How book policy implementation will address sector challenge
The Nigerian indigenous publishing industry in the last two decades has experienced a downturn due to numerous challenges of book piracy, undefined boundaries in business relationships and government interference, among others. But all these can be turned around if the government implements the proposed National Book Policy.
This was the submission of the Managing Director of one of the pioneer publishing houses in Nigeria, University Press Plc, Mr. Samuel Kolawole. The company recently celebrated its 70th founding anniversary. Kolawole told The Guardian that there was a necessity for the government’s intervention in the all-important sector for better performance, as the book sector impacts the country’s educational development and general progress.
While addressing the issue of broken book chain, which spans from authors/writers to publishers/printers to booksellers/bookshops and book users/readers, whether it is because of policy somersault on the part of government or government as patron of the industry, Kolawole said: “The major problem is the unhealthy competition in the industry and I don’t see us coming out of this on our own without government’s intervention. What the government is buying in bulk and wholesale, they are not buying for private schools but public schools alone. However, that is far from the issue. The actual issue is that there are people who are not regulated because the entry barrier is low. This is why the government needs to implement appropriate National Book Policy that will ensure decorum in the industry.”
Kolawole said: “Book business is challenging, especially in a country like Nigeria, where the reading culture is very low. I usually do not say Nigerians don’t read; we read but for certification and specific purposes, especially to pass examinations. At the recent regional conference of International Publishers Association in Nairobi we discussed this issue. Reading culture means readings come naturally; it comes to you naturally. It is something that you do at leisure. Publishers in Nigeria depend on government and schools in order to survive. That is the challenge most of the literary writer has with publishers.”
Kolawole said piracy is another problem for the publishing industry, noting, “We need the government to give the political backing to the fight against piracy in Nigeria. The book chain that has been messed up has made school owners take advantage of publishers. Now, schools buy books directly from you (publisher or writer) and charge their students more than the publisher’s price.”
When asked if the company is introducing new content and style, he replied, “We have reviewed our performance, and there are quite a number of things we are working on that will change, especially in the area of technology. Today, our best seller is the English title at the secondary level. In time past, there were other books. We didn’t have one that was the highest selling for a very long time. It kept changing from time to time.”
Kolawole spoke about the growth of the 70 years’ old publishing brand, saying, “A lot of people have worked in this company to bring it to the level that it is now. In fact, those of us celebrating 70 years today are not more than two years in the company, which is why we invited a lot of old staffers, managers, and ex-directors to come and celebrate the company they helped build. We started in 1949 as the Nigerian branch of Oxford University Press (OUP); we grew over time and because of the success we were able to sustain ourselves. But due to the Indigenisation Decree of (Gen. Olusegun) Obasanjo’s regime in 1978, we became a Nigeria company in the sense that the decree stipulated that foreign owners could not own 100 per cent of companies in certain sectors and publishing was one of them. So, OUP sold shares to Nigerians and retained a little bit. We became quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange under the name University Press Limited. That is why till today, people still refer to us as UPL; we later became public limited liability company (PLC) appropriately.”
He continued, “We have grown over the years. A lot of things have happened and the company has been transformed from what it used to be in terms of structure, approach, and product. We have grown in leaps and bounds. We need to appreciate all those who have contributed, including those who founded it from the U.K., because the legacy they left behind has kept the company going for a very long time and that is what has brought us here today.”
The managing director also spoke about the specific milestones the company has had in the past 70 years, noting, “The first indigenous MD of the company was Chief Akileye but before then, the British managed the company. Later we had Bishop who was chairman, we had Oluwatomi.”
On what the company has achieved since he joined the organisation, he said: “I joined the company on January 2, 2001, as the Secretary and Legal Adviser. Actually there was no plan to stay long because I was born and brought up in Lagos until the opportunity to work in Ibadan came. So my intention was to work for a few years and go back to Lagos. It was a good environment, but a little laid back. It was not easy to adapt, but I was able to bring my experience with my exposure into play because I was to advise the MD and the board on some issues which were taken up.
“In 2005, I was appointed the MD, which came as a surprise to others and me. I felt one of the things I needed to change was the orientation of people, to be modern in thinking and seeing that a lot of things are possible if you apply yourself to them, and I also tried to work along with people. When I came in, the products, in my opinion, were not good enough. We had books in black and white for children and they were not really attractive. I can say confidently that we spearheaded that revolution of book packaging in the Nigerian book publishing industry when we decided to introduce colour to our books.”
Kolawole, however, explained that the company had been sustained over time due to its integrity to stakeholders. “We don’t cut corners. That was the foundation that was laid by the foreign founders. We pay royalties based on what is sold and we challenge our authors to ask for their royalties anytime. In the last 27 years, we have not failed to pay to our shareholder’s consistency. We consider the interest of all stakeholders in all we do; not only our authors alone but also our suppliers, customers because it’s a scale. We are fair to all concerned and even our staff, they know that the management and the board care for them.”
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