By Mercy Kirui, Senior Manager, Content, eKitabu.
This year, I had the opportunity to attend The London Book Fair, the UK’s largest publishing and book trade fair. It was a place to see, learn, meet, and share, with a fantastic buzz in the air from thousands of attendees gathering to do business face-to-face. Walking around the Fair, I could clearly see a community of publishers, from the stands for specific countries to the stands for individual publishers large and small. Meeting international publishers in person was a fantastic way to connect and discover more about the titles eKitabu aims to make more accessible and available on the continent.
I met so many interesting people with such positive energy! This included: Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Founder, Cassava Republic Press; Brian Wafawarowa, CEO, Juta and Company; Gbadega Adedapo, CEO, Accessible Publishers, and President, Nigerian Publishers Association; Sarah Ardizzone, French Translator; Emma House, Founder, Oreham Group; Dr. Archna Sharma, Founder, Neem Tree Press Limited; Olivia Snaije, Journalist, Publishing Perspectives; Gvantsa Jobava, Editor and International Relations Manager, Intelekti Publishing, and Vice President of the IPA; Sarah Ozo-Irabor, Director, the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing; Alison Tweed, Chief Executive, Book Aid International; and many, many more. I also attended the opening reception hosted by the UK Publishers Association, and it was great connecting with long-time friends including Kenya’s own Lawrence Njagi, MD, Mountain Top Publishers, and Chairman, African Publishers Network (APNET).
The British Council networking reception was another valuable event held on Wednesday 19th April at the British Council and Department for Business and Trade International Lounge. Networking with colleagues from Africa and beyond was informative and productive; we shared our experiences and discussed how we could grow together.
On the opening day, I was delighted to join a panel discussion alongside Lawrence Njagi, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, and Gbadega Adedapo for the ‘Journey of African Publishing’ seminar.
Here are my top three takeaways from our seminar discussion:
“Technology is a prosthetic!”
Technology can be used to make content more accessible, to catalogue it, to track how it’s being used, and measure the impact of what’s published. Publishers are using technology to widen distribution, and an increasing number of platforms are out there. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf’s comment, “Technology is a prosthetic,” really made me think, especially as it touches on our work with and for people with disabilities. Bibi is right. In relation to books, technology is an artificial means to do things we might not do, or might not be able to do, with a traditional printed book. But as helpful as technology is in packaging and distribution, reading and writing and publishing are about the content, not so much the wrapping or logistics—but the stories, the voices, the ideas, and knowledge. Let’s focus on how to make books more affordable and accessible for all readers.
Taking on book production
Bibi said that when she founded Cassava Republic 17 years ago, she was interested in seeing books written by African people, but also published by African people. “Taking on production was important, and today it’s exciting to see more trade publishers being established,” she said. The real challenge to getting more books to readers, she pointed out, is price. “The question is not whether people want to read but how to make books affordable for more people. We need more Africans owning the means of production.”
When did publishing in Africa actually begin?
“Certainly not with the missionaries who came,” Lawrence Njagi said, “with a Bible and a gun. Long before stories were put down onto paper, Africans already had their audiobooks,” Njagi said, likening audiobooks to the oral traditions of storytelling passed down from mothers and grandmothers.
eKitabu delivers accessible digital content and innovative programs for inclusive and equitable quality education. We are a Kenyan, Rwandan, Malawian, and US company headquartered in Nairobi. The educational impact of learning materials is our foundation and on that proven foundation, we innovate, designing with users and collaborators from the public and private sectors.
Since founding in 2012, eKitabu has brought accessible digital content, inclusive innovations, and programs to engage, recognize and build evidence with children, teachers, people with disabilities, families, and communities, in more than 2,500 schools across 14 countries of Africa. eKitabu works to build a sustainable ecosystem with people and organizations: government ministries, international development actors, technology firms, and local as well as global publishers.