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Publishing Conversations in Nigeria

A few weeks ago Sarah Odedina went to Nigeria to speak at a conference and today she wants to share her experiences with you. She will talk about the workshops she gave, the digital forum and something that unites us all.

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. With a presence in six continents and over 100 countries their mission is to bring international opportunity to life, every day.  I was one of the very lucky people to be invited by the British Council to take part in this information-exchange initiative. And I went to Lagos, Nigeria.

I have to say straight off the bat I am completely biased about Nigeria. Having visited before I know first-hand what a brilliant, energetic and innovative place it is.  So the idea of going there to meet and talk with my peers, to share our knowledge and perhaps inspire one another to do things differently was an offer I couldn’t believe I was fortunate enough to receive.

My brief from the British Council was clear – to conduct two days of workshops, one with authors aiming to be published and one with publishers about running a business; to give a key note speech at a digital forum day and to chair a panel discussion about YA fiction as part of the annual LABAF conference in Freedom Park, central Lagos.

The Workshops

The workshops were first.  It was quickly apparent from the large number of attendees that there was a lot of interest in what I was going to share about the publishing world, from my perspective.  What was so fascinating for me was how many of the attendees of the writers workshop were already successful self-published authors who had been grappling with the issues of discoverability, selling price and content without the companionship of a publishing house.

And in the publishers workshop, many of the same people who attended the writers workshop came.  I was fascinated to see that the lines of publisher and author are much more blurred in the Nigerian context and in a country that is vibrant with entrepreneurial energy I should have anticipated that the publishing sector would be equally innovative in its approach to business.

We talk a lot in the UK about self-publishing as the democratic end of our business; it was in Nigeria that I really saw how this works in reality.

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The Digital Forum

The digital forum attendees were the more ‘traditional’ side of publishing.  The group was made up of around fifteen publishers from Sub-Saharan Africa, and Hot Key Books.  Kenyan, Namibian, Gambian, Camerounian, Senegalese and Nigerian publishers all sat together to debate the impact of the digital world on their businesses.  There were publishers there who had been in business since the 1960s and others who were a matter of months old, and amongst them were many people who are entering the business now because of the digital opportunities that are available.

Nigeria’s big publishing challenges are distribution and the all-pervading retail authority of the pirates who quickly get hold of any book that is selling and get their own editions out undercutting the original version on price, and distribution.  A digitally focused sales world may help publishers on both fronts.  First of all content can be delivered directly to the consumer and secondly the retailer and publisher may find ways in which they can compete on price while delivering quality titles within moments.

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A Love of Stories

A week of listening to experts in the field, and talking to people with such a range of experiences certainly educated me on the very different business context in which Nigerian publishers operate.  A week of meeting aspiring writers and attending talks at LABAF, which were packed with passionate readers, made me aware of something that I have long held to be true – that human beings share a love of stories.  It is one of the things that unites us, like the need for food and shelter (to paraphrase Philip Pullman).

While Nigeria and the UK may be operating in different business environments with different challenges to our ability to make our businesses truly efficient, we are as publishers all interested in exactly the same thing: getting the work of authors into the hands of readers.