It's a known fact that promoting African literature within Africa and globally has always been a challenging task, especially in countries like Kenya. The majority of publishers in Africa concentrate on educational publications, and many writers have no other option but to resort to self-publishing. This makes them responsible for financing the printing, marketing, and promotion of their books, putting a significant burden on them. The lack of a structured marketing and distribution system, coupled with the fact that many international book prices only consider traditionally published works, leads to success being determined by the number of friends, family members, or political allies attending book launches or paying high prices for each copy.
To address these challenges, we collaborated with the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), the African Publishers Network (APNET), and NIBF Ambassadors to host a panel session on Moving African Content: Rights trading perspectives during the 24th Nairobi International Book Fair at Sarit Expo Center. The session aimed to discuss book rights buying and selling in Africa, along with the challenges and opportunities. The panel was moderated by former APNET Chair Samuel Kolawole of Nigeria and featured KPA Chair Kamau Kiarie, legal expert Sharon Wata of Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO), Mariana Yasmin Pardini of the Embassy of Argentina in Kenya, and literary agent Raphaël Thierry.
The panel discussion shed light on several aspects of book rights buying and selling, including the fear factor and limited legal knowledge, which are significant drivers of fewer rights buying and selling. According to Kamau Kiarie, several factors contribute to this factor. For instance, rogue publishers do not adhere to negotiated agreements, often exceeding the terms originally set.
"Sometimes we don't work with people because we don't know them, and when we don't know something, sometimes we fear it, and that's the basis of many misunderstandings even in the literary world," noted Raphaël.
African writers and publishers also have limited legal knowledge of book rights buying and selling, and this leads to missed opportunities in rights and fewer rights sold. “Many publishers in Africa don’t have well-defined rights contracts. They usually offer only a brief manuscript that outlines their intent to publish, with annual royalty percentages making it hard to sell book rights,” noted Samuel.
Sharon Wata stressed the importance of bringing up intellectual property discussions when having rights trading discussions and the need for publishers to comprehend the importance of proper agreements and legal frameworks.
However, the future is promising, and organizations like APNET are working on providing training for publishers and offering publishing agreement templates that simplify relationships with authors and literary agents. The panelists shed light on book fairs and festivals, free legal services for publishers by organizations like KECOBO, and grants like the Sur Program of the Argentina Embassy as some opportunities for publishers and authors to consider.
In conclusion, by establishing trust, improving agreements, establishing local and global networks in literary festivals, and receiving support from fellow book enthusiasts, the media and the government, African stories are poised for recognition worldwide. The journey from being predominantly buyers to sellers of literary rights has begun, and we eagerly anticipate further discussions and opportunities to enhance book rights buying and selling. The session was also recorded live on YouTube. You can watch the entire panel discussion using this link.