Small Scale Publishing, Money-spinning Venture
APPARENTLY taking to heart the aphorism, ‘to make money, fulfill a need,’ some creative Nigerians have been inspired to venture into small publishing outfits and writing textbooks on different subjects for students and teachers.
Leveraging on the number of new schools, especially private ones that are being established daily across the country, these small-scale publishers are providing books, which ordinarily the big publishing houses won’t bother about. And in filling these gaps, some individuals have taken this business even a step further by proofreading and publishing other people’s manuscripts in line with the approved Federal and State governments curricula.
Publishing, though technical, has become an avenue for skilled professionals to make a living, and the publishers have upped the ante by supplying well-printed and colourful books to schools.
Sunday Clement, a small-scale publisher says he started his publishing business with N2000 in 2006. Today, he has been able to grow the business, which is worth over one million Naira now.
“I started by buying literature and continuous assessment books. I used to go from one school to another to sell the books then. But as my capital gradually grew, I realised I could tell my own story too. So, I went into writing, which I took to the publisher, whose book I was formerly selling. He published my book and fortunately, I sold the books. So now, I am on my own and have also included sourcing manuscripts from other people and publishing them.
“Initially, I was into the sales of nursery books but later, I started selling primary school books. Right now, I can publish any category of books that does not require heavy binding machines,” he explains.
With the nature of publishing in the country, one would have thought only wealthy individuals would be able to undertake it, especially with the industry being dominated by big players, which sometimes also include printing abroad.
But Clement says this is not the case, as interested individuals could start in a small way. And the fact that the market is very wide makes it impossible for the big players to cater to every need.
“Can you believe that some nursery and primary schools offer as many as 25 subjects? But the big players cannot afford to publish all these books because some subjects are localised and broken down into components. We look for such areas and publish books that meet the needs of the schools.
“Aside this, we also look for ways to make our books different. So, we introduce local contents in terms of names and illustrations, which are means of taking part of the market from them. Normally, they would not do this because they print large quantity to cover the whole of Africa. So, including local content may not be that easy for them. They are not like us still struggling in the local market,” he says.
Femi Onikoyi, another small-scale publisher started by studying the market and identifying areas where there are not many authors writing on a particular subject. He also studied the curriculum with the aim of breaking down the key concepts to a level any one could understand. Since then, he has been smiling to the bank, having secured the patronage of several schools.
“Most teachers are constricted by the timetable and the number of subjects they must teach in a day,” he explains. “So, they need simple and easy to understand books for themselves and their students, which is what the small publishers do. We work outside the box and break conventions to worm our ways into the hearts of school administrators.
“However, most small scale publishers do not take their books to the bookshops. Rather, they sell to schools at lower prices, which add their own percentage before selling to parents, who are compelled to buy. So, as you make profits from schools, they also make their own gain from parents.”
Explaining what it takes to be a small-scale publisher, Charles Emenike of Deep Leaners Publishers, says: “You need not have all the degrees in the world to go into it. What is essential is an eye for details. The would-be publisher has also to be conversant with the happenings in the education sector and, of course, the desire to make money.
“Publishing is as lucrative as oil business, if only the individual is focused and not in a haste to make money. Indeed, the very first year for any fresher is like the sowing season, and s/he should not expect much. But after this teething period, the sky is the limit and if your products are good and original, you can be sure of steady income. While some people try as much as possible to publish fresh ideas, others specialise in reproducing what is already in the market.”
On how much a prospective investor should have to start the business, he says: “It depends. I started with two nursery school books, which cost about N20, 000 to print. But today, I have over 20 titles and I’m printing over 500,000 copies a year, running into several millions of Naira. And though this is small compared to what some of my colleagues print, I must say the book market is really flourishing.
“I know I do not have the wherewithal to go into higher text books and that was why I started with nursery books. I also included books on letter and composition writing, current affairs, verbal and quantitative reasons, which the big publishers such as Macmillan and others do not yet have in the market. I have become well grounded in them.
“It is advisable to begin writing in areas well known to you. With time and if you persevere, people will approach you for advice and probably for you to publish them. However, in the beginning, you must be ready to sacrifice,” he explains.
On his part, Michael Ehimenme says a fresh publisher should not expect immediate breakthrough. He had started by publishing religious pamphlets. Later, he added his local church magazine and hymns comprising songs from the various ethnic groups in Nigeria and other African countries. After a while, he had been able to make enough money to enable him explore other areas such as children’s storybooks that teach morals, as well as recreate traditional folklores.
“The business is good, as it gives one the freedom to do other things and always be in money. In any case, there will always be people asking for your books if you are creative enough,” he says.
Doesn’t publishing others entail having the personnel to proofread the materials, arrange the chapters with illustrations, as well as the marking? Ehimenme says no.
“It is a good thing, if you can type, as this would save one from employing a typist. But if you have a laptop, you can always do your story. If you are not sure of your capacity in terms of grammar in whatever language, consult those that know better. I usually use secondary school English teachers and I pay them between N10, 000 to N50, 000 per book to edit my works, depending on the volumes.
“This is particularly necessary because bad production will affect your sales and limit your earnings. Even when one has the best of stories, but the grammar to convey the message is not there; you will be limiting yourself because the book would be regarded as poor in quality. So, personally, I lay emphasis on grammar and word colouration. They are my selling points.
“Another good thing about the business is that you could operate from you house. I sold the first edition of my book, comprising 30, 000 copies from my house. I didn’t have an office then. I acquired an office when the business started growing,” he says.
Despite the inherent advantages in the business, Victoria, who has been in the business for over two decades, says there are many challenges facing small-scale publishers.
“You have to monitor your printer to ensure he does not print excess copies and sell to buyers below your selling price. And when dealing with schools, it is the man at the helm of affairs you should deal with and not just the teachers, who may collect money from the students and then leave the school, thereby putting you into trouble.
“Also, you must be willing to give credit facilities, which may mean waiting till the end of term before getting paid in some cases. To avoid this, you can look for schools that are capable of paying within three weeks of resumption. Though it may be difficult at the beginning, but if you are focused and know how to deal with debtors you will go places,” she says.
On whether the National library denies them ISBN because of their size, she says no. According to her, ISBN is very important, as it gives a publication wider recognition and reach.
“But ISBN or not, that does not stop you from making money. if you want to wait to get all that before starting, then you might end up not doing anything because of the conditions attached to getting such documents entail. Indeed, if you look around town, you will find many books without it.
so go ahead and publish first, then you can start processing the ISBN. The advantage is that you will thereby be privileged to evaluate the acceptance of your work.
Things to consider when setting up small-scale publishing outfit
• Register your company to enable you access International Standard Book Number (ISBN) at the National Library.
• Get professionals, especially teachers to edit your materials and guide you on what to write, as well as the curriculum you are to write on, if you are writing for schools.
• Get sellers, on commission basis, to distribute the copies, if your first copies are many.
• Sell with discounts to schools, but ensure their discounts do not infringe on your capital or rob you of your profits.
• Make the book colourful, have good self-explanatory illustrations and let it be error free.
• Leave follow up exercises or assessment that would enable the users to refresh on what you are writing about.
• If you must use big words or introduce concepts, explain them and do not give them out as assessment. This is one of the methods being used by the big publishers, which is making schools turn to small-scale publishers.
• Use local examples and names students can easily relate with.
• Identify your market and gradually expand on it.