The publishing business is one most investors would rather not go into. Of course, this is not unconnected to the challenges and risks involved. However, the fact remains that no nation is complete without a thriving publishing industry. This article is a reminder of the relevance of the publishing industry.
WHY YOUR LOCAL PUBLISHING INDUSTRY MATTERS
For some time now, I have been fascinated by this notion that change occurs first in the realm of ideas. To transform society, you will first have to change the mindset of the people. This is especially true for countries such as ours in which people are making the difficult transition from the traditional to modern ways of doing things.
I decided to go into publishing because I thought publishing helped to define the ideas that shape society. In fact, I will go further to contend that publishing and the media industry lead change. This was what I was thinking 6 years ago and it all seemed to add up. There were about 120 million people in Nigeria. If I could sell edifying books to 1 percent of that population every year; that would be a decent number of books. I would have a solid business. I would also be doing my own bit to put my country on a path of growth and prosperity.
These days, I have a more nuanced outlook. Six years ago, I did not anticipate the scale and quality of commercial infrastructure required to sell 1 million books to 150 million people scattered around a country roughly 4 times the size of Ghana. More crucially, I did not know then, that if you set up an independent publishing business in Nigeria you could be competing with some of the most formidable entities in the English speaking world. While we import everything, the publishing houses I was setting out to compete with, are solidly backed up by the cultural policies of the government of the United Kingdom, and actively supported by the EU. And lately, those of the United States and India, happily projecting their soft power, while opening up new markets, all across Africa. Working in tandem with public institutions in those countries are also private trusts and endowments that are carefully coordinated to find and nurture talent, and to guarantee the development of benign self-expression in society. There is a clear appreciation of a government’s vested interest in facilitating the success of every hard-working, tax-paying, talented individual or corporate entity involved in the production of culture.
My point here is that the most socially and economically advanced nations also happen to be the most successful at encouraging the flowering of new ideas in their countries and at managing the ways these ideas are brought to life for the benefit of society.
I have come to appreciate the vital importance of governance in creating an environment that compels society to look inwards regularly and imagine a better future. It also empowers individuals and institutions within society to make the necessary plans and do whatever it takes to build that imagined future. I suspect that even if we had no natural resources but had good governance, we could be as productive, developed and respected as any country on this planet. When Kwame Nkrumah said, “Seek ye first the political kingdom and everything else will be added unto you,” he was making an impassioned rallying call for good governance and necessary sacrifice that must be made for nation building. Kingdoms are strenuously fought for and hard won.
Now, if ideas do indeed lead change, I would contend that nations that have lifted the majority of their people out of poverty are able to do so, precisely because they know how to stimulate useful ideas in society. They know how to stimulate, collate and transform the best of these ideas into values, canons, mores, trends, fashion, gadgets and other products, which are able to transform the lives of the majority of their people.
The educational policies of these countries are carefully crafted within a larger cultural framework that involves public and private institutions, to facilitate the synthesis of innovative ideas into products that are sought after locally and the world over. These countries have resourceful and vibrant publishing and media industries, which are actively promoted and empowered as a matter of national policy. These nations actively encourage and subsidize the production of culture.
By facilitating the free flow of ideas through society, the publishing and media industry empower individuals and communities to create environments that enable new ideas flourish. Visionaries in the arts, the humanities and sciences imagine a better future, and visionary politicians; working with community leaders and businessmen, build it. Change is what happens when you mix good ideas with clear vision and disciplined industry in a matrix of responsible, reflective and resourceful leadership.
Publishing engenders change and development, by helping to stimulate new ideas, and by helping to propagate them. Publishing and the media industry do for culture and social development, what the banks are supposed to do for the economy and social development.
In a world in which powerful nations have come to accept that it is less expensive and more enduring to conquer hearts and minds rather than physical space, a world that is beginning to value the effective deployment of soft power over hard military power, a world in which vigorously contested proxy wars are being fought by the global powers in the areas of finance, commerce and culture; publishing and media organizations are now at the vanguard of engagement in the international political economy.
The local publishing and media industry is way too strategic for Nigerian national interest. Our nation allows it to flounder at its own peril.
*This article was written by Muhtar Bakare, Publisher, Farafina Books and published in Next newspapers.