A Unique Survey of Booksellers in 19 African Countries

Article By Africa Speaks

The Africa Leadership Study research shed light on some of the challenges publishing and book distribution efforts face. Africa Speaks seeks to understand and have objective data that clarifies these challenges further. To that end the Africa Booksellers Survey 2022 project has been launched. It comes hot on the heels of the Africa Leadership Study with an in-depth study of the publishing in 19 countries. Africa Speaks will be visiting local booksellers to collect accurate data on the state of publishing in African cities between February 2022 to July 2023. The survey will gather input to understand:

  • How are books distributed in a country?
  • Which are the best-selling titles?
  • What’s the price the locals are willing to pay to purchase a book?
  • Who are the leading local authors?
  • What genres are the most popular among Christians in the country?
  • What role digital books play and how are they accessed?

Among the first surveys already conducted, the survey of booksellers in Tanzania provided detailed information about the players in the Christian publishing industry, the structure of the industry, the problems they face, and the opportunities and challenges that exist. It also provided a unique opportunity for an audience with leading Christian publishers.

Findings from the ALS

An encouraging finding from the ALS was its substantiation of the high level of importance books and reading have for leaders in Africa. Many of the survey respondents indicated a strong desire to read books that are both Christian and written by Africans. However, only 9.5% of the respondents surveyed were able to identify a favourite author that was both Christian and African. An in-depth analysis of this study was made and presented in the book: African Christian Leadership: Realities, Opportunities, and Impact by Kirimi Barine and Robert J. Priest.

In Chapter 10, entitled “Reading and Leading – Challenges for African Christian Leaders,” the authors outline the key factors contributing to a situation where an otherwise vibrant African Christianity has not produced the literature that African Christians seem to want and need. Among these factors are the following:

  • Publishing and marketing are expensive and require adequate economic underpinnings. Most African Christians live within socioeconomic settings that are quite different from those faced by Christians in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. The current global financial market patterns related to Christian publishing work against the flourishing of Africa Christian authors.
  • Publishing is a competitive arena, where those with a greater presence on television and radio are better positioned with major publishers.
  • Christian missionaries historically distributed publications that were subsidized or free. Given such patterns, authors were understood to be making a gratuitous spiritual contribution through writing. They were not expected to make an actual living by writing excellent books that would sell in a competitive market. One result is that African Christian expectations about Christian publishing sometimes work at cross purposes to the cultural habits, competencies, and values needed for writing success in the modern world.
  • Most books by African authors are published locally, seldom marketed across their own country, much less beyond, and rarely see a second printing.

However, a fair number of the top leaders interviewed indicated a desire to write and had taken initial steps toward this end, but they also expressed a measure of uncertainty about how to proceed.
Considering all of this, the authors concluded that change will only occur if the broader structural factors are understood, and if a wide variety of Christian stakeholders, both in Africa and around the world, come to recognitions and commitments such as:

  1. A reading culture must be supported and fostered.
  2. The flourishing of African Christian writers is essential to the long term strength of the African church in addressing the realities that African Christians need help with. Deep commitments on the part of diverse stakeholders are necessary to help bring about such an outcome.
  3. Christian publishing and book distribution in Africa must be strengthened and prioritized.
  4. A culture of writing must be fostered.
  5. A wide variety of support for writers should be expanded from current levels.

These are virtually the same terms found in the Africa Speaks Accord, in which African publishing professionals committed to a thriving Christian publishing industry in Africa.

The Rationale and Implementation of ABS 2022

One of the findings of the ALS data analysis is the problem of book distribution, as can be read in the same chapter 10:

“Book distribution in Africa is a problem (Chakava 1996, 2007). Most books by African authors are published locally, seldom marketed across their own country, much less beyond, and rarely see a second printing. Of the twenty-three Anglophone countries in Africa, only four have fairly adequate wholesale book distributors—Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa. In those countries bookshop owners can acquire their stock locally. Since most English-language titles come from other countries, in the other nineteen countries local booksellers need to import most of the books they sell—a daunting task. To complicate matters further, it is often difficult if not impossible to import books from neighboring African countries (because of border tensions, weak or nonexistent infrastructure, import duties, and bribes being extorted at customs). Thus, it is often far easier to acquire books from the United States or Great Britain.”

The Africa Booksellers Survey will therefore provide a better understanding of the implications of book distribution in these countries. For any meaningful building of the Christian publishing in Africa as an industry, accurate, objective and updated data will be indispensable. The survey involves face to face meeting of publishing professionals, data collection using questionnaires and recorded interviews to share the state of publishing in each country as shared by the local practitioners.

The Goals of ABS

By visiting local booksellers and engaging with them, Africa Speaks is looking to gather accurate data on the state of publishing in African cities. This data is crucial for decision making in building a flourishing Christian publishing industry.
Another major goal is to put together a comprehensive directory of Christian publishing professionals on the continent. This will be organized and structured into a listing of the talent available among publishing professionals in Africa and help the players understand the various expertise available and geographical coverage.
The survey will also help establish an in-depth understanding of the history of Christian publishing in each country and the contextual dynamics that influence the present practice.
As the study continues, join in prayer that more booksellers may be reached and heard. And may the findings of this research help establish a thriving publishing industry in Africa.




Africa Speaks

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