The quality, quantity and diversity of books produced by a society are important indicators of that society’s level of development – Valdehusa (1985).
The book publishing industry has a tremendous impact on the society. Book publishing is an effective vehicle for development and positive change in the behavioural attitude of the people. It is the nerve centre of education and it helps people to gain full control of their environment.
In a strict sense, book publishing starts from the point of conceptualisation of the ideas for the book by the author, to the very last stage of the end-user (reader). A book is inescapably a compilation of sheets of paper. It comprises the right-hand page (recto) and the left-hand page (verso), without a standardized size or shape. But one of the most observable appearance is its shape – it is upright rectangular. A book is a complete product of art and as such sustains a comprehensive aesthetical structure of graphics.
The history of book publishing in Nigeria can be traced to the establishment of the very first publishing press in Calabar, in 1846, by Rev. Hope Waddel of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland Mission. The Press was used to print Bible lessons and later arithmetic books for schools. In 1854 another missionary based in Abeokuta, Rev. Henry Townsend of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), established a Press. Five years later (1859), he used it to print the very first newspaper in Nigeria, Iwe Irohin. Thereafter, notable Nigerians like Herbert Macaulay established the first indigenous newspaper in 1926, called Lagos Daily News. Also in the same year, Daily Times made its debut.
In 1949, Oxford University Press (OUP) floated a sales outlet in Nigeria. This action attracted many foreign-based publishing firms to Nigeria, such as Macmillan, Longman and others. The first published book in Nigeria by Oxford University Press (OUP) was in 1963, when its local branch published Ijala Ere Ode, a Yoruba poetry genre by Yemitan. Aside from the foreign companies, many other home-based publishing houses were architected by indigenous entrepreneurs. The book publishing industry has continued to enjoy drastic growth ever since.
In the last two decades however, our indigenous publishing industry has experienced a downturn due to numerous challenges. Nigeria now shares with other developing countries a variety of problems bedeviling the book publishing industry, including: inability to provide adequate numbers of high-quality books, book piracy, proliferation of unqualified author-publishers, lack of capital, and so forth.
Nevertheless, some of the significant impacts of the industry on the society, according to Lai Oso (2000) are: one, book publishing is an important business venture: It contributes to the nation’s economic growth. Two, book publishing acts as a tool for development: It facilitates literacy, which in turn fast-tracks development. Three, it enhances cultural heritage and values. Four, book publishing is a source of employment: The industry provides job opportunities for many young graduates and professionals who studied related courses. There are opportunities such as: publishers, manuscript acquisition personnel, literary agent editors, designers, artists, typographers, printers, binders, marketers, sales representatives, promotion officers, public relations officers and a host of others.
One misconception is that book publishing will die in the face of the ongoing development in Information and Communications Technology (ICT). However, according to Oso et al (2009): “Globally, traditional books will still be in use. In fact electronic innovations will aid book publishing, it cannot kill it. It is therefore reasonable for publishers to think of how to apply the new technology to enhance book publishing.”
What are some of the challenges of Book Publishing in Nigeria? They include:
Finance: Book publishing is adjudged a capital intensive venture. Due to this, most publishers find it uneasy to raise enough funds to finance their activities. Moreover, financial institutions like banks are usually reluctant to loan publishers money, with the fear of not yielding the aimed profit, or worse still, lose such money completely. This attitude of the financial institutions has eroded the financial strength of publishers, making operations difficult for them. Other challenges include: poor reading culture; piracy; infrastructural decay; dearth of expertise, incessant rancour among the major stakeholders; and so forth.
The fundamental purpose of book publishing is basically to extend the frontiers of knowledge from one generation to the other, thereby bringing about continuous intellectual development. Publishing is channelled towards promoting learning and expanding knowledge. Based on this premise, the issues of book publishing must be taken more seriously than before. The stakeholders in the business should jointly come up with interesting solutions to the constraints that are ravaging the industry.
––Daniel Ighakpe, FESTAC Town, Lagos