Anthony Agbali disputes the point that Africans dont read:
This entire discourse on publishing is very interesting. Let us take a look at some of the points made. Thus, I want to note that Africans do write and they do read. But the question is: what do they write about? And what do they read? I think that this questions has been notably documented and answered by two renowned persons, namely Professor Toyin Falola in his book, Indigenous Knowledge, where he noted that while the books published and read in places like Nigeria are often subjective and self-interest histories by public figures that purely academic publications seems to be trailing behind in readership and distribution. Ironically, he noted that though the publication of some of these subjective historical and highly politicized narratives are often aided by intellectuals serving as consultants books of purely academic interests find it hard to match such genres. Also Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the young but promising novelist of Purple Hisbiscus noted in a February 19th, 2005 article in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper (also featured herein as dialogue 432) of another type of genre that sells in Nigeria, namely religious booksNothing that "This suggests, then, that our economy has not prevented us from reading; it has only prevented us from reading literature. The real reason for this may not be the economy itself, however, but what we have turned to in response to the economy: a scarcity-driven brand of religion where pastors in sleek churches assure you that God wants you to have that new Mercedes-Benz."
Now the basic issue is what does the African audience want to read, and what do they produce. Now, as a kid in Secondary School in the 1980s, a brand of Nigerian literature called the "Pacesetter" that focus on contemporary issues of crime, romance, and all such issues was highly welcomed and read by young people. We would save our "Breakfast money" to buy these books then, each person in our group buying three each week, and then another in a rotating forum, then we pass it around ourselves, but we ensured that we bought these highly interesting novels to satisfy our tastes. The pacesetters like many things Nigerian gave up the ghost even before the 1990s. Yet, this was the time that Newswatch and others Nigerian newspapers where complaining of low sales and high cost of production! Interestingly, such junk journals like "Ikebe Superstar" (with Papa Ajasco), Lagos Weekend were in high demand until they too got hit by either the economic crises or lack whatever stunted or annihilated them from circulation. Yet, the Romance magazines that emerged in the 1990s readily found an acceptance and gained wide readership. Paradoxically other Nigerian news publications were complaining of bad sales.I think that while the issue here is that purely academic publications are driven by tenure and promotional interests, especially from the African intellectuals in the diaspora, writing is a form of art, and art is a vocation that should be pursued for its own sake. It doesn't have to be based on monetary values alone, though it is essential. Published works have an autonomous dimensions in shaping human reality and society, as well as encrypt a certain kind of consciousness that often transcend their writers. For instance, a book that I did not know how it made when it was first released- The Twelve Day Revolution in the Niger Delta, documenting the experience of Isaac Boro and his 1966 revolution has come to be in hot demand decades after it was first published by Iddo Umeh publishers, following the Ogoni movement and its preponderance in the entire Nigerian Niger Delta. Thus, even if that book was supposed to have accumulated dusts in 1983 in the basement of its writer today, it has autonomous come to be recognized as an essential anecdotal vignette toward understanding the present contour of minority agitations in Nigeria, and specifically the Nigerian Niger Delta area.Therefore, at times authors lived to enjoy the benefits of their works but at times not. I think that Nietzche works or Van Gogh's art have more resilient appeal today that it was even in the days of these great luminous. If I am not mistaken, Johnson's work on the History of the Yoruba (still selling through Amazon) have outlived its writer but continues to be relevant to our cogent understanding of that purview of historical and intellectual- even mythical arena of Yoruba thoughts and scholarships.My imagination is that even with the pursuit of tenure, writing is a skill and an art, thus not everyone including intellectuals are given to its demand, hence, some scholars have not published more than the minimum necessary for tenure, whereas others continue to rain the market with different texts.Now, the essential issue is also due to the politics of publishing. A friend of mine, once told me that if Chinua Achebe has lived today, he would have not become a Nigerian celebrity given that publishers such as Heinemann that once favored, in the wake of African agitation for independence and post-independent environment, African writers today do little to promote such works today. What is therefore a problem is not that there is a dearth of African geniuses but that there is a market that has consistently favored the imperial west to the periphery. Thus, today, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Helen Oyeyemi, given their location in the West, are privileged by a predominantly Western audience than those they write about. Yet, other good writers like the ones in my Pacesetters experience are chipped out of existence without any form of recognition since they remain local champions without authoritative crown due to their location within the global periphery. Today, many significant scholarships published in Africa are not in the global market in spite of their excellent scholarship and appeal. For instance, while in the area of theology for instance, some like Charles Nyamiti has articulated and published intriguing works on themes like "Christ as our Ancestors: Perspectives on African Christology, " this work is hard to find in the West, rather it is the commentators of his theology, mainly westerners who are projecting secondarily Nyamiti's work in the West and the primary sources- the book on Christ as Our Ancestor: Perspective on African Christology, published by Mambo Press (Gweru, Zimbabwe) is hard to find on amazon.com, and other similar western bookstores. Why is this the case, that work focusing on Africa are hard to find on the continent they focus on? How then do scholars engage such works as texts rather than exotic idioms? For instance, while Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," "No Longer at Ease," and others of the 1950/60s are well known on the continent the work- "The Anthill on the Savannah" that was very contemporary and written between his Nigerian and American transition seems to have been negligibly known on the continent as these earlier works. Why?We must found answers to this question? Is it that people are not reading? Or is there something wrong with their marketing? Are Africans worrying more about eating and surviving than reading? Then why are the works of the religious iconoclasts such as the Kumuyis, Joshua Temitope, and the novel religious ideologues selling like hot cake? Why are the texts and CDs of folks like Joyce Meyers in hot demand in countries like Nigeria and Cameroon, and yet these are costly by African standards? Why are the memos of our politicians selling in some quarters even among those considered the poor? No, Africans read. Nigerians for instance every morning are seen at newspaper stands reading the day's daily, they buy the ones that interests them, and in such country different print medias are spiralling every day, if the readership is this poor are people not buying? Are these media not in business? The simple truth, is that some scholarly works are too focused on abstraction that one need to have academic dictionaries to understand them, they do not appeal to the popular imagination. African academics and intellectuals sometimes pride themselves on competing with each other on the level of academic jargons displayed on printed texts that they feel makes them more "oyinbo-ish" than the "oyinbo" and so rather than address issues at the level of understanding find themselves amazingly over-abstract. This overt abstraction kills interest.Further, today Fourth Dimension, Spectrum and other new publishing houses are still in existence, if the environment is too poor they too would have had their dirges. The last time I was in Nigeria I bought some impressive titles printed by Fourth Dimension of high quality. As a proposal can we get some of the publishers here to liaise with local publishers to print their books at lower prices for the African market, and/or distribute their work here, while they sell the African texts at the global market at fairly standard western prices to break even? The Principle of subsidiarity, where the minority and majority interests work toward the attainment of positive social goals is what is assumed here- for the benefit of all. Thus, can African World Press, for instance link with Mambo Press in Zimbabwe to publish and market such work like Nyamiti's Christ as Our Ancestor: Perspectives on African Christology, thus boosting Africa's forgotten and sidelined works of quality on the global market, while using outlets like Mambo or Fourth Dimension to booster works from America and Europe in the African market. The issue of having to copy books as Ike-Idogu noted is one of mal-distribution rather than even income. For instance, Jean-Francois Bayart's book on Politics of the Belly in the English translation is outrageously hard to find even here in the west, and used copy is almost one third the salary of some academics in Nigeria. Is it worth it, is it essential for a professor to have that text to be able to teach a class in political science, when he has texts like "Kaduna Mafia" produced by Nigerian academics?The politics of publishing also goes further to privilege texts depending on where they are published. Hence, works published in Africa are often less legitimated than similar works in America or Europe, thus Americans and European voices, as well as their African diasporic cohorts become the most vocal voices on matters occurring in Africa, that are sometimes best observed by African scholars on the ground. However, because these African scholars at home have less access to global research funding agencies and foundations, they are discarded as possessing less clout. Therefore, the issue of publishing and its politics, is also a matter of distributive justice. It is only when these issues are critically affirmed and examined for what they truly are, then it is only then, that we can truly envision how to properly savage the situation.
Probably, this dialogue is a significant way of readdressing the situation. As for good quality press in Nigeria, they are many- Fourth Dimension, Enugu, Spectrum Books, Ibadan, and private publishers like Fab Annieh in Jos, SNAAP Press, Enugu; Onaivi Publishing Company, Makurdi, and there are many more of these kind spread all over.