For the past two years I had the privilege to curate the Human Rights Book Faire on behalf of the Constitution Hill in Johannesburg – this year’s was held last weekend on 25 and 26 March. The event has demonstrated the ingenuity, dynamism and resilience of the publishing sector in South Africa – particularly as it also highlighted the emergence of independent publishing; many young authors tackling interesting subjects; and tenacious independent book retailers who have survived the COVID-19 lockdowns. All the participants have been saying to me they can’t afford to wait a year for the Human Rights Book Faire – they need another event in between. I have made a commitment to them that this September I’ll mount a pan African book faire. September is celebrated as a Heritage Month and furthermore, September 8 is recognised as the International Literacy Day. As the book faire will piggyback on my already established brand of quarterly webinars and hybrid events, Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition which was launched in December 2020, it will be known as the Biashara Pan-African Book Faire. Biashara is a kiSwahili word meaning trade/commerce – this means we will be talking about the business of selling and buying published materials!
The publishing industry in Africa is growing, but it still faces significant challenges. The industry is diverse, with a range of independent and multinational publishers operating across the continent. However, there are several factors that impact the growth and development of the publishing industry in Africa, including:
- Limited funding: Funding is a significant challenge for many publishers in Africa, particularly those working in countries with limited financial resources. As a result, many publishers struggle to invest in new technologies and infrastructure or pay for the distribution and marketing of their books.
- Low literacy rates: Despite progress in recent years, many countries in Africa still have low literacy rates. This limits the market for books and makes it difficult for publishers to make a profit.
- Limited distribution networks: The distribution networks for books in Africa are often limited and underdeveloped. This makes it difficult for publishers to reach readers outside of major cities and urban centres.
- Piracy: Piracy is a significant issue in the publishing industry in Africa. It is estimated that as much as 40% of all books sold in Africa are pirated copies, which hurts legitimate publishers and authors.
- Limited access to technology: Many publishers in Africa do not have access to the same technology and resources as their counterparts in developed countries. This limits their ability to create high-quality books and compete in the global market.
Despite these challenges, there are many positive developments in the publishing industry in Africa. Many publishers are finding innovative ways to overcome these challenges and reach new readers, such as using digital publishing and partnering with international publishers. There is also a growing demand for books in local languages and a renewed interest in promoting African literature both within Africa and internationally.
- Language barriers: In addition to low literacy rates, language barriers pose a significant challenge for the publishing industry in Africa. Many African languages are not widely spoken outside of specific regions or communities, making it difficult for publishers to reach a wider audience.
- Limited government support: Many African governments do not prioritize the development of the publishing industry, which can limit the industry’s growth and development. This can include limited support for initiatives such as literacy programs, book festivals, and subsidies for local publishers.
- Limited access to education and training: Many African countries lack formal education and training programs for publishing professionals. This can limit the development of local talent and make it difficult for publishers to recruit and retain skilled staff.
- Cultural and societal factors: Cultural and societal factors can also impact the publishing industry in Africa. For example, there may be cultural taboos around certain topics or genres, which can limit the range of books that are published and sold.
Despite these challenges, there are many positive developments in the publishing industry in Africa. For example, there is a growing interest in African literature both within and outside of Africa. Many publishers are also finding innovative ways to overcome these challenges, such as using digital publishing and partnering with international publishers. Additionally, there are initiatives underway to support the development of the industry, such as the African Publishers Network and the African Books Collective. These efforts are helping to promote African literature and support the growth and development of the publishing industry in Africa.
Opportunities for publishing in Africa
There are several opportunities for publishing in Africa, given the continent’s rich cultural heritage, diverse languages, and increasing literacy rates.
Firstly, there is a growing demand for books in African languages. While English and French are the official languages of many African countries, there are hundreds of other languages spoken across the continent. Many publishers are recognizing the importance of publishing books in these languages, as it allows for greater access to literature and promotes cultural diversity. There are also opportunities for publishers to translate books into different African languages, increasing the availability of books to readers across the continent.
Secondly, there is a rising interest in African literature worldwide. African authors are gaining international recognition, with many winning major literary prizes and gaining widespread acclaim. This presents an opportunity for publishers to tap into the global market and showcase the diverse range of African voices and stories. African literature also presents a unique perspective on global issues and allows for a deeper understanding of the continent’s history and culture.
Thirdly, there is a growing interest in digital publishing across the continent. Many African countries have limited physical bookstores, and e-books and online platforms offer a more accessible and cost-effective way for readers to access literature. Publishers can take advantage of this trend by investing in digital publishing platforms and developing e-books that cater to local markets.
Finally, there is an opportunity for publishers to collaborate with African writers and illustrators to produce children’s literature that reflects the diversity of the continent. There is a shortage of locally produced children’s books in many African countries, and many children grow up reading books that do not represent their culture or experiences. Publishers can work with local authors and illustrators to create engaging and educational children’s books that resonate with African readers.
The subsidiary sectors to the publishing industry to participate
The publishing industry relied on various subsidiary sectors to support its operations. These sectors, including printing, distribution, marketing, and digital publishing, were crucial in ensuring that the industry was able to produce and distribute content efficiently and effectively. Each sector had to stay up to date with the latest technologies and techniques to ensure that their products met the standards of publishers and readers alike.
These sectors were crucial in ensuring that books, magazines, and other forms of written content were produced and distributed efficiently and effectively.
One such sector was the printing industry. Publishers relied on printers to create physical copies of their books and other materials. This industry was not only responsible for producing the physical copies of the content but also for ensuring that the quality of the printing was high and that the finished product was aesthetically pleasing. Printers had to stay up to date with the latest printing technologies and techniques to ensure that their products met the standards of publishers and readers alike.
Another important sector was the distribution industry. Publishers relied on distributors to transport their books and magazines to bookstores, libraries, and other outlets. The distribution sector was responsible for ensuring that the products reached their intended destinations on time and in good condition. This industry also had to stay up to date with the latest technologies and techniques to ensure that the products were transported efficiently and cost-effectively.
The marketing sector was also crucial to the publishing industry. Publishers relied on marketers to promote their books and magazines to potential readers. Marketers had to stay up to date with the latest marketing techniques and technologies to ensure that their promotional efforts were effective. They had to identify the target audience for each product and develop marketing campaigns that would appeal to that audience.
There are several opportunities for publishing in Africa, and with the right investment and support, the industry has the potential to grow and thrive, promoting literacy and cultural diversity across the continent and beyond.
- Non-fiction and educational publishing: There is a growing demand for non-fiction books in Africa that cover topics such as history, politics, business, and science. Educational publishing is also a promising area, as access to quality education is still limited in many parts of the continent.
- Indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage: Africa is home to a rich and diverse range of indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage. Publishers can capitalize on this by producing books that document and celebrate the continent’s cultural practices, traditions, and beliefs.
- Local publishing and distribution networks: Many African countries have limited infrastructure for publishing and distributing books. Publishers can work with local distributors and booksellers to establish efficient distribution networks that reach readers in remote and underserved areas.
- Digital storytelling and multimedia content: With the growth of digital media, there are opportunities for publishers to produce multimedia content, such as podcasts, videos, and interactive digital books, that engage readers in new and innovative ways.
- Collaborations and partnerships: Collaborating with other publishers, writers, illustrators, and organizations can open up new opportunities for publishers to reach wider audiences and develop new projects. Partnerships with libraries, schools, and community organizations can also help to promote literacy and reading culture.
Overall, there are many opportunities for publishing in Africa, and publishers who are willing to invest in the continent’s rich literary heritage and diverse cultures can make a significant impact on the continent’s reading culture and promote literacy and education.
The purpose of this proposal is to suggest the development of a Pan-African Book Fair in South Africa. The goal of this event is to bring together authors, publishers, readers, and other stakeholders in the African literary industry to celebrate and showcase the diversity and richness of African literature.
- To promote African literature and encourage reading across the continent.
- To provide a platform for African authors and publishers to showcase their work and connect with readers and other industry stakeholders.
- To encourage cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the sharing of African stories and experiences.
- To celebrate the diversity and richness of African literature, and promote African languages and cultures.
The event will include a wide range of activities, including:
- Book readings: African authors from across the continent will be invited to read from their latest works and engage with readers.
- Panel discussions: Experts from the African literary industry will be invited to participate in panel discussions on a variety of topics, including publishing, translation, and the role of literature in promoting social change.
- Workshops: Workshops will be organized to provide aspiring African writers with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the industry.
- Book sales: Publishers from across the continent will be invited to showcase their latest publications, and attendees will have the opportunity to purchase books and other literary materials.
- Cultural activities: The event will feature cultural performances, including music and dance, to showcase the diversity of African cultures.
- Participants: The event will be open to the public, with tickets available for purchase online and at the door. Authors, publishers, and other industry stakeholders will be invited to participate in the event, with travel and accommodation expenses covered by the organizers.
The budget for the event will depend on the scale and scope of the activities. Funding for the event will be sourced from a variety of sources, including sponsorships from African governments and corporations, grants from international organizations, and revenue generated from ticket sales and book sales.
The development of the Biashara Pan-African Book Faire will provide a unique opportunity for African authors, publishers, and other industry stakeholders to showcase their work and connect with readers and other stakeholders in the African literary industry. It will also promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding, celebrate the diversity and richness of African literature, and encourage reading and literacy across the continent.
To ensure the smooth running of the event, several logistics need to be put in place. These include:
- Venue: A suitable venue must be identified and reserved for the event. The venue should be easily accessible, have adequate parking space, and be able to accommodate the expected number of attendees.
- Accommodation: Participants who will be traveling from other parts of the continent will need to be accommodated. Accommodation arrangements should be made in advance and should be affordable and comfortable.
- Transport: Arrangements should be made to transport participants to and from the venue. This includes airport transfers, shuttle services, and other transport arrangements.
- Security: Security is a critical aspect of any event, and adequate measures must be put in place to ensure the safety of participants and attendees.
- Audiovisual equipment: Adequate audiovisual equipment should be made available to ensure that all activities are adequately captured and shared.
- Catering: Refreshments and meals should be made available for participants and attendees throughout the duration of the event.
- Signage and branding: The event should be branded with appropriate signage and branding materials to create awareness and promote the event.
Sustainability is an essential aspect of any event, and the organizers must ensure that the event is sustainable. Some of the ways to ensure sustainability include:
- Waste management: Adequate waste management systems should be put in place to ensure that waste is properly disposed of and recycled where possible.
- Carbon footprint: Efforts should be made to reduce the carbon footprint of the event. This includes using renewable energy sources where possible and promoting environmentally-friendly practices.
- Community engagement: The event should engage the local community and involve them in the planning and execution of the event. This will help to create a sense of ownership and promote community development.
Partnerships are critical to the success of the Biashara Pan-African Book Faire. We will seek partnerships with organizations, institutions, and individuals who can contribute to the success of the event. Some potential partners include:
- African publishers: African publishers are critical to the success of the event as they are the ones who produce and distribute African literature. The organizers should partner with African publishers to showcase their latest publications and promote their work.
- African embassies and cultural centres: African embassies and cultural centres across the continent can play a significant role in promoting the event and encouraging participation from their respective countries.
- African writers’ associations: African writers’ associations, such as the Pan African Writers Association; National Writers Association of South Africa; Association of Nigerian Authors; the Zimbabwe Writers Union; and the African Writers Trust can be valuable partners in promoting the event and mobilizing their members to participate.
- African universities: African universities with strong literary programs can be valuable partners in promoting the event and providing resources and expertise.
- African governments: African governments can provide financial and other forms of support for the event, especially those governments that have made a commitment to promoting the arts and culture in their countries.
The program for the Biashara Pan-African Book Faire will be diverse, inclusive, and engaging to attract a wide range of participants and attendees. The program can include:
- Book launches: Book launches are an excellent way to showcase new publications and authors. The event can feature book launches by African publishers and authors.
- Author talks and panel discussions: Author talks and panel discussions can provide an opportunity for African authors to share their experiences and perspectives on various literary topics. The event can feature discussions on African literature, the publishing industry, and the role of literature in promoting social justice and democracy.
- Writing workshops: Writing workshops can be organized to provide aspiring African writers with an opportunity to learn from established writers and improve their writing skills.
- Poetry readings: Poetry readings can be organized to showcase the diversity and richness of African poetry. The event can feature readings by African poets and poets of African descent.
- Children’s literature: Children’s literature is a critical component of the literary industry, and the event can feature activities and sessions aimed at promoting reading and literacy among children.
- Film screenings: The event can also feature film screenings of African literary adaptations or films that explore literary themes.
- Cultural performances: Cultural performances can be organized to showcase the diversity of African cultures, including music, dance, and theatre performances.
The event will be marketed through a variety of channels, including social media, targeted advertising, and partnerships with relevant organizations and media outlets. The event will also be promoted through African embassies and cultural centres across the continent.
Marketing is essential to the success of the Biashara Pan-African Book Faire in South Africa. We will use various marketing channels to promote the event, including:
- Social media: Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn can be used to promote the event and engage with potential participants and attendees.
- Email marketing: Email marketing can be used to reach out to potential participants and attendees and provide them with information about the event.
- Public relations: The organizers can also work with media outlets to secure coverage of the event and promote it to a wider audience.
- Influencer marketing: Influencer marketing can be used to promote the event to a specific audience, such as book bloggers or African literature enthusiasts.
- Partnerships: Partnerships with African publishers, writers’ associations, and universities can also be leveraged to promote the event.
Inclusivity should be a critical consideration in organizing the Biashara Pan-African Book Faire. We will strive to create an event that is accessible to people from all walks of life and promotes diversity and inclusion. This can be done by:
- Language: The organizers should ensure that the event is accessible to people who speak different languages by providing translation services and providing books in multiple languages.
- Accessibility: The organizers should ensure that the venue is accessible to people with disabilities by providing wheelchair ramps, accessible restrooms, and other necessary accommodations.
- Diversity: The organizers should strive to promote diversity in the program by inviting authors and speakers from different regions and backgrounds.
- Representation: The organizers should ensure that the event represents the diversity of African literature by including books from different genres, languages, and publishers.
- Affordability: The organizers should ensure that the event is affordable to encourage participation and attendance by people from different socio-economic backgrounds.
To evaluate the success of the event, we will set clear and measurable objectives and collect data throughout the event. This can include:
- Attendance: The number of attendees can be used to evaluate the success of the event.
- Sales: The number of books sold and revenue generated can be used to evaluate the success of the event.
- Feedback: Feedback from participants and attendees can provide valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the event and help to improve future events.
- Media coverage: Media coverage can be used to evaluate the reach and impact of the event.
- Social media engagement: Social media engagement can be used to evaluate the level of interest and engagement in the event.
In conclusion, the Biashara Pan-African Book Faire presents an excellent opportunity to celebrate African literature, promote cross-cultural dialogue, and encourage reading and literacy across the continent. We will consider inclusivity, sustainability, logistics, funding, evaluation, collaboration, and marketing in planning and executing the event. With the right support and funding, the event has the potential to become a flagship literary event in Africa and contribute significantly to the development of the African literary industry.
Interested in participating and partnering with us, please do reach out.
Enjoy your weekend.
Saul Molobi (FCIM)
Publisher, Group Chairman & CEO
Tel: +27 11 759 4297
Mobile: +27 83 635 7773