Saturday, February 27, 2016
Malawi Embraces Publishers' Diversity
Imagination creates as many books as the mind can hold.
But, naturally, not every dream will be absorbed into reality: Some would-be authors live to see their dreams actualised when publishers give the manuscripts a seal of approval, while others endure the experience of seeing cold water being poured on their manuscripts.
Of course, authors often rate their manuscripts highly and count the eggs before they hatch, yet, it is the publisher who turns the dream into reality. Only authors with promising projects that can negotiate the publisher’s stringent tastes.
No wonder that writers— through the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) — have directed a tide of bitter condemnation at publishers under the Book Publishers Association of Malawi (Bpam), crying foul over their’ [publishers] preference for textbooks at the expense of general books.
Whatever the case, local authors may seek solace in the fact that rejection— which remains one of the most dangerous voids in life— no longer marks the end of one’s dreams to publish a book. Those who emerge from the pit of rejection unbroken and resolute still have a change to actualise their dreams following the influx of publishers in what could best be described as Malawi’s publishing revolution.
Bpam president, Alfred Msadala, observes that Malawian authors are spoilt for choice. He cites the proliferation of textbook publishers as a case in point.
“From a point where we had one publisher for textbooks prior to 1995, we [Bpam] have 19 members and this means we have made head-way and the industry is growing,” says Msadala.
Of the 19 publishers, however, over half seem to have developed preference for textbook publishing or distribution— most notably, Dzuka Publishing Company, Bookmate Publishers, Claim Mabuku, Jhango Publishers, Bookland International, Montfort Media, Bookworm, among others.
According to Msadala, Claim Mabuku publishes, sells and distributes books. It has its own series, dubbed ‘Arise’ which are basically secondary school textbooks.
However, apart from ‘Arise’ series, Claim Mabuku also sells titles from other publishing houses. Life, at Claim, does not revolve around Bibles and hymns.
Then, there is Montfort Media, which has just joined Bpam. The Balaka-based publisher has just rolled out textbooks for Form One.
Blantyre-based Bookland International, which sells general books and series, acts as the representative for Moran Publishers, which publishes IGCE textbooks while Longman Publishers, which was recently bought by Pearson, is another publisher who is locally represented by Anglia Book Distributors. So, even though students still buy dictionaries branded Longman Dictionary, they actually buy a Pearson Dictionary.
JHANGO Publishing is another company that has made strides in the local publishing industry, making its presence felt in publishing secondary school textbooks books.
Bookmate is another player with a niche in the sciences— most notably in the subjects of science and chemistry.
The other publisher, Dzuka Publishing Company, has contributed immensely to the country’s education sector. At one point, the publishing company— which is Bpam’s oldest member— was the only company producing teaching and learning materials prior to 1995.
Dzuka has its own series but also cuts across since it also acts as a distributor and sells other publishers’ series.
However, as one way of bringing harmony in the otherwise diversified industry, Bpam has been bringing textbook publishers under one roof.
“We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to publish and sell teaching and learning materials. As such, we gather in one place to showcase the books we have on offer,” says Msadala.
Basically, the publishers take their books to the users in the country’s three administrative regions. In the Northern Region, the publishers gather under one roof at Mayemo Secondary School in Karonga District, Katoto Secondary School in Mzuzu and Mzimba Secondary School. In The Central Region, the publishers gather in the Central East Education Division [Chayamba Secondary School] and in Central West Education Division [Bwaila Secondary School].
In the South East Education Division, Machinga Teachers’ Training College is the centre while in the Shire Highlands Education Division, Luchenza Secondary School becomes the centre of activity. The publishers also showcase their materials in the Central West Education Division.
Msadala says publishers— whose number has been growing every year— have been doing this since 1995, and observes that the strategy has a number of advantages.
“In the first place, we take the market to the doorstep of users while, at the same time, selling our products. Most importantly, we are also trying to tell people that we have the books,” says Msadala, adding:
“Another advantage is that some publishers are based in the Capital City [Lilongwe], especially those who distribute Cambridge and Oxford University Press books. Greymatter, which represents East African Publishing Books, is based in Lilongwe. So, when we move like this [together], we take books to the people. It is like all syllabi are under one roof,” says Msadala.
In a way, this means independent publishers are doing their part to take secondary school textbooks to all parts of the country. What remains is the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is to ensure that it, too, does its part in terms of publishing and distributing primary school textbooks.
As things stand in Malawi, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, through the Malawi Institute of Education, is the one that deals with primary school textbooks.
However, as the issue of textbooks taking over the market from non-textbook publishers continues to stir debate in Malawi— with Mawu president Sambalikagwa Mvona disclosing to Weekender last year that writers had complained to the International Authors Forum that local publishers were showing little interest in publishing general [non-textbook-based]—other authors in Africa are looking for alternatives.
One of the way-out initiatives is the establishment of the Self-Publishers Association of Southern Africa (Spasa), a grouping of self-publishing companies, societies, authors and related professionals formed to create “a win-win situation” after realising that “all self-publishers face the same challenges”.
“We face public perception that self-published books have poor content, are sometimes badly printed, have low quality layout and are not considered as ‘good’ as regularly published books. Other challenges include marketing, promotion and distribution for authors, an unregulated industry, print issues and the search for good editors, proofreaders, and other professionals,” says Spasa in a write-up.
Spasa has, therefore, made it its objective to create a regulated industry, promoting standards and linking authors with professional organisations. It also helps members to create self-publishing channels, offer courses and resources, provide a platform for manuscript reviews and book ratings, and establish a Spasa Seal of Approval awarded to self-published books that meet quality standards requirements.