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Sunday August 11, 2019


Say hello to Publish MENA, a sister newsletter to Publish Africa

Why this edition of Publish Africa is late

Some of you may have noticed this newsletter is landing in your inboxes on Sunday, not last Thursday as expected.

In fact this issue of Publish Africa was intended to go live Thursday alongside the launch of a new newsletter, Publish MENA, which in fact did go out on Thursday.

Publish MENA had been planned for launch in October, to mark the Sharjah International Book Fair, but that schedule was brought forward as news emerged that the International Publishers Association would be holding its first ever Middle East Region Seminar at end September.

That oughtn't to have impacted on the release of Publish Africa  #4, but Africa is a constant triumph of hope over experience. I won't bore you with the excuses - just a brief apology for interrupting your Sunday with this better-late-than-never Publish Africa edition.

Publish Africa will be back to its normal every other Thursday dates starting Thursday August 22,

Publish MENA #2 will appear Thursday August 15 and every other Thursday thereafter,

MENA of course stands for Middle East North Africa, so expect some overlap between the two newsletters where North Africa is concerned.

Welcome to issue #4 of Publish Africa – the digital advantage.

The Maghreb and the digital opportunity

Seizing the digital advantage in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria


The Maghreb Book Fair celebrated its 25th edition earlier this year. That was back in February, and it evoked a review of the region’s publishing by literary critic Kenza in Le Monde.

Last month an English translation of the article appeared on Read African Books.

The insights were at once exciting and depressing.

It’s in Paris where publishers coming from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia meet. It’s here where writers from the three countries come together, many of whom live in France or Europe, and many are from the diaspora.

To the south of the Mediterranean, the meetings that do take place – the Casablanca international book fair in February, the Tunis international book fair in April, and the Algiers international book fair in October – are not strong points of the Maghreb as a whole. Official delegations can be found there, but the independent publishers stay away. These events are organised by the ministries and not the publishers’ associations.

The ministries announce their programmes very late in the day, which does not allow for the organisation of genuine representation, nor to put together an author programme worthy of its name.

At which point pause for thought, because those aforementioned book fairs are not token village fairs where handful of booklovers turn out to browse.

The most recent events all set new visitor records. Tunis clocked well over 50,000 visitorsCasablanca passed the half million mark, while Algiers retained its position as one of the largest book fairs in the world, with 2.2 million turning out.

In fact many Arab countries are among the top tier of global book fairs when it comes to visitor numbers. Sharjah regularly sees upwards of 2 million or more visitors, Oman, Iraq and Saudi Arabia are all in the million-visitor club, while Egypt holds the record, with the Cairo International Book Fair the largest in the world by visitor numbers.

Yet the perception continues that Arabs don’t read, and notwithstanding the Arab book market is worth $1.7 billion, the idea that Arabs don’t read is partly born of the reality that, across MENA, books are not always easy to come by.

Back to the Sefrioui post:

"Our literature and intellectual life suffer from the consequences of the non-integration of the Maghreb: closed borders between Morocco and Algeria, the exorbitant cost of transporting books … It is much easier to read an Algerian or Tunisian author in Casablanca in a French edition than in an Algerian or Tunisian edition at a price adjusted to accommodate comparable purchasing power. Co-publishing and cooperative initiatives are too few vis-à-vis needs. There is no shared database to keep track of our respective works in our multiple languages."

Bookstores, says Sefrioui,

"Tend to promote imported editions, which earn them greater margins. The average price of a book published in Morocco is 72 dirhams ($7.5), whilst a book published in France at 20 euros arrives in Moroccan bookshops at around 250 ($26).

"…There are not enough public libraries – there are fewer than 600 in Morocco for almost 24 million inhabitants.

"Less than 10% of Moroccan publications show an interest in the rest of the world; of which less than 1% are interested in the Maghreb."

The post goes on to explain how, because France dominates production in these countries for obvious historical reasons,

"No country in the Maghreb is the centre of gravity of its own literary and intellectual production. A number of our authors try their luck in the better run circuits – in France for the Francophones, and in Libya and Egypt for the Arabophones, from which they hope for better editorial support and promotion. But this cuts off their production from the readership for whom it is first destined."

Sefrioui is to be commended for not turning this into a post-colonial rant where all ills are blamed on events from decades past, which often prejudices the otherwise rational debate about sub-Saharan publishing problems.

"Certainly, the French publishers allowed these works to come into existence in an era, still recent, when there were no publishing structures in the Maghreb, or indeed despite the censorship of undemocratic regimes. Their contribution to the constitution of our literary pantheons is to be saluted."

Sefrioui concludes,

"There is an urgent need to structure the book sector in the Maghreb countries: so that ancient cultural exchanges between our countries do not dry up; to rebalance the exchanges we do have with France and to allow them to become a true dialogue. And above all, genuinely to be able to speak of democratisation in our countries. The derisory contribution of books to our economies reveals how this elementary human right, which is culture, is not guaranteed to us. The human cost of this obstacle to knowledge, dreams and the possibility of sanely imagining our future is severe. We have all paid too much for it."

Kenza Sefrioui, the article notes, is the co-founder of En toutes lettres, a publishing house based in Casablanca, and a member of the International Alliance of Independent Publishers.

What’s missing from this discourse is the digital element.

Might digital offer a simple and elegant solution to the issue of Maghreb book distribution and access?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, because Tunisia alone has close to 8 million people online, while Algeria has 21 million and Morocco 22 million. That’s a lot of people that could be reading books on their smartphones, were those books digitized and available.

But mostly, of course, that is not happening. Algeria has two ebooks stores operated by the state telco Algérie Télécom. One is in French, Fimaktabati,  and the other in Arabic, Nooonbooks

Neither are setting the publishing world on fire with engagement, for the simple reason there are so few books to choose from.

It’s the classic chicken and egg problem for digital – few publishers digitise their books and therefore few consumers bother to browse the ebooks and audiobooks that are available.

Yet as we see time and time again around the world, where a decent choice of digital books are made available at affordable prices the demand soars.

And because there are no printing, warehousing and distribution costs involved digital books can be sold at low prices and still deliver as much or more profit than a print book.

In Publish MENA we’ll be looking closely at how digital is transforming publishing prospects around the globe, with the caution that there are no instant fixes to the problem of few digital retail outlets and services working the Arab markets right now.

That too is part of the chicken and egg problem. If publishers don’t digitise, content isn’t there to make investment in retail and subscription worthwhile, and therefore consumers do not pay in sufficient numbers to justify the time and expense of digitising.

But as we’ll see in the following items, digital books are no fad and can deliver lucrative revenue streams to those publishers willing to engage.

A reminder: in the Maghreb region of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria alone there are around 50 million people online, using devices that could be consuming digital books on.

All told there are over 230 million people online across Arab MENA, and globally our potential audience is 4.3 billion. In all cases that’s growing fast.

As we start the third decade of the twenty-first century the question to be asking is not, “is it worth us digitising and developing a hybrid print and digital business?” but rather “how can we hope to remain competitive if we carry on with a business model that ignores hundreds of millions of people for whom digital is a part of their daily lives?”

This post first appeared in Publish MENA on August 8 2019

“Adapting to the context and speed of the world.” Cape Verde delivers a lesson for publishers as the tiny African nation embraces 5G

Ignore the future and it will leave you in the past


Cape Verde’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Olavo Correia announced plans this week to put the archipelago at the forefront of the internet revolution by being among the first countries in the world to embrace 5G technology.

Supported by China’s Huawei, this bold initiative in an island nation of 560,000, with just 352,000 online, is indicative of a bigger picture whereby many of the world’s emerging markets are leapfrogging entire stages of technological development.

I’m writing this from The Gambia, West Africa, ranked twelfth poorest country on the planet. Ten years ago it was 2G mobile phones and dial-up internet via an expensive hotel. Today pretty much everyone has a smartphone and a3G or 4G connection.

Ebooks? They may as well not exist, although

And that’s the story behind the story with this item.

Ten years ago the idea of making book rights available for a country like The Gambia or Cape Verde or pretty much any African country was laughable. Outside a few key countries like South Africa the continent was considered a dead end for books.

In many ways it still is. If I want to find the latest bestsellers in print I need to hustle at the hotels and see what the tourists have left behind.

If I want to buy ebooks I can. With my British ex-pat credentials, that is. As a Gambian the best I can hope for is a handful of crazy priced titles from the Kobo international store.  Amazon? Apple? Google Play? Those ebook stores aren’t even visible here.

Were I in South Africa it would be a different story. Google play is there, Kobo is there, and while there is no Kindle ZA store Kindle ebooks can be bought from South Africa.

Why? Because publishers have long since been making available rights for South African distribution.

South Africa, by the way, is one of the few countries where 5G is already live. Back in February of this year the data-only mobile operator Rain launched the country’s first 5G commercial network, again in partnership with Huawei.

But let’s get back to Cape Verde.

Asked why Cape Verde should be looking at to get 5G when many developed nations have yet to make that leap, Olavo Correia said,

We have to adapt to the context and the speed of the world. We can’t adjust the world to our speed, we have to adjust our speed to the speed of the world.

A lesson for publishers everywhere.

Uganda’s Kampala Book Market

The place to be in Kampala on the first Saturday of the month

Back in early 2018 when the French journalist Caroline Broué asked the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie whether there were any bookstores in Nigeria there was understandable anger from the African literary community, but a lot of it was self-righteous and rather ignored the reality that, for many countries in Africa, bookstores are few and far between and are unlikely to stock anything other than school and college books.

More on Nigerian bookstores in the next item. Here just to briefly visit, via David Kanye, the Kampala Book Market in Uganda.
"On a lazy Saturday morning when all you want to do is sit back and unwind, there is one place you would rather be. The Kampala Book Market.

Running for now its 17th edition, the Kampala Book Market is a community market where book sellers gather to make book sales. It is the place where book readers meet with the different book sellers in one place with all the variety of collections at a discount."

The event, the brainchild of The African Studies Bookstore founder Watson Atukwatse, works in partnership with Turn The Page AfricaFemriteAfrican Writers Trust and The Lantern Meet Foundation.

At the end of the day, Kanye writes,

"The Lantern Meet Foundation also hosts the Ibua Lounge, a poetry production that celebrates Ugandan poets one by one. The poetry production takes place in the car gallery in the Uganda Museum. It is always an exciting place to be on a Saturday afternoon."

No, nothing about digital here. A reminder that Publish Africa is about all publishing, even if our core focus is the digital advantage.

Zimbabwe International Book Fair 1


An online presentation

In a post on TNPS this past week we took a look at the latest Africa internet figures in the lead-up to an online presentation we posted on the StreetLib Zimbabwe publisher portal page.

  • Rwanda has now just shy of 6 million internet users.
  • Both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are now at 11 million each.
  • Ethiopia has topped 20 million people online.
  • South Africa now has more internet users than Canada.
  • Tanzania has taken us all by surprise and is now at 43 million, alongside Kenya. Both have more people online than Spain.
  • Out in front, by a long way, is Nigeria, which has jumped to 119 million people online, and is now the 6th largest country in the world by internet users, ahead of Russia and Japan.

The Zimbabwe presentation was an updated and localized version of the presentation we delivered for the Nigeria International Book Fair back in March.
Zimbabwe was among the movers and shakers as the global internet statistics were updated at the half-year mark. Today Zimbabwe has 8.4 million people online, while across Africa the total rose to 525 million — over 200 million more than the USA.

StreetLib CEO Giacomo D’Angelo said in the press release,

“Africa is often regarded as a digital backwater, but the reality is very different. Nigeria is the 6th largest country in the world by internet users, with more people online than the UK, Germany, Russia or Japan.
Kenya and Tanzania both have more internet users than Spain.
With 8.4 million people Zimbabwe is far from the biggest, but Zim publishing still has much to gain from embracing the digital advantage.
In our presentation to mark the Zimbabwe book fair this year we note that New Zealand has a digital book sector worth $37 million (ZWD 13.4 billion) with an online population of just 4.2 million people — half that of Zimbabwe.
Among the sub-themes of the Zim IBF Indaba this year is “Mutation and the Evolution of the Book,” “Moving into the future — the Virtual Library” and “Print to e-Books.”
Regrettably we cannot be there in person this year to support those themes, but our presentation should go some way to validating the need for Zim publishers to embrace a hybrid print and digital business model for the next decade.”

The presentation “Zimbabwe International Book fair 2019 — the digital advantage” can be found on the StreetLib Zimbabwe publisher portal page here.

Zimbabwe International Book Fair 2

A football match with footballers but no spectators

"IMAGINE a football match where you only find footballers and no fans, media or any other stakeholders. The stakeholders will be insisting that their presence does not matter. The footballers would just play because of passion, even with no spectators around."

That was Beniah Munengwa describing the Zombabwe International Book Fair in Zimbabwe's NewsDay.

"The book extravaganza — once the pride of Africa — is now just a place where writers meet and reminisce over the past or discuss what could have been."

It's a depressing report that I won't dwell on too much, but let's pick up how Munengwa ends this piece.

"Other methods (need) to be found for the betterment of the fair. One such is social media marketing and presence.

In spite of my compound interests in issues of literature, I only learnt of the commencement of the indaba after a day had already passed. Given that the ZIBF had a vibrant online presence, I am sure a couple of other people would have been present, no doubt.

The future is, however, still open and a solution needs to be found to put the broken pieces together."

It's a reminder that, when we in Publish Africa talk about digital's role in developing the continent's book markets we mean much more than just ebooks.

It's a tragedy that, at one end of the continent, on the Mediterranean borders, two of the world's largest book fairs are happening, drawing crowds literally of millions each, while in Zimbabwe there's barely enough visitors to fill a coach.

But one thing the Egyptian and Algerian book fairs have, that was sorely lacking with Zimbabwe, was serious engagement on social media and the web to let people know the event was happening.

That might not have mattered so much ten years ago, but today there are 8.4 million Zimbabweans online, and as we are so often told, they spend a lot of time on social media.

Which brings us neatly to our next item.

While some publishers see social media as the enemy, others understand instagram = instabooks = instaprofits

Social media is not the enemy

We hear it so often it’s easy to start believing it. Nobody reads because they are all on social media on their smartphones.

And let’s be honest. It’s easy to buy into that narrative. Just take a look around. It seems practically everyone is glued to their smartphone instead of reading books.

Or so the story goes. And if they’re not on their smartphones they are glued to the TV watching streamed video.

Or, criminal beyond compare, they are watching Netflix on their smartphones. Publishers may as well pack up and go home.

And yet… If we enquired a little closer and were brave enough to ask a few of these smartphone addicts what they use their phones for we might be pleasantly surprised.

Audiobooks. Ebooks. Social media related to books. Come to that, social media related to publishing. Hands up how many of you are reading this on a smartphone?

Ah, you may argue, that’s different. We are the select few who understand how to use smartphones “properly”. It’s everyone else that’s the problem.

Or is it?

Just last month we heard the US audiobook industry was valued at just shy of $1 billion, almost all of it down to consumption on smartphones.

It’s fashionable to play down the role of ebooks nowadays, but in their time (as in the start of this decade) ebook growth was far higher than anything audio is experiencing today. And ebooks still make up a greater share of the book market than audio.

Many will be read on dedicated ereaders, of course, but the majority will be read on smartphone apps.

And how do consumers get to hear about these ebooks in the first place? Through social media on their smartphones, of course.

And while many publishers treat social media as the enemy, others understand it can be their best friend. Take Instagram for example.

Bonnier’s UK imprint Lagom has just acquired world rights to Chantelle Edmunds’ guide to breastfeeding.

The book began life as a day to day documentary of Edmunds’ pregnancy and what followed. It attracted 75,000 followers on Instagram, and that led to a direct approach from Bonnier.

It’s no one-off.

UK publisher Michael Joseph recently launched a book called Hinch Yourself Happy: All the Best Cleaning Tips to Shine Your Sink and Soothe Your Soul.

It sold 160,000 copies in its first three days.

Author Sophie Hinchliff called herself Mrs. Hinch on Instagram, where her posts attracted 1.4 million followers, resulting in an 11-way auction for the book rights.

Hinchcliff went from 1,000 followers to 1.4 million in just six months.

And then the book was published and Hinchliff added another 1 million followers in the next six weeks!

That’s the power of social media many publishers are oblivious to, that could be transforming their prospects.

Just this week comes news that Octopus imprint Cassell has bought the rights to the second set of Dad jokes (as in jokes told by or about fathers) on the Instagram site @DadSaysJokes, which has 1.3 million followers. The first book has been flying off the shelves.

And then there’s Instagram poet and model Sonny Hall, who found Hodder & Stoughton knocking on her door.

Or we could in passing mention the Instagram comic Strange Planet. Author and illustrator Nathan Pyle had the publisher Wildfire clamouring to buy the rights after huge Instagram success.

Or I might mention how Orion Spring in May grabbed the rights to the girl empowerment thoughts of Olivia Purvis, who had has huge success as a blogger, on YouTube and of course on Instagram.

Also in May there was… but no. I won’t mention here Instagram star Charlie Watson’s deal with Qaudrille for her Instagram cookbook Cook, Eat, Run.

Nor will I raise here countless other Instagram-to-book and book-to-Instagram success stories that some savvy publishers are raking in the cash from while others stubbornly resist any notion that social media is anything but harmful to the industry.

All the above-mentioned examples are from the past six months or so, but the social media platform Instagram has been working for authors and publishers for much longer.

Let me end this post with this quote from the Forbes profile of Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, written in 2017.

Kaur, who originally published her poems on Instagram, has transcended the digital world. Her 2014 book, “Milk and Honey,” has sold over 2.5 million copies in 25 languages and spent 77 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller List.

Social media. It’s not the enemy of publishing. And used wisely it can be publishing’s best friend.

This post first appeared on TNPS.

Further reading

It's the end of this newsletter, but here's some essential reading to keep you up to speed with African publishing until next time.

1. "Lusophone, Anglophone authors to converge on Nairobi for Macondo Literary Festival" runs a headline on the James Murua African literature blog.

"Writers who write in English and Portuguese are set to converge on Nairobi for the first Macondo Literary Festival to take place from September 27-29, 2019.

The Macondo Book Society started on a high note as they unveiled a new literary festival called the Macondo Literary Festival to happen in Kenya this September. The festival, which will be hosted at the Kenya National Theatre, will feature writers from Portuguese and English speaking Africa, for conversations, debates, readings on African histories and much more.

Read more here.

2. Staying with James Murua, this time writing in Qaurtz, and there's a fascinating look at some of Africa's top literary festivals.

Read the full post here.

3. Pan-African publishing house Longhorn Publishers  was named 2nd Runners Up in this year’s eKitabu Content Development Challenge held at the Kenya Institute of Special Education at end July

Read more here.


The next Publish Africa newsletter will be hitting your inboxes August 22.
 Thanks for stopping by.

Publish Africa is a bi-weekly review of the Pan-African publishing scene across all formats, but with an unashamed tilt towards the digital opportunity unfolding.

Copyright © 2019 StreetLib, All rights reserved.

Publish Africa is brought to you by Mark Williams


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