Writings of the general word's body

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On That ASAUK Paper

Any 'comment' as long and considered as the below, deserves a post all its own. Toyin Adepoju left the comment on this blog days ago, in response to Muhtar Bakare's paper on publishing in Nigeria...

That paper is most creatively challenging. Inspiring, though perhaps it glosses a little over powerful issues of global economics and artistic taste. I wonder how true it is that Diaspora writers owe their success largely to their Nigerian markets. He also does not go deeply into the question of the difference between literacy per se and the quality and taste of that literacy. Not surprising, since as a a publisher he could be seen as needing to focus on the bottom line of sales and value could be determined in that context by what sells.

I know little about the Nigerian banking industry but I have certainly watched some of the Nigerian home videos. I think I want to ask how we can improve quality while developing a robust sales curve.I hope the videos do become better than the ones I watched the last time, about 3 years ago.

As much as I admire the idea of strategies to capture lucrative domestic markets, I am concerned that the focus on the immediate bottom line of adapting writing to the perceived taste of the reader could leave Nigerian literature and cultural production within a cultural and economic ghetto where it is elated to only by those whose immediate social histories link with it. If we are to move briefly to the bottom line of sales here, one could observe that one reason why American films have such huge success globally is that they are bale to go beyond American and Western social frameworks even though they are rooted in them. This brings me to the point he makes about writers who are lionised in the West but only read only by the intelligentsia in Nigeria. He might be alluding to works like Soyinka’s signature works, which, unlike his comedies require a more dedicated attention, even though the comedies are not what define his genius. Along those lines I remember that some of the worlds greatet works in both science and literature were conceived to appeal to the majority of people and subsequently became iconic-Descartes’ Meditations, which he wrote in French rather than Latin, the then language of scholarship so that "even women could read them” well before the advent of formal female education in Europe, yet it is a seminal work in epistemology or theory of knowledge, Galileo’s Dialogues where he developed novel ideas in cosmology through the dramatic device of dialogue in his native Italian, even though he was convinced that mathematics was central to science but chose dramatic dialogue in those works. Plato’s Dialogues where the most sophisticated philosophical ideas are developed through dialogue, ante’s Comedy which he chose to write in Italian rather than Latin, the then language of learning so his country people could read it.

So, I think I would agree with him about the need to tap more powerfully into the Nigerian market by telling the people stories but I am not fully in agreement with all the details of the home video example of account of the stock character of a number of the themes and styles they demonstrate from my limited knowledge of them. But he has powerful points about the necessity of investment in equipment and remuneration for the right personpower. Another point about strategy his ideas take me to is the question of advertising in publishing. My memory of Nigeria since I left in 2003 was that the video producers advertised but that the publishers did not. TV, radio and stationary ads can do much to sell books by packaging them in ways that make them relevant to potential customers. Other approaches are provided by South African publisher who publishes poetry on table cloth, by the use of chapbook literature,as is done by Penguin, where you can read the texts conveniently in busy busses like those in in Nigeria Another is the little books initiative in publishing works of scholarship, part of a broad range of efforts to introduce sophisticated ideas to wide public this includes children’s books, such as the Ladybird imprint where I first learnt about science, art and history.

One of the economic issues his paper takes my mind to is that about one of the probable economic reasons behind the decline in reading and the rise of the home video market. That is the idea that reading has declined on account of the decline in leisure, whether that leisure is understood in terms of time to relax, free from distracting considerations or in times of even mental freedom understood in terms of free mental space free of worry. Reading can be understood as a more demanding leisure activity than watching films. The latter, therefore, would be a more likely engagement than the former when leisure is chaliced be hostile economic forces that make it costly. But Wang Ning has observed that a similar result emerges in affluent countries where the pace of the capitalist economy reduces the leisure time that would have been used for reading and people now focus more on pictorial data which is easier to assimilate.I wonder, though, how true this is of London where one can often see people reading on the Tube and in parks. But perhaps class comes in here since on account of the cost of the Tube, most people take buses. I rarely see anyone reading on a bus in London. So, perhaps those on the Tube are more likely to be higher income earners who higher educational levels along with the cultural orientations that come with it, are more disposed to ead than most of those who use buses. But then, how much time would a busy City worker or businessperson have to read? So, perhaps we might have a denudation of reading at opposing ends of the social spectrum, with those in the middle, who have the education and taste to ad as well as the freedom from work pressures being those who read most. Still conjectural, though.

Another probable outcome from the economic challenges of the country could be seen as being that the films they watch focus on issues that address the social values and ideas that emerge from their challenged economic situation. So, the films often focus on how money is made through juju. I would like to give more examples of filmic subjects that would support this particular thesis but I can’t think of any right now.

His analysis of the textbook market also takes my mind to the idea that the quality of literacy of the country could be improved and money made in the process by adequate investment in tertiary textbook market. My experience as of 2002 was that new textbboks,most of which were imported were difficult to on account of the currency exchange problem. Some lectures have tried to tap this market, ethically and unethically, the unethical approach being to tie purchase of books to marks. But my experiments have convinced me that student who is convinced about the value of book will buy it even without the threat of sanctions, but motivated by the desire to succeed in the [primary educational purpose of their schooling. What is needed is a market survey to find out those areas that books are particularly scarce and where there is significant demand and produce books accordingly. Scholars can be commissioned to write them. They can also go though a per review process through which they will acquire academic respectability along with their economic value.

These approaches have worked for me using the most rudimentary printting technology. The print run I experimented with was miniscule but the potential market extends all over Nigeria, and is boosted by the emergence of private universities. It also extends into Africa.
The Think tank CODERIA asses Africa as suffering a textbook shortage and sponsors production of textbooks. Since all African countries have adopted the Western educational model, crossing national boundaries will not be a problem. Having made sufficient money with selling textbooks, the publisher could then proceed to publish works that are not directed at simply presenting existing knowledge, like textbooks but are meant to break new ground. This cpuld even operate as a minority strategy from the onset Baraka seems to have done something sim ilar by moving into nonfiction after fiction as in the book on architecture.
Such works generate economic value through indirect long rage process since they signal the scholar sly power of their authors,of the institutions they work in and the institutions and countries where they and had their education. A colleague of mine travelled from Japan to SOAS in London to do an MA and a PHD so as work with Ghanaian lecturer at SOAS on account of the scholars work he student had read.

This ultimately translates into student enrolment from other countries with the multiplier effect that has on local economies, research investment in the locales where those scholars are, which again will affect the local economy and all these fed again into the political for a robust academic market and its possible spin offs-a good number of American companies are university sin off-Google and Yahoo were developed by PhD students at Stanford, which is a matrix for technology companies on account of its closeness to Silicone Valley which was founded by Stanford staff to achieve that very catalytic and synergistic effect. Many more examples could be provided.

Bakare’s paper is truly provocative and inspiring in the cogency of his analysis and the fervour of his vision.

Toyin Adepoju

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