by the Federal Government and many of the state governments banned inter-state travel, many of the printing presses closed down.”

Recalling the beginning of the lockdown, Gbadamosi said it left the nation and its citizens in a frenzied state. “With the printing presses closed, some of our work, which were to go to press at the time the lockdown was affected and had to be put on hold. We were left with manuscripts that were at editing phase.”

The Winepress boss said, “in the first two months of the lockdown, it was difficult to pay salaries and many of the big publishing names in this city closed house. Some of these big publishing houses have been known for publishing educational books and materials for schools.”

He added that with schools closed in the beginning of the lockdown, publishing had to be put on hold. “We, though more diverse in our publishing, were barely head above water too except for the projects that were still ongoing before the pandemic. Bookstores also had to shut down. Also, for publishers who sell books, the ban on interstate travel meant that books ordered online could not be delivered to consumers. This could have been an opportunity for e-book sales to be boosted. And I daresay some print and digital publishers took advantage of that platform to publish and sell books. Yet, we are aware of the severe economic downtown that nations and citizens experienced,” he said.

He continued, “some companies closed shop, others laid-off their staff because they could not continue to pay salaries if their staff were not working and no one was buying their services. From the foregoing, it is likely e-book sales would have been significantly low if people could not afford to feed during the lockdown, let alone buy a book, even though the lockdown would have presented an opportunity for higher book sales because people would have more time on their hands to read books.”

Dr. Sola Balogun, the newly elected chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Ekiti chapter, said, “like every other sector of the economy, the Nigerian book industry suffered a setback following the outbreak of COVID-19 and this may have a long time effect on printing and publishing industries generally except government takes a drastic step to bring succor to the sector. We should remember that most of the raw materials for publishing are not obtained locally hence the closure of borders further did harm and forced prices to skyrocket in the market. The outbreak of the pandemic worsened the situation as movements of humans and commodities were curtailed. Nevertheless agents like Amazon and others into book sales and marketing were in business but at greater costs.”

He said government needs to give incentives to all relevant sectors of the economy, the book and publishing sectors inclusive. Part of the incentives is to reduce tariff and duties on book importation and printing materials particularly educational books/publications. “The best stimulus package should go to publishers of books used by students right from elementary to tertiary institutions. Government can give them tax reliefs and encourage both the CBN and commercial banks to give loan facilities to publishers at reduced/affordable interest rates.”

Stakeholders in the book business said government can also take a cue from China and Canada above, by assisting in building a more structured industry, offering subsidies and tax cuts where necessary and assisting in the fight against book piracy amongst other things.