How to Choose a Distributor (Part 1)

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Article By Kirimi Barine, PhD

Achieving an effective distribution system with the widest coverage is the dream goal of any publisher. However, many publishers in developing countries do not achieve effective distribution chains even within their own countries. One reason for this is the inability of many a publisher to identify and establish good business relationships with potential distributors. This raises the question of who a distributor is, how to identify one and the process of negotiating a contract with the potential distributor.

Distribution is the transfer of books from the publisher to the consumer. Therefore, a distributor is involved in getting the books from the publisher to the reader, either directly or indirectly. In developing countries like Kenya, many distributors also have retail outlets and thus sell directly to the readers and indirectly to other booksellers.


Important allies

Distributors fulfill orders from booksellers. Most retailers will not purchase books directly from a publisher or small press because it is more convenient to order titles from a single vendor than from multiple vendors. Likewise, it is a logistics nightmare for a publisher to process thousands of purchase orders from booksellers. An ideal situation is where the bookseller will find it best to buy from the distributor. However, in developing countries publishers are thought to offer better terms than distributors, so booksellers do purchase directly from publishers.

Distributors are important allies. They can perform such services as providing online and printed catalogs, a telephone order number, centralized storage and shipping of books to retailers, and at times handling of returns on behalf of the publisher. In the United States some distributors, for example Spring Arbor (, also market products. The publisher then pays for product insertion, promotional pieces, and so on. However, most distributors do not market books. Their role is to make the book available when orders are placed. The publisher’s role is to fuel book demand.

Among the reasons why publishers can become frustrated with distributors are the unrealistic expectations they have that a distributor will market their books. More often than not, most distributors represent other publishers as well. They do not have the resources to market the large inventory they stock from several publishers. What is important to a distributor is the profit margin they accrue from the sales of products from each publisher they represent.


How to find distributors

A publisher can take either an active or a passive approach to identifying distributors. Sometimes it all begins with unsolicited orders. After all, distributors, wherever they are, are always on the lookout for product representation that can be profitable and status enhancing. The initial contact with a new distributor may result from a trade show or an advertisement. At other times, trade sources such as directories, associations, magazines and journals are a good source. For Evangel Publishing House, the local chapter of the Christian Booksellers Association, and its magazine, as well as the CBA international magazine, Aspiring Retail, have been good sources of distribution contacts.

At times customers have referred a certain distributor to us. Another viable option could be identifying potential distributors via independent consultants. Also, many leading distribution companies can be found on BookWeb (

Distributors who want your business will compete if they think you would be a good match to the rest of their client base. If they offer terms that are very low, they are either desperate for the business or extremely efficient.


Questions to ask

Before signing a contract with a particular distributor, a publisher ought to be satisfied regarding certain criteria. Look for performance and professionalism. The following guidelines offer pointers on the services and qualities of a distributor that a publisher should consider in choosing the best distributors for his or her list. The questions below also suggest pitfalls to avoid.


How is the distributor presently doing in terms of volume? Their performance can give you an indication of how well they will perform in the event you appoint them as your distributor.

Market coverage

Whenever possible, choose book distributors or wholesalers with nationwide coverage. Seek distributors with established relationships with online booksellers like Your analysis of coverage should include not only territory or segments of the market covered, but how well the markets are served. This is critical, as it enables a publisher to exclude from consideration many bookstores who claim to be distributors.

Financial arrangements

The financial standing of the candidate is key criteria. An audited report of the businesses performance or a bank reference will give you an indication as to the performance in the past. Financial reports are not always complete or reliable, or they may lend themselves to interpretation differences, pointing to a need for a third-party opinion. Ask how promptly publishers are paid. What terms are customary for this distributor? If the distributor only pays the publisher for the inventory they have received once the bookseller pays them, this is not a good deal. If their clients go bankrupt, for example, the publisher is not likely to be paid. Ask distributors to describe their credit control mechanisms. How current is their market intelligence? Be careful with small wholesale book distributors. Some have closed their doors overnight due to financial problems. When this happens, any inventory may be held by creditors for auction—even if the distributor has the books on consignment!

Charging mechanism

Is the charging mechanism straightforward and easy to understand? Or, is it so complex that the publisher will never really know if it is correct? The level of complexity should be appropriate to the publisher’s level of operation. There are many ways a distributor can charge the publisher for services rendered, but the most common is charging a percentage of the invoice value, often 12-15 percent. Is this percentage charged on all sales, including returns? Or, is it charged only on net sales? What other charges can be expected on the invoice? For example, some distributors charge a fee for repricing of stock or distribution of free items. How many years’ stock will be held before fees are introduced? Is there a charge for returned stock to be restacked? Does the invoice include a charge for value-added tax (VAT)? In many countries, the old-fashioned fixed rate charge—for example, when 50 percent of cover price is returned to publisher— avoids VAT charges and gives the publisher a definite return on each book sold. If a publisher does not want to use wholesalers (who want discounts over 35 percent off the cover price), and wants to avoid VAT charges, then the fixed rate has benefits.

Customer service

Try to meet the distributor’s staff. How well do they handle difficult situations on the phone? How good is their front-line staff? Is there one publisher who seems to get priority treatment? How many new clients have they taken on during the last few months? Is there a danger of publisher overload? Some distributors have a history of their service being affected by taking on too much volume too quickly. If the distributor employs outside representatives, ask him or her to describe the arrangements with this staff. Determine when the representatives are paid, and if they are paid promptly (this keeps them content and they will do a good job).


Does the distributor offer regular and useful feedback on sales achieved, returns and stock levels, customer profiles, debtors? Is it in electronic or paper form? Will it meet your requirements? Are reports available on demand or only at set intervals? Can you make on-line queries? Do not be caught blind.


The original article was written for Interlit, David C. Cook (published with permission).

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Kirimi Barine, PhD

Kirimi Barine is an Author, Trainer, Publisher and Consultant. He has served and continues to serve in various leadership capacities for organizations in Africa and around the world. He is the founding Director of Publishing Institute of Africa; a Nairobi based publishing, training and author development organization.

How To Avoid Plagiarism. A Step-by-Step Guide

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Article By Africa Speaks
Has it happened to you?

Have you received an article you assigned to a new writer, plugged a well-turned phrase into an online search engine, and discovered the article was rife with sections lifted from another author’s work?

It’s happened to me. More than once.


The assignment

Jessie wrote a funny book on her struggles with God. It did well, but I knew she needed work. I assumed she could confidently take on a tough assignment outside her area of expertise. I was wrong. She wrote well enough when it came to her own life. She wrote well enough on prayer or devotionals. But the piece I asked for demanded more. I had expected original research and reporting. I never expected plagiarism.

I thought I had not properly communicated my expectations. I outlined my problems with her draft, gave detailed instructions, pointed to relevant sites and sources where she might begin her work, and suggested she try again. The second draft was worse than the first: she rewrote my words and added nothing new.

The dissertation

Pria was in graduate school, pursuing a ministry degree. A mutual friend recommended she contact me so I could edit her dissertation, on the spiritual implications of bioengineering. Her first pages were full of jargon, choppy, unclear, and repetitive. Later the words flowed, the syntax was smoother, the vocabulary was more accessible, and the imagery was engaging. At first, I thought Pria had finally warmed to her subject; then I realized this could not possibly explain the marked shift in the quality of her writing. She was passing off others’ writing as her own, instead of giving them credit. She argued her style of presenting the material was in keeping with academic practice in her country. I explained it was not acceptable here, and suggested she speak with her advisor about the matter.

Not just me

The instances I described are not my encounters with plagiarism. I’ve probably read articles where I completely missed it. I have also seen some translate material into another language and pretend it was their own invention. Not everyone understands what counts as plagiarism or that it is an ethical issue.

Each time I discover it, especially by Christians, I am shocked. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. A Religion News Service article discussed instances of plagiarism by various Christian leaders. Additional examples can be found on the Christianity Today topic page on plagiarism.

Preventative measures

As an editor, how can you ensure that the articles you publish are not plagiarized? Here are some suggestions :

  • Know your writers. Take care that in making assignments you do not ask for what they are not comfortable with or cannot give.
  • Be clear about what you expect to receive. Encourage authors to cite and give proper credit to others as needed.
  • Pay attention to odd turns of phrase and the style, quality, and rhythm of the writing.
  • Use search engines and other plagiarism detection tools to spot check articles you receive. There are many such tools for educators.
  • Compare pieces you receive to recent articles and books on the same topic.
  • Develop publishers’ guidelines for yourself, including definitions of plagiarism, self-plagiarism, preferred reference styles, and procedures to follow in checking for or handling suspected cases of plagiarism.
  • Compare notes with other editors and publishers who have faced this problem.
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you and give you discernment. Ask Him to give creativity and perseverance to your writers. Commit your work to Him. Finally, thank Him for His help.



The original article was done by Kim Pettit for Interlit, David C. Cook (published with permission)

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Africa Speaks

We are an international network of professionals committed to a flourishing Christian publishing industry in Africa.

Six Lessons from the Africa Study Bible

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Article By Matthew Elliott
Listen a lot before you even start the journey

My main job as project director of the Africa Study Bible over seven years was to listen, think, and listen some more. I spent probably hundreds of hours listening to Study Bible experts, African leaders, publishers, and those on the ground selling books. It was only in review, listening and asking questions that the plan was right and the potential was reached. The project was so different, so much more significant by the end from the start!


Expect that many of your pre-conceived ideas will be wrong

I was always ready and willing to be proved wrong. Although I am a strong person with a lot of strong opinions, only the opinions on the authority of God’s Word and the opinion that God wanted this done was what I would hold close. The rest would be held loosely, held with open hands for change and input. For example, we faced the question. “Who is an African author?” I thought I knew- someone born and raised in Africa. The African answer was quite different, “Someone with an African heart.” In this we had to sometimes stand against the criticism of “how could someone be an African author who was not born in Africa (maybe 5 of 300 authors)?” We had our answer at the ready. “The African leaders defined for us, who is an African author.”


Make course corrections constantly

We had about five years of weekly or bi-weekly editorial Wednesday meetings of the editorial team. Some of us made most every meeting, and many came in and out according to the specific needs of that meeting. We would invite, however, in the room who had the most insight. Hundreds of little decisions were made in those meetings. Like, what if one author translates a Swahili proverb in one way and another editor in another. That happened more often than you might think! We had to develop standards for this and a 100 other questions.

Stick with the Plan

With a seven-year project, 16 reviewers, and hundreds of authors it would have been impossible to respond to every request for a “suggested, needed change or course correction!” There was plenty of distracting input over the years and you must know how to sort this from the valid criticism. The deep and wise committee decisions from 2011 were our bedrock and a great grace. With this standard and mandate as our absolute, sorting the wheat from the chaff became intuitive and easy – most of the time.


Have the right people doing the right things

Our main standard was achieving excellence. We had to find the people with their 10,000 hours (Malcolm Gladwell), who had achieved excellence in their craft. If ethnicity or being African was important we always made it count. However, we found the right person for the job regardless of where they lived or where they were born. QUALITY drove the process. For early church history, for example, the Center for Early African Christianity (Thomas Oden), was central as they are one of the world experts in Ancient African Christianity, even though they were based in USA. In this we were neither “paternalistic,” nor “indigenous,” driven by the goal of creating the best product possible for God’s people in Africa. This, in my opinion, is a true manifestation of the body of Christ.


Know when to sprint

Oasis being so small, the last two years we basically put down everything else we were working on and said we are going to complete the Africa Study Bible. At the height we had about 80 editors, reviewers, artists, translators, proofreaders, project managers, and typesetters working, and it was all we could do to keep all this going full speed ahead. There came a point when we knew the project was so big and complex that it would take all of us working all the time to complete it by our most recent revised deadline, so that is what we did. A special thanks to our partners and Tyndale Foundation who stuck by us when that is all we were working on, without their belief in our team and the project the two-year-final-sprint would have been impossible!


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Matthew Elliott

Matthew has led Oasis for over two decades. He has a BA in Economics and MA in New Testament Studies from Wheaton College, and a MT in New Testament and PhD in New Testament from University of Aberdeen and was ordained at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author of Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (InterVarsity UK/Kregel) and Feel (Tyndale House).

Encouraging Signs: Opportunities for Christian Publishing in Africa

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Article By Africa Speaks


The greatest opportunity for Christian publishing in Africa can be summarized in the words untapped resources. Those with a vision to see African publishing flourish recognize that the highest and greatest opportunity is that God might be glorified as people come to faith and maturity through published resources.

Market Demographics

The reading market in Africa is rapidly growing, particularly its youth. Rudolf Kabutz wrote, “In the coming decades leading up to 2050, the African population is expected to double from the present 1.1 billion to around 2.2 billion people. During this phase, the African youth population will be the largest ever in the whole lifetime of humanity.”

Africa will have the largest youth population globally, meaning the future is in Africa! African youth, if reached and discipled today, will become tomorrow’s global mission’s workers. And godly, professionally equipped young people could be the driving force and energy behind an enduring Christian publishing industry in Africa. For the next 35 years, there is an opportunity to reach the greatest ever number of African youth, and Christian publishing will prove indispensable in the spiritual formation and development of the Christian mind. There is great need to rekindle a love for reading among youthful African Christians, to increase access to sound Christian books, and to produce Christian literature that responds to the specific needs of those African youth who lack hope.

African capitals are growing and evolving, as are churches. The Christian population is large, with an increasing literacy rate. Although there are many local languages in Africa, there is broad understanding of key languages, which provide massive markets in English, French, Swahili, and others. Regardless of language or literacy, widespread advances in technology mean great potential to reach people, particularly youth, through digital written and non-written (oral and audio) resources.

There has been real economic growth in most African countries over the last eight years, with GDP growth levels reaching as high as 6 to 7 percent. As Africa’s middle class grows, so do the opportunities for individuals to open stores and promote bookselling and reading. There is a need and an opportunity to connect publishers with people of financial means. Rising standards of living allow more people than ever to afford Christian literature, though widespread poverty remains a vast obstacle.


Distribution and Technology

Digital technology enables better access to books and other materials. E-books are being read on computers, tablets, and cellular phones (though rarely on a dedicated reader like a Kindle). Creative use of these tools can have a positive impact in African publishing.

Publishers might consider how to grow distribution through street vendors or through partnerships with local ministries. Additionally, many African school systems are open to using Christian literature.

Manufacturing opportunities—whether print on demand or traditional commercial press—have barely been touched. Print-on-demand systems have enabled many local authors to get their books in the hands of readers. Previously, these authors could not be accommodated in conventional printing due to the capital investment required. A relatively inexpensive print-on-demand system enables international distribution. Some groups (e.g., Publish4Africa) would like to see a broad print-on-demand network that would serve traditional international publishers, grassroots authors and organizations, and self-publishers.

Publishers must find ways to better utilize social media, a platform that can change paradigms and perspectives. For instance, Facebook communities now mold perspectives on marriage, parenting, family life, and business. Churches broadcast their services and Bible study groups meet via social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Telegram. For a large number of people these platforms remain a primary source of information.



Market Interest and Needs

The global church is increasingly aware of the need to develop culturally relevant and contextualized Christian literature, since ignorance of culture can produce blindness when addressing needs. The massive growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere, particularly in Africa, offers an opportunity for Christian publishing to flourish there. The market exists, and the African church is becoming more aware of its role in global Christianity and world missions. They will need resources to help train and equip them in this role.

Some of the best communicators of the gospel are waiting to be discovered and developed in Africa. With proper support and development, local writers can provide quality local content that addresses local realities. So many people in Africa have stories to tell and whose stories need to be heard and read beyond their local areas; theologians have fresh and contextual messages for Africa that need to be heard and read—within Africa and beyond. Talented Christian writers, artists, and leaders can influence African societies for Jesus Christ and for the gospel through their work. And intellectual Africans are returning to African values. Interest in book writing is developing well, and the book-reading culture is improving. A growing number of important African voices are speaking from their context, providing a discourse that is engaging, and responding to African realities. The time is now for publishing in Africa to flourish and grow and to bring their great thinking to the rest of the world. Works such as the Africa Bible Commentary and, more recently, the Africa Study Bible demonstrate the kind of robust creative diversity African contributors have to offer.

Africans, despite their poverty, are reading more and more Christian books. There is a market, interest, and need for Christian literature that will challenge, motivate, and guide them. They will buy and read books that provide solutions, especially to their local challenges. The continent needs more books on African realities, and particularly books written by French-speaking African Christians. Through technology and media, the church in Africa, particularly young people, are aware of Western influence (homosexuality, divorces in evangelical churches, etc.). They will need literature that addresses these topics in the African context.

Evangelism exploded on the continent, but adequate and affordable discipleship resources have lagged behind to a great extent, leaving the soil an inch deep and mile wide. African church leaders need widely available leadership-development and Bible-study materials. African readers need more visually-oriented literature, more visual storytelling, more images and words working together to tell the Story—tracts, picture books, comics, graphic novels—produced by Africans for Africans.

African publishers, ministries, churches, and authors must work together to build the systems and the scale the industry needs to flourish.


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Africa Speaks

We are an international network of professionals committed to a flourishing Christian publishing industry in Africa.

11 Practical Ways to Raise Money for You Publishing Venture

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Article By Africa Speaks

Money—the lack of it—is a big challenge for publishers in emerging nations. However, lamenting the lack is not productive. There are many possible sources of funds you can explore. Here are some possibilities.

1. Churches

Congregations or denominations can be a source of funds. In Korea, for instance, a number of publishing houses are linked to large churches and were first funded as ministry arms of these congregations.

2. Authors

Some authors can provide funds for cash-starved publishing ventures. I know at least one publishing house that, for a while, published good books by a good author who could pay for the production costs. There are dangers in such arrangements, so rely on God’s guidance.

3. Private foundations

It is not easy to get funds from national and international foundations, but it is possible. A publisher in Nigeria received foreign funds to develop a publishing plan. A company in Hungary received a grant to translate a book into English from a foundation in Hungary.

4. Government sources

In some countries, governments have grant and low-interest loan programs to support small enterprises. It can be frustrating to work through bureaucracies and red tape, but the results can be well worth the effort. One publisher survived on small grants that allowed her to publish materials for handicapped children.

5. Special sales

Inject funds into your enterprise through sales to government agencies or large organizations. One publishing house received an order from the Ministry of Education for 73,000 copies of its books. Some relief organizations purchase large quantities of literature for free distribution.

6. Printers

Printers desperate for business could advance you money indirectly. A publisher in the Philippines has an arrangement with some printers in which they print the books but expect no payment until after 120 days.

7. Advance sales

Let your lack motivate you to garner advance sales. A publisher in Kenya pre-sold about half the print-run of his first book. In Venezuela another publisher pre-sold nearly the whole print run of her latest title. Such opportunities are major boosters to cash-starved businesses.

8. Facilities and services

A publisher in Hong Kong rents out office space for extra revenue. Other assets can also provide cash in lean times. A publisher in Kenya survives economic downturns by offering graphic design services. Some publishers in Latin America translate for cash. One of the largest publishers in Germany produces materials for embassies in Frankfurt.

9. Distribution

Distributing other publishers’ products can be profitable. In the Czech Republic, one publisher has released 30 titles and distributes 300 additional titles from other publishers. A publisher in the Ukraine distributes Christian music products. Even Cook Publishing Company distributes the products of other organizations.

10. International sales

One publisher in the Philippines has arranged for an American publisher to sell its titles to Filipinos in the United States. A publisher in Egypt sells its Arabic language titles to Arabic speaking communities in the United Kingdom.

11. International rights

A publisher in South Africa sells rights to a publisher in New York. A publisher in India sells rights to a publisher in the United Kingdom. A royalty check can be a pleasant surprise.

Ultimately, a publishing house must meet its financial needs by selling its products. That is the business of publishing. In the short-term, however, there are many more possibilities for Christian publishers who lack money.



First published as ‘Attack Your Lack’ for Interlit, David C. Cook (published with permission)

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Africa Speaks

We are an international network of professionals committed to a flourishing Christian publishing industry in Africa.

PBA Publishing in Gabon: The Christian Book Day

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Article By Africa Speaks

The Presses Bibliques Africaines (PBA) of Benin and the University Bible Groups (GBU) of Gabon organized the Christian Book Day on April 15 in Libreville. The highlights of this day dedicated specifically to the Christian book were the conference on the theme “The power of the book on the edification of the human being against the power of sound and image”, followed by a great exhibition and sale of books of the PBA Editions at reduced prices.


The book and the pressure of sound and image

In order to better present the stakes of this theme, the speaker Georges Laté, head of PBA Publishing, began by stating that in most of the countries he visited in West and Central Africa, images and sound are taking precedence over reading in general, both the printed and digital versions.

PBA Publishing whose vision is to transform the French-speaking readership through Christian literature produced by Africans, is following the model set by God Himself who instituted publishing by writing on the stone tablets He entrusted to Moses with instructions to distribute them to the people (Exodus 31:18).

The speaker emphasized the mobile nature of the book, which, unlike humans, can cross borders without a visa. A single book can be read and reread by the same reader, and also passed from hand to hand to reach a greater number, and even across generations. Similarly, the written word has been used throughout the ages to convey ideas. Thus, great revolutions in human societies have been underpinned by written texts. Even hymns, poems, plays are based on written texts. The book is therefore a powerful tool that could eventually provoke spiritual awakenings. At the end of his presentation, Pastor Georges Laté urged the pastors to write and keep their sermons and then entrust them to a publisher to make a book, because each book is a missionary without borders.


Presentation of new books

The Christian Book Day in Gabon was also an opportunity for participants to discover newly published books from PBA Publishing. Among them were:

  • Terre promise! Terre de servitude! (Promised land! Land of servitude!) by Eric Makon;
  • Vaincre la masturbation (Overcoming masturbation) by Séraphin DAVI and Géneviève GUÉI;
  • Osez l’impossible, réalisez des exploits (Dare to do the impossible, achieve greatness) by Alim GARGA;
  • C’est encore possible (It is still possible) by Rev. Pascal SAMBIENI;
  • Josué, comment développer une âme conquérante (Joshua, how to develop a conquering mind) by Pastor Paul ABESSOLO from Gabon, the host of the event, and president of GBU Gabon.


Finally, Rev. Paul ABESSOLO urged the members of the GBU to promote reading, first by the reading of the Bible through Bible study, and then the authors who write inspired by the Scriptures.

This special Christian Book Day program continued in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on Sunday, April 23, 2023 with the dedication of the books: Terre promise! Terre de servitude! by Eric Makon; and Vaincre la masturbation written by Séraphin DAVI from Benin and Géneviève GUÉI from Ivory Coast.



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Africa Speaks

We are an international network of professionals committed to a flourishing Christian publishing industry in Africa.

Niche Marketing: A Bright Future for Christian Publishers (Part 2)

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Article By Lawrence Darmani


Reaching out to your niche 

Sponsoring community events to your niche helps to market your products to that niche. One example is Challenge Enterprises of Ghana which sponsors The Pastors’ Bookset, an annual conference for pastors and other Christian leaders. As part of the program, Challenge packages for each participant a set of books and Bibles. It is a subtle but viable marketing strategy to a niche that patronizes their products. The participants later return to their parishes as ambassadors of the organizers. 

At Step Publishers in Ghana, we are developing a church library project that enables us to supply books to churches and community libraries. In addition to opportunities to speak in churches about the need to read Christian literature, we also receive invitation to address community gatherings to promote reading. 

There are many conventions in Ghana during festive occasions: Easter, Christmas, evangelistic crusades, durbars (state receptions) of chiefs and their subjects. One bookseller chain has adequately pitched its tent in that niche. Their mobile literature vans move from convention to convention playing Christian music and attracting the crowds to temporary bookstores pitched against their trucks. People who attend these conventions know that this bookseller will be there to market their literature products, and that creates a path to their chain of bookshops throughout the country. 

In today’s world of networking and partnerships, a person wears many hats, and those hats can provide the niches. A publisher may be a church leader, a member of a board of governors, affiliated with a university, or part of a parents’ association. These are all open doors for reaching out to market niches. Even where high-tech methods for reaching niches are unavailable, it is possible to advance Christian literature ministry. 


The niche in book launches 

The use of authors’ acquaintances is gaining ground among publishers as a tool for marketing books to niche communities of readers who are interested in the authors’ works. Some authors are community leaders, church ministers, and renowned politicians who have a large following. Sub-Saharan Publishers, a general publishing house whose titles range widely from biographies and autobiographies to textbooks and literary novels, has harnessed this niche for years. In addition to distributing books to the general market through traditional bookshops, they organize book launches. How are they able to fill a thousand-seat capacity auditorium regularly for a book launch? The authors themselves pull in their own crowds of acquaintances. 

The trend is catching on among publishers, who are noticing the reality that niche communities of interested groups such as authors’ publics are reliable sources of markets for their products. 



The power of focus 

The strength of marketing to a niche is focus. Ivan Delman, in his article “Niche Marketing Vs Mass Marketing”, says, “It is more effective, less costly, and produces better results to target a smaller segment of your community over the entire community.” He therefore advises against putting all of your eggs in one basket and rather recommends “developing several niches rather than having to depend on one.” Many gurus of niche publishing and marketing caution against jumping onto the bandwagon—that is, going into one niche whose needs everybody is rushing to meet. Again, Susan Ward believes that “The smaller and more cohesive the niche, the better.” Within a popular niche, one can find a unique one. For example, in our publishing outfit we have found a small but potentially viable niche: non-fiction books based on school mottos and anthems. Every school has a motto and an anthem whose meanings are largely unknown by the teeming populace of students entering and leaving each year. We are marketing this product to meet the need. 

For such marketing to be effective, it is advisable that the books we publish for our niche must be unique, marketable, and certainly available. By inference, the niche indicates a small and specialized area, which therefore calls for the need to make the book known. 


What modern technology offers 

A Ghanaian proverb says, “When the times change, you must also change,” which points to the need to be creative and vigilant in adopting better ways of doing things. Today, the big change is the presence of information technology with all its opportunities enabling us to reach our niches more easily. Recently a private mobile phone company in Ghana announced its two-millionth customer. That information was a smart marketing strategy—a phenomenon that spreads across major cities and towns of Africa. In partnership with countless FM radio stations now reaching rural communities, the mobile phone companies raise millions of dollars from niche marketing programs they undertake soccer, beauty pageants, political campaign, and talk-shows. 

The same can be said of e-mail, Web sites, and information and communication technology products. Their presence creates new marketing paths to niches that must not be lost on publishers. Recently, when our publishing house attended a conference of heads of public institutions, we not only spoke to them but solicited their email and mobile phone numbers. Reaching them directly has given us a cutting edge to that niche. 

How is the future?

Those who prophesy that the future of books belongs to niches—rather than general populations—may or may not be proven right. It does not really matter. What matters, in my estimation, is to find your own niches, creatively maintain them, and keep looking for new ones. Even in the wilderness of book markets, we can trust the Lord to open our eyes to unique segments of our populations where we can reach out and minister with Christian literature. 


© 2008 David C. Cook Global Mission. First printed in Cook Partners, May, 2008. 



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Lawrence Darmani


Lawrence Darmani is an award-winning author of many books, short stories, plays, and magazine articles. He is the managing editor of Step Publishers in Ghana, a newspaper columnist, and a trainer for Media Associates International. 

Step Publishers, in Accra, Ghana, publishes Step and Surprise, magazines for young people, as well as books for both children and school textbooks. 

Niche Marketing: A Bright Future for Christian Publishers (Part 1)

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Article By Lawrence Darmani

“Sometimes we find ourselves involved in niche marketing without knowing it. I thought I was only being pragmatic, but in fact I was reaching a specialized market.”  

“Brighten the Corner Where You Are,” counsels an old hymn—those who have ears to hear take advantage of this wise advice. At Step Publishers, we have plugged into niches in the wider market to produce, promote, and sell books and magazines on a regular basis. Looking out for unconventional marketing opportunities and maximizing their potential has added value to all our efforts. 


What is niche marketing? 

Susan Ward, a Canadian business consultant, writes: “Establishing a niche market gives you the opportunity to provide products and services to a group that other businesses have overlooked.” She believes that “there are always going to be segments of the population whose needs for particular products and/or services are going unmet, leaving room for the small business to succeed by meeting those needs.” Gordon Burgett, author of Niche Publishing and other books related to writing, publishing, and public speaking, defines it concisely and categorically as, “Find a demand, double check it, and create the supply.” 

Sometimes recognizing a group of people interested in our books may not require any special skill beyond inclination, which is why we sometimes find ourselves involved in niche marketing without knowing it. Years ago, when I visited the St. Paul Theological College near Nairobi, Kenya, to promote special issues of interest to the students, I was only being pragmatic. These future pastors, who would be interacting with the youth our ministry sought to reach, needed to know the value of our literature as a tool for evangelism and discipleship. This method of establishing a niche has been a hallmark of our work down through the years. 


The best is what works 

No matter how rocky the marketing grounds are—and they can be stone-hard in this part of our world where illiteracy is high and the limited number of readers’ purchasing power is low—a cleft can be found. In our marketing activities, we have two models open to us: either we reach the general market with products we hope will interest people, or we focus our attention on specific audiences and give them what they demand. Some people think the future belongs to the latter strategy—but does it really matter? Whichever works best in your own circumstances is the best way. 


In Ghana, as in many parts of Africa, publishers have focused on the huge book hungry education sector as a niche worthy of attention. It is perhaps the most critical market due to its size and unique disposition as the consumer of both general and niche-oriented merchandise. Publishers who have discovered this niche go beyond simply supplying books; they organize seminars and support conferences for teachers and heads of institutions to maximize their market share within this niche. 

While the products of Christian publishers may not be considered specific to educational needs, they do have a place in that niche. Is a hymnbook an educational requirement? No, if your definition of educational requirement is limited to academics. Students will not face examinations on the content of a hymnbook or a book on prayer. But Asempa Publishers in Accra, Ghana, has carved a niche in this sector and markets their hymnbooks in schools nationwide. 

Even at the lower educational levels such as primary and junior high schools, Step Publishers has consistently marketed our Christian youth magazines and children’s books. Our presence at Speech and Prize-Giving Days as well as Parent-Teacher Association meetings are effective avenues for marketing our products to this niche. We argue that students need religious and moral education, and that Christian faith and worship should play an important role in their lives, since students are the future leaders of our nations. 


Devotional products 

The market for devotional books is a niche in Africa.  Scripture Union, which is not a mainstream publishing house, is nonetheless a custodian of mass content for that niche. It sells hundreds of thousands of Daily Guide and Daily Power annually in different African countries. Ministering to millions of students on the continent through camps, Easter conferences, counseling, youth leadership training, and school groups, they have a strong hold on that niche. Scripture Union Ghana has become a community leader trusted by youth to provide the much-needed products year after year. 

Some Christian publishers produce devotional books in local languages. This is another sustainable niche due to the strong presence of vernacular readers. All this gives credence to finding niches and strongly marketing our products to that niche. 

 First printed in Cook Partners, May 2008. David C. Cook Global Mission (published with permission). 



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Lawrence Darmani


Lawrence Darmani is an award-winning author of many books, short stories, plays, and magazine articles. He is the managing editor of Step Publishers in Ghana, a newspaper columnist, and a trainer for Media Associates International. 

Step Publishers, in Accra, Ghana, publishes Step and Surprise, magazines for young people, as well as books for both children and school textbooks. 

UBI Publishing – The Publishing arm of the Union Bible Institute

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Article By Africa Speaks

UBI Publishing is a non-profit publishing enterprise of the Union Bible Institute that serves the Institute as well as the churches of southern Africa by providing materials to encourage believers’ devotion to Christ, commitment to biblical truth and ability to minister in a changing world. UBI publishes Bible commentaries, expositions of passages of Scripture, evangelistic tracts, children’s and youth ministry materials for leaders as well as for the youth and children themselves.

The call to publish Christian literature in isiZulu

South African Bernard A. Johanson, co-founder of the Union Bible Institute, was standing beside his father’s grave in October 1945, when he strongly sensed God calling him to carry on the work of writing Christian literature in isiZulu that his father had begun. Having grown up speaking isiZulu from childhood and after eleven years of editing isiZulu manuscripts at Mission Press, Johanson was uniquely qualified for this ministry.

It was five years later at a UBI council meeting, as principal of Union Bible institute, that Johanson suggested starting a literature department for publishing books in isiZulu. The first publication was a small book of meditations on the Lord’s Prayer. In the years that followed, UBI published commentaries on books of the Bible compiled from UBI class notes as well as other titles useful for building the church and encouraging personal devotion to Christ.

From the beginning, UBI was committed to providing Biblical instruction and training in isiZulu, the language most of the students used in their work. Johanson felt that the Bible message would remain foreign unless it was communicated to the hearts of people in their own language. Because of this heritage, UBI Publishing remains committed to providing printed material for building up the church in the languages of southern Africa, primarily isiZulu.

UBI publishes nearly 60 different Bible commentaries and devotional books, but also books of interest to the general Christian reader. About 15,000 of these books are sold every year, making UBI one of the largest publishers of isiZulu Christian literature in southern Africa. They also produce books and literature in the other languages of southern Africa.

Susan and Eric Binion have been at the Union Bible Institute since 1993. Eric is a lecturer and serves as Academic Dean. In the beginning, Susan’s primary ministry was the care of their four children, but she found time to assist with the music and children’s ministry departments at UBI. As children have left the nest, she has found more time for teaching and for the publishing department.

Student workers in the Publishing department.

Susan and Eric Binion’s ministry

When Susan joined the Literature Committee, which oversees the operation of the publishing department, she was running an occasional project. During that time, they produced a devotional for people recently diagnosed with HIV, children’s book to help caregivers talk to children about grief and loss, and a book for pastors’ wives.

After attending LittWorld in Kenya in 2009, a Christian publishers’ conference organized by MAI (Media Associates International), Susan was inspired to get more involved and put everything she learned there into practice, updating their covers, developing their online presence on Facebook, and launching a monthly prayer and newsletter for their clients.

” Everything that we know about publishing we learned from MAI, either through conferences, publications and webinars or personal visits by members of the staff,” says Susan. “We are grateful for MAI’s vision for helping indigenous publishing gain ground and make an impact for the Kingdom in culturally and linguistically relevant ways.”

Susan and Eric Binion

One of UBI Publishing biggest projects was the revision of the complete concordance of the Bible in isiZulu. Originally done without the aid of computers, it took 20 years to complete. They had to get it all scanned into a computer so that they could update and correct mistakes. It took five years to complete that project.

The challenges

The development of these kinds of books is costly, but the economic reality is that the niche market (isiZulu speakers) is unable to afford expensive books. Younger isiZulu speakers prefer to read English, even though isiZulu is their home language. They want to become financially sustainable but still be able to meet the demand for quality and relevant materials in the isiZulu language at a price that their market can afford.

“We are developing our website so that we can sell from there. We are also re-doing our old books to give them a fresher look, while trying to translate some of our good sellers into English so that all of the second language English speakers in South Africa will have access to them and not just isiZulu speakers.”

Another challenge is to produce more children’s books. UBI Publishing is committed to increasing its visibility and accessibility through radio advertising and a greater online presence. They have applied for a grant to accelerate the implementation of some of these measures.

Join Africa Speaks as we pray for the flourishing of UBI Publishing. May God provide for all their needs so that they meet the challenges that come their way.



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Africa Speaks

We are an international network of professionals committed to a flourishing Christian publishing industry in Africa. 

When Believers Don’t Pay Their Bills

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Article By Phoebe Mugo

If the Apostle Paul were writing this article, he might say something like he did to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 5:1): “It is reported that there is failure among Christians to pay their debts, in a manner that is not even found among non-believers. Indeed, the very concept of ‘believers who don’t pay their bills’ should not even exist in the Body of Christ.” Unfortunately, it does exist.

In Uzima Publishing House (The Anglican Church of Kenya arm of publishing), we often end each fiscal year with about 55 percent of our debtors being Christian institutions such as churches, church bookstores, and privately owned Christian bookstores. While most are debtors who should have paid within the fiscal year, some have debts incurred 6 or even 8 years ago. The non-Christian institutions that make up 45 percent of our debtors rarely exceed 12 months before paying, and their outstanding balances tend to date only from 2 to 12 months. We can honestly, but sadly, say that we do better business with non-believers than with those from the same household of faith.


A wrong worldview about business and ministry

Whereas many of our customers’ problems are due to the economy or poor management, a general lack of professionalism in the Christian business sector is also a major factor. In fact, the problem begins there. Christians—including publishers—tend to recruit staff on the basis of how much they love the Lord. Sales representatives hired on this basis may spend hours expressing their love by sharing testimonies with customers—and waste valuable work time. They may offer hefty credits to their beloved brothers or sisters in the faith. The business decision is made based on – “We go to the same church,” – without considering whether the customers can pay for their purchases. Indeed, we must recruit employees who love the Lord, but this must never be at the expense of their qualifications for the job they are hired to do.

Recruitment is key

Related to this is our tendency to hire unqualified workers because we do not want to pay high salaries. Often, we do not have a lot of money. We need to weigh the losses against the benefits that may be incurred by hiring unqualified personnel. In my experience, the company performs better if I hire qualified staff. Eventually they bring in enough money to justify their salaries. Solve in-house problems. Evaluate your recruiting practices. Develop an effective sales policy with guidelines on who is credit-worthy and what credit ceiling should be maintained for each customer.


Bookstore is both a business and a ministry

When a bookstore manager is not well trained, he or she may not understand stock management. They may order more than their store requires and have the books sit on the shelves indefinitely. Because the books are not selling, they cannot pay us. When we visit bookstores around the country, at times we find such a situation. We then work with the store and take back the books that are in good condition in exchange for other books. We cannot always do this (for example, if we revised the book and gave it a new cover design). In such cases, we expect our customers to take responsibility for their error of judgment and pay us.

Another common problem we have found among church-owned bookstores is poor financial management. Often the bookstore manager does not put the money back into the business but gives it back to the church, for payment of church bills or other church expenses. At the end of the day, there are no funds to pay the supplier or to purchase more books. We have encountered this problem over and over again and seen the collapse of many church bookstores as a result.


The strange ‘hand of fellowship’

Even when Christian bookstores make the mistakes mentioned above, they still expect the Christian publisher to extend the “hand of fellowship” to supply more books to them. If we publishers continue to supply literature even when we are not being paid, then we are making a fundamental error that will eventually lead to deep financial problems.

In Uzima, extending the “hand of fellowship” in this manner cost us dearly over the years. In the 1990s, outstanding debts almost led to the collapse of our company. Uzima had to close down its printing press and use what little money it still had to salvage the publishing house. We revamped our business, recruited better-trained staff, and developed a strict sales policy. We also developed a multi-faceted response to believers who do not pay their bills:


  • Pray for your customers.

Since inception, we at Uzima have always had morning devotions before we begin the day’s work. We dedicate one morning to prayer for ourselves and for our customers. We know that some bookstores have good intentions but are financially struggling, so we need to intercede for them. As we pray, we express our dependence on God. We ask for His guidance on how to recover very difficult and long-standing debts. We have seen amazing results to these prayers.


  • Build relationships.

Booksellers need to know Christian publishers love them and care about their struggles. In our case, every year we develop a list of activities that we will undertake together with churches and bookstores in Kenya. We have visited cancer patients and AIDS orphans together. We have helped clean up and renovate institutions, and we have attended various functions over the years. Team-building activities help our customers to see us as friends and co-laborers in Christ—rather than as foes who only ask for money whenever we meet. When the time for debt collection comes, it becomes much more friendly and easier to handle. In relationship-building, we also look for ways to give back to our customers. For example, with some of the royalties from the sale of worship books, we partially financed the Liturgical Committee of the Anglican Church in Kenya that developed an indigenized worship book in 2000. We have since sponsored churches to translate this prayer book from English into various Kenyan languages. This year, we plan to use royalties to offer stock control and financial management training to some of our bookstore managers who make greater efforts to pay us.


  • Create understanding.

At one time, Uzima’s relationship with the Church was very sour because they felt our debt collection tactics were insensitive. It became necessary for me to attend the House of Bishops—an annual meeting held by the primates—to address the matter. It helped a great deal to have the top church leadership understand the problems we face when we are not paid. At the end of the meeting, they agreed to take responsibility in this matter—and some debts that had been outstanding for over eight years were paid! As a continuation of this process, I have found it necessary to present a debtors list at the Annual General Meeting each year. Creating understanding with church leadership has really helped in our debt collection process.


  • Communicate your sales policy.

Communicating our sales policy to bookstores also has helped us with credit control and debt collection. The management categorized all bookstore accounts into three color codes:

BLACK: For those who are creditworthy. These are the bookstores who pay within the 30-day credit limit; even when late, they generally do not exceed 90 days. During our 30th anniversary celebration we awarded the best-paying bookstore with a plaque.

GREEN: For those who must be handled with caution. These are bookstores who may exceed the credit time given but eventually pay. Some frankly explain their financial difficulties, and we allow them to pay in installments, waiting until they clear previous debts before re-opening their accounts. Often, we require the sales representatives to seek the appropriate authorization before allowing a sale in this category.

RED: For those who should not be sold any more books. These are clients that have not made any payments in over three years, whether this is due to mismanagement of their funds or genuine financial difficulties. From time to time we have seen them sort out their financial problems, pay outstanding debts and re-open their accounts.


  • Avoid lawsuits.

There are times when we wondered whether we should take some difficult cases to court, but after much prayer and negotiation we were able to work out an out-of-court settlement. It is unfortunate for any publisher to sue a fellow Christian for non-payment; this goes against our beliefs and witness. In church-owned institutions it is advisable to take the case to the highest office in the church for a judgment to be reached. None of us should abuse the grace given us by our gracious Father in heaven by failing to honor our debts. When we hurt our suppliers, we also hurt the work that God is doing and fail to build His kingdom.


Phoebe Mugo, former chief executive of Uzima Publishing House in Nairobi, Kenya, holds a bachelor’s degree in book publishing from Oxford Brookes University and a master’s degree in Bible exposition and theology from the Nairobi International School of Theology.

The original article was done for Interlit, David C. Cook (published with permission)



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Phoebe Mugo

Phoebe Mugo, former chief executive of Uzima Publishing House in Nairobi, Kenya, holds a bachelor’s degree in book publishing from Oxford Brookes University and a master’s degree in Bible exposition and theology from the Nairobi International School of Theology.