This Economist article highlights the sad truth that even though 2007 has been "the year of the Nigerian writer", it has not been the same for the Nigerian Reader. It's harder to change behaviour in grown adults than it is in our children, so the focus should be on the next generation. So, how DO we get our children excited about reading amidst the poor infrastructure around education and health in Nigeria? Should we wait till we've solved all our other "big" problems? It's good to see there are those out there who are keen to get Nigerians reading (again?). And for those who feel like doing something about it this minute, here are just some ways: One Laptop Per Child and Merry Hearts.
BLEAK PUBLISHING HOUSES - The Economist
Award-winning novelists have more readers abroad than at home
WHEN a bookstore in Makurdi, the central state of Benue, wants to buy Chimamanda Adichie's latest novel, "Half of a Yellow Sun", it sends a text message to Muhtar Bakare in Lagos, down south. Mr Bakare, a publisher who heads Kachifo, replies with a bank account number and a price. Once the money is transferred from Makurdi to Lagos, Mr Bakare loads the books onto a public bus, which then begins a day-long trip to the other side of Africa's most populous country.
Though Ms Adichie's second novel, winner of this year's Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, may have sold over 240,000 copies in Britain, in Nigeria it has shifted barely 5,000. Her book, like others by Nigeria's novelists, is stuck, often literally, in a publishing industry in shambles.
Nigeria was once the centre of literary publishing in west Africa—not just for local companies but international houses as well. But when military rule and economic decline saw much of the middle class flee in the 1980s, the publishers left too. Today, there is no distribution network and scant demand for fiction.
In order to survive, publishers switched from literature to textbooks, certain to be bought by students and schools. Fiction is much harder to sell. By the time a novel is printed and transported across the country, the price may be as much as a tenth of an average worker's monthly salary. Ms Adichie's novel costs N850 ($7.30) from Kachifo and goes up to N1,500 in bookshops in Abuja, the capital. Far more readers choose self-help and religious books that are supposed to have a more immediate pay-off.
So pity the enthusiasts who persist in trying to sell novels. Mr Bakare likens his business to the telecom industry, which has had to build its own infrastructure from scratch. He is not building roads or relay towers but a network of bookstores, buses, taxis and bank transfers. Cassava Republic, a publisher founded last year, operates with a low profit margin for now, in the hope that it can cultivate a loyal base of readers that will one day meet costs. The founder, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, says she wants her customers' "intellectual hunger to be as pressing as their stomachs".
Her hard work may just be paying off. Ms Adichie says she is starting to get e-mails from all over the country—from Kaduna in the north, Lagos in the south and Makurdi in-between. She is flattered by the foreign attention but says that Nigerians are still her most important audience. "Half of a Yellow Sun" is mainly about the Biafran War, a conflict that, from 1967-1970, split Nigeria apart; its scars still linger. Ms Adichie is telling Nigerians about a history that was never taught in school—and which she wants more of her countrymen to know about.
Muhtar Bakare launched his publishing business Kachifo Limited, which trades under the name Farafina, in June 2002. (Check out their free online magazine @ www.farafinamagazine.com )Over the last couple of years, "Farafina has become one of the most energetic and forward looking book-publishing companies in Nigeria... attempting to balance cost, quality and marketing with the kind of self-confidence not common in that industry." (Nigeria Daily News)