Going digital: the future of the Nigerian book

Going digital: the future of the Nigerian book

The 10th annual
Nigerian International Book Fair (NIBF), which opened on May 9, kicked
off with an international conference the next day at the Afe Babalola
Auditorium, University of Lagos.

Themed ‘Technology
and the Future of the Book: New Digital Publishing for Africa’, the
keynote speaker was Robert Baensch, president, Baensch International
Group, USA.

Oye Ibidapo-Obe, a
former vice chancellor of the University of Lagos, was chair of the
forum which had in attendance veteran actor Segun Olusola, Yemi
Ogunbiyi of Tanus Communications, Yinka Lawal Solarin, former chair of
the Nigerian Book Fair Trust (NBFT), and publishers and booksellers
from across the country.

Samuel Kolawole,
chief host and current chair of the NBFT, described the book fair as a
milestone in the history of the publishing industry in Nigeria. “We
believe there is no better time to talk about this issue than now. The
developed world has moved far away from where we are in Africa
regarding publishing,” Kolawole said.

“Technology has
impacted on the process of publishing the book and the book itself.
Today we have chosen two speakers to throw light on what is going on in
the developed world.

“Some years ago
mobile technology was something we never thought will grow in Nigeria,
but the story is different today. Infrastructure affects technology but
we should not let that deter us. Let us take something away from here,”
he added.


Baensch’s address
was illustrative and he revealed some current trends in contemporary
e-publishing. The international publishing specialist discussed the
history of books, the early e-book, its initial success and how those
who made positive forecasts about its future were eventually
disappointed. Baensch, who also distinguished between extractive and
immersive books (books from which the reader pulls information and
books that one reads from cover to cover), offered some tips to
Nigerian publishers.

He told them that
they have to define their customers to maximise the benefits of digital
publishing. Defining new distribution and retail channels; developing
new goals which will demand new strategies and new technologies and
good management of people and publishing programmes were also
highlighted by Baensch. But most importantly, he told the publishers to
focus on quality content because “it is the real value for long term

No hiding from technology

Ibidapo-Obe, who
gave a short speech after the keynote address, noted that technology is
a product of globalisation and we cannot run away from it. “We must
find a way to harness technology to our future otherwise we may once
again be enslaved,” he stated. “Students have difficulties in using the
library. Publishers should make online versions available to students.”

The current
president of the Nigerian Academy of Science and vice chancellor at the
University of Ebonyi stated that he has a personal preference for books
but has come to terms with technology. “Whenever I go to a city, I like
to visit the university bookshop there. But we cannot run away from
technology,” he stated.

Samuel Eyitayo, a
librarian at the U.S. Consulate General, who delivered a paper titled
‘Book, Technology and Infrastructural Development: What the Future
Holds for Nigeria’, predicted that, “in the near future book production
is likely going to move almost exclusively onto the digital platform.”

He also made
recommendations to help push the growth of digital publishing in
Nigeria. “There must be an arm of your organisation that is researching
and monitoring what is going on in the industry as it relates to the
use of technology.”

He added that,
“The Nigerian Copyrights Commission should be well funded, staffed and
equipped to effectively tackle copyright infringements especially
within the new realm of technological realities.”

Reward for excellence

The conference was
also an opportunity to give awards to those who have consistently
exhibited since the inception of the fair 10 years ago and those who
have contributed to the success of the NIBF.

Dayo Alabi, the
first chair of the NIBF, revealed how the body was created during the
presentation ceremony. “It was in August 1998 that we were invited to
the Zimbabwe International Book Fair which was the only viable book
fair in Africa at the time.” Participants at the fair decided to form a
similar association in Nigeria when they returned. “The federal
government gave us 10 million (naira) when we started and Professor
Chukwuemeka Ike convened the first meeting of stakeholders in
publishing in Nigeria,” he added.

The award
recipients included individuals, publishers, and booksellers.
Recipients of awards for consistent exhibitions included: Macmillan
Publishers, Mosuro The Booksellers Limited, Academy Press, Literamed
Publications, Africana First Publishers and HEBN Publishers Plc.

Awardees in the
second category included: Segun Olusola, Yinka Lawal Solarin, Repro
India Ltd, sponsors of the book fair and University Press PLC.

We‘ll get there

Kolawole shed more
light on digital publishing, challenges that would likely beset its
proliferation and its effect on the existence of printed books after
the ceremony.

“The challenges
are in terms of infrastructure. We know the state of electricity supply
in Nigeria today. You need access to internet broadband. The level of
broadband deployment in Ghana is higher than that of Nigeria. We’ll get
there someday. Those are the challenges we are facing,” he said.

“Someone raised
the issue of piracy. If the hard book is being pirated, what will
happen to the digital content which you can see on the internet? A lot
of things can happen when you put your book in digital format
especially in a country like Nigeria. But we can’t say because of the
challenges of today we won’t prepare for the opportunities of
tomorrow,” he added.

On whether digital
publishing could lead to the extinction of physical books, Kolawole
asserts: “It’s not going to go into extinction, especially in Nigeria.
Students in our primary and secondary schools will still need to have
access to these hard books.

“You can talk
about the cities that so many schools are now using e-learning, but
what is the percentage of those schools compared with those that are in
rural areas that don’t even have chairs and tables to sit and write,
and you are talking about Kindles and Amazon.com? It doesn’t mean
anything to them.” He added that, “Until we reach the level of making
provisions for all those people, the hard book will still continue to
exist in Nigeria but of course technology too will have its impact. I
believe the hard book will still continue to exist especially in the
textbook segment.”

Kolawole also touched on the effect of digital publishing on the
Nigerian economy. “We should bring out books on our culture, on our
history, on our ways of life in the format that the international world
will want to read. If we are able to do this, we’ll be able to bring
foreign exchange into Nigeria.”

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