OPINION: Hard copy book publishing on its deathbed in Africa

Book publishing could soon become “a nostalgic process” rather than a main business process, just like producing mix tapes in a CD-ROM world.

Years ago, getting a phone line in Kenya, and in most parts of Africa, was a great hustle. The application process would literally knock out the wind out of your system as you walked office to office trying to get a vital authorization to have a fixed line.

The process was slow and opened a big gate for corruption. If you needed things to speed up, you would be required to pay a little “tip” to the people concerned. Not to mention how long you would have to wait to have the phone fixed and then the bills. Then the mobile phone revolution happened and the rest is history. This trend will happen in publishing.

I have been in the publishing industry for years and I have seen book writers being shunned away from publishing houses because of lack of funds. Nevertheless, most writers get into publishing for the wrong reasons. Most writers dream to sell thousands of book copies overnight.  However, most good writers never get a chance to see their products in the market.

The traditional book publishing system is not favorable for markets such as Kenya where local book buying is generally unpopular. But digital publishing will be the future for book buying and reading in Kenya and Africa at large.

The sprout of e-readers and tablets will boost independent writers to come up with books that are easily publishable and the distribution channel is not a hard thing to do.

Most smartphones right now have e-readers, where users can access documents on PDF and also Microsoft Word. This is going to be a big outlet for books.

Kytabu.org is an organisation that aims to create a low cost tablet that will be used to access text books for school children, eliminating the need to buy physical books and hence reducing costs for schools and parents.

The project is one of its kind in Africa even as it hopes to be able not only to sell text books, but to rent them, and even rent chapters and pages. The payment channels will be through mobile money and international visa gateways.

Another popular project is Elimu project that also aims to present education in a more dynamic way. The project, already in a pilot mode, gives children the chance to learn through video, cartoon and illustration capsuled in a tablet.

Print on Demand (POD),  publishing books solely on order, is also an option that writers and publishers can pursue. Several companies are notably setting up a POD centers in Africa. Publish4All is an American organisation that has already planted half a dozen POD centers in Nigeria, and is looking to enter into Kenya.

Their POD units make it easier for books to be published at a low cost. A book that has over 60 books can be printed for as low as less than a dollar. The cost of such a publishing unit costs US$10,000 and might be significantly higher to bring it in the country.

Publishers in Africa have to think on how to change with the ever changing face of the industry. Those who will embrace the change will survive the tide.

when books are only produced when needed in the quantity required.

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