By Anote Ajeluorou (Assistant Arts Editor), The Guardian (Nigeria)

One of the sectors hard hit by Nigeria’s dire economic situation is the book industry, especially the literary aspect. It is a critical sector that apathy to intellectual culture in the country has made all the more grave. With all raw materials sourced from abroad amid a worsening naira-to-dollar exchange rate, the country’s book crisis continues to deepen. But while some stakeholders, especially publishers and authors, are digging in to find ways of surviving and keeping their businesses afloat, booksellers’ mounting debt profile is threatening to cripple the book business altogether.

So, between publishers and booksellers or distributors, there is no love lost, as publishers accuse them of failing to remit monies even after they would have sold books supplied to them. Booksellers or distributors, on the other hand, cite poor sales figures and rising cost of running their business as reason they are sometimes unable to maintain their own part of the bargain to publishers. Meanwhile, the authors continue to mount pressure on publishers to pay royalties even as publishers are unable to collect monies from booksellers and distributors. The result is a vicious circle.

This sorry state of affairs has put the industry in some chaos. But publishers are getting wiser by the day, as they are fast adopting other measures to beat the trust issues they have with booksellers and distributors.

Femi Morgan, formerly of WriteHouse Collective, but now of Baron Café, estimates that booksellers and distributors may be in the debt of publishers to the tune of N9 million and still counting. His estimation is limited to books of creative fiction – novels and short stories, and poetry and a little of drama texts. Viewed against the background of an industry with about five or seven publishers – Farafina, Cassava Republic Press, Paressia Publishing, Delta Publishers Ltd, and a handful of smaller publishing companies – N9 million seems such a big deal.

For Enugu-based author and publisher, Mr. Dillibe Onyeama (author of 1970s and 1980s occult and magical novels like Juju, Nigger at Eton, Sex is a Nigger’s Game, Secrete Society and Godfathers of Voodoo), the crisis of debt in the book industry is alarming. And like his colleagues, he has resolved never to sell on credit or trust, with the hope that the booksellers will pay-on-demand. It’s either cash and carry or no deal at all, as he has been hard hit by debts. He estimated that his publishing outfit, Delta Publishers Ltd, has lost aver N500,000 to booksellers who simply refused to pay.

“You give them (booksellers) in good faith and they don’t pay you,” he lamented. “From Lagos to Enugu, Ibadan, Suleja to Calabar, it’s the same story and it makes you wonder. So, we just cut them off. A small company like ours can’t afford that sort of losses. So, we stopped giving credit. We have to have new strategies that have been working for us.”

Onyeama said he doubted if booksellers would be willing to speak on the issue so as “to avoid the disgrace of public exposure. Suffice to say that virtually all booksellers, including university outlets and government libraries, have a case to answer in this regard. Lagos and Ibadan reign supreme in bad debts.”

But it is not only the booksellers and distributors that are in debt to these publishing firms. This much, former Chief Operating Officer of Farafina, Dr. Eghosa Imasuen, said. Schools also owe hugely, even when the school authorities would have collect monies from students for the purpose. While a publisher may rejoice at having his or her book as a school text, the reality is a different kettle of fish, when it is time to collecting money, especially when schools are directly supplied books.

Imasuen, jocularly said, “Them go owe person to penury!” as being symptomatic of the mess publishers usually find in their relationship with booksellers and distributors. He, however, acknowledged that running a business like a bookshop could really be a tricky affair. He wondered just how they manage to balance the cost of running such an outfit and making profit and then being able to meet their obligations to publishers.

“All these businesses are difficult to run,” he noted. “Their overhead must swamp them; the running cost and then you wonder why you are giving them your book; how are they going to pay with books that sell N2,000 and far too few copies to make any serious profits.”

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