The conversation about whether Nigerians read or not is one that is ever recurring. For publishers, this takes on special significance as their businesses are dependent not just on whether people read, but whether they buy books.
Also, for a lot of ‘purists’, only literary fiction is considered real literature. So many publishers are stuck in the cycle of publishing literary books that go on to sell a few thousand copies, barely covering the cost of production. Meanwhile in other countries, genre fiction makes a killing in profits every year.
This disparity informed the core of the discussions at the 6th CORA Publishers Forum with the theme “Genre Fiction in the Digital Age” which took place at the Goethe Insitut in Lagos on Thursday, November 12, 2015.
Of importance also was the place of digital media in book publishing and sales. The last fifteen years have seen a spike in internet usage and with the arrival of social media, as with every new technology, the fear that the time of the book is past has become a real concern for a lot of publishers.
Debunking this, Bibi Bakare, publisher, Cassava Republic Press said though we do not have the statistics in Nigeria, looking at the United States for example, the sale of Young Adult fiction is at an all time high. Girl Online sold 78,000 hardback copies in the first week of its release. She pointed out that with its high young adult population (ages 12-24), the Nigerian marketplace needs books that target this demography but that is not the case. One of the major challenges that was identified during the discussion is the belief that books for young adults need to have a moral component – a glaring ‘and this is the moral of the story’ – when most times young adults want to read just for entertainment.
The internet was also revealed to be the publisher’s best friend. Okechuwku Ofili, of Okada Books, an online reading platform, said that sites and apps like his promote discoverability. He used his new children’s book Afro as an example, it had first been published online in a different form and the feedback made him turn it into a children’s book which got attention from a reputable publisher in Nigeria. He also mentioned that a lot of unknown writers have massive following online and publishers could tap into digital platforms as a way of discovering ‘new’ writers.
‘Digital piracy thrives where there are no legal ways of getting digital books,’ Okechukwu said, addressing the worry publishers have about their books being pirated once they put them online. He added that since more people read online, they’d look for their favourite books on legal platforms and once they cannot get them there, a vacuum is created which piracy then fills.
The role of social media as a tool for publishers to sell books formed the crux of Elnathan John’s session. Elnathan spoke exclusively about Twitter and gave several examples of how publishers can use trends and hashtags for their benefit.
In the 80s and early 90s, Nigeria had a thriving genre fiction market. In 2015, that market is still there, but it’s no longer thriving. The hope is that publishers will see the potential and the question of whether Nigerians read can be settled once and for all.
The CORA Publishers’ Forum was held in partnership with Goethe Institut and Cassava Republic Press as part of the ongoing Lagos Book and Arts Festival.