At 2020 Nigerian Int’l Book Fair, Experts Task Publishers on Technology

Gbadega Adedapo

Yinka Olatunbosun

At the opening ceremony of the 19th Nigerian International Book Fair on the virtual space, experts canvassed the need for the country’s challenged book industry to embrace technology amid Covid-19 to realise its full potential. This year’s book fair conference has as theme ‘Information Technology as Panacea for the Book Industry Sustainability amidst Covid-19 Pandemic.’

Activities that usually mark the fair at the Multi-Purpose Hall of the University of Lagos such as conference, book exhibition, Authors Groove in collaboration with Association of Nigerian Authors and many more will now hold online via Zoom.

According to the Chairman of Nigerian Publishers Association and main organizer of the fair, Mr. Gbadega Adedapo, “The world wasn’t exactly prepared for the devastating effect that followed the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’ve had to adjust nonetheless. Several companies had to shut down and others surprisingly or maybe not surprisingly, thrived. Most of the companies that thrived are those that embraced technology or those that continued their operations virtually.

“For instance, Zoom Video Conferencing experienced an overnight success amid the COVID-19 pandemic because of the surge in Zoom users due to the compulsory stay-home policy. Before the pandemic, Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom, saw that one day, people would need to hold meetings without meeting physically. And with technology, he made it possible. I know many of us in the book industry appreciate the joy of holding a paperback.

“In fact, some might enjoy the smell of old books in a room. But it is becoming clearer that we do not only have to acknowledge the role of Information Technology in sustaining the book industry, we also have to gladly embrace the tide.”
Although Adedapo expressed regret that the fair could not hold in its traditional way, he was glad that the virtual option was available to make the 2020 edition a success. The fair which kicked-off on September 1 will run till Monday September 7.

“When we started planning for the 2020 edition of the Nigeria International Book Fair sometimes last year, we scheduled it to hold in May, not expecting that a global pandemic will overtake the world. We are so disappointed not to be welcoming you in person to this year’s International Book Fair. However, I am so pleased to welcome you to 2020 Nigerian Book Fair, our first virtual book fair. COVID – 19 has impacted every aspect of our lives and over the past 5 months we’ve really been exploring and accelerating the potential of online events. We will like to thank all players in the book industry for their support and encouragement as we find new ways to engage with you in this virtual world.”

While presenting his keynote speech via virtual means, President of International Book Association, Mr. Hugo Setzer, also harped on how technology had altered the way published should think their business and adapt to the changing times to be relevant.

“The theme of your fair is perfectly chosen, and perhaps a little provocative,” Setzer said. “It is constructive and forward-looking. It does not dwell on the difficult times now, but looks at how our sector can adapt to overcome our current challenges.

“On the other hand, I have to say that I am reluctant to use the word “panacea”. Panacea was the Greek goddess of healing and is associated with universal remedy. But we have to be careful, since no all-healing medicine has been found yet. Yes, I agree that information technology and digitization are very important innovations we have to consider. One of the things publishers around the world ask me is about the future of publishing. I wish I knew the future of anything, but I am positive, and one thing is certain: now is the time to embrace digital

Setzer had spoken to many publishers and publishers’ associations around the world over the last six months and some of these conversations are recorded in IPA’s interview series online.

“It is perhaps unique that we are all facing globally such a dramatic challenge at the same time. The realities of each region and the structure of each national or regional publishing industry affects how those challenges are felt and what solutions are available,” he said.

Setzer stressed the importance of digitized publishing that somewhat overcomes traditional publishing, but argued that both models of publishing should be blended as research has shown that both have ample advantages. He urged publishers not to abandon content in pursuit of shinny technological devices that could actually detract from the substance of educational pursuit.

“In regions that had either been reluctant or ill-equipped to embrace digital publishing, we have seen a recognition that digital publishing enables us to overcome many of the challenges that lockdowns and limited freedom of movement create. Beyond the pandemic, digital publishing also enables us to tackle accessibility challenges for visually impaired readers,” he said.

Further, he pointed out that digital publishing and on-demand printing distribution overrides distribution challenges. According to him, digital publishing is clearly an integral part of our industry, but no matter how important new technology may be, let us not forget content. We must not confuse the means of distribution and reading devices with the content, whether that be educational resources, gripping stories, or scientific research.

“The importance of our work as publishers is our role of ensuring quality and of curation. We must also ensure that governments understand that the attraction of copyright exceptions for educational uses is short-term thinking, like destroying a dam to release the water. The end result will be drought.

“Let us also note that research suggests that pupils don’t necessarily learn best through screens and that the future of education will probably be blended. There is so much scientific evidence backing this, like the one presented by Maryanne Wolf in her absorbing book “Reader Come Home: The Fate of The Reading Brain in a Digital World”. In her book, Mrs. Wolf proposes, and explains why this is so important, the development of a biliterate reading brain, using both print and digital.”

Setzer also praised global publishers around the world rose to the challenge posed by Covid-19, saying, “I have used the word ‘challenges’ many times today but I believe that it is a testament to our industry to see how publishers around the world have risen to those challenges. We have been innovative, finding new ways to bring books to readers, teachers and students.

“We have been generous and responsible citizens, often making educational or scientific resources available for free. I have always been proud to be a publisher, but the last six months have made me prouder still.
A writer and educator Parker Palmer added that books bring comfort, challenge, excitement, insight, inspiration and vision aimed at making the world a better place.