“The quality, quantity and diversity of books produced by a society are important indicators of that society’s level of development. . . .” -Valdehusa (1985).

April 23rd of every year is marked around the world as ‘World Book and Copyright Day.’ Also known as ‘International Day of The Book,’ it is a day set aside by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to promote reading, publishing and copyright. The first ‘World Book Day’ was observed on April 23, 1995.

The theme of this year’s (2021) ‘World Book Day’ is: to ‘share a story.’ This year’s theme is in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, encouraging children to share a story with those that they live with. The day aims to change lives through a love of books and shared reading.

The book is a dynamic product and a monumental property of every society. It is a veritable source of information to teachers and students, a goldmine of knowledge for researchers and scholars, and a fountain of pleasure and leisure to general readers.

The Bible is by far the most widely translated and distributed book. So its wisdom has reached and helped more people than any other book or publication. 96.5% of the world’s population have access to the Bible. The Bible is available (in whole or in part) in over 3,300 languages, and the estimated number of copies of the Bible produced is 5 billion, far more than any other book in history.

More than ever, at a time when many of the schools around the world are closed and people are having to limit their time spent outside, the power of books should be leveraged to combat isolation, reinforce ties between people, expand our horizons, while stimulating our minds and creativity. It is critical to take the time to read on our own, or with our children.

According to Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO: “Books have the unique ability to entertain and to teach. They are at once a means of exploring realms beyond our personal experience through exposure to different authors, universes and cultures, and a means of accessing the deepest recesses of our inner selves.”

The three major sectors of the book industry are: publishers, booksellers and libraries. 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 consists of the right hand page (recto) and the left hand page (verso), without a standardized size. But one of its 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 fundamental purpose of book publishing is basically to extend the frontiers of knowledge from one generation to another, thereby bringing about continuous intellectual development. Book publishing is channelled towards promoting learning and expanding knowledge.

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 in Nigeria has continued to enjoy drastic growth ever since.

However in the last two decades, the Nigerian indigenous book publishing industry has experienced a downturn due to numerous challenges facing the industry, including: book piracy, proliferation of unqualified author-publishers, lack of capital, and inability to provide adequate numbers of high-quality books. Other challenges include: poor reading culture, infrastructural decay, dearth of expertise, incessant rancour among the major stakeholders, and so forth.

Therefore, here are some suggestions for developing our book publishing industry in Nigeria:

1One, stakeholders such as government, publishers, authors, regulators, booksellers, libraries, and readers should cooperate among themselves and contribute their quota immensely towards the development of a virile book publishing industry.

Two, private investors such as banks, finance houses and influential individuals should participate, especially in terms of massive capital injection.

Daniel Ighakpe, FESTAC Town, Lagos