The ninth edition of the Authors’ Forum organized by University Press Plc seeks a more mutually rewarding partnership between publishers and writers, AKEEM LASISI writes
Celebrated writer and scholar, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, faced an intriguing task on Wednesday. As the keynote speaker at the ninth edition of the Authors’ Forum organized by University Press Plc, she had to speak on the relationship between authors and publishers.
Ordinarily, the relationship should be complementary and mutually be benefitting. But many people know that, in reality, this is not always the situation, with issues of royalty often causing royal rumble between them.
The former Head of Department of English, University of Lagos, however, triumphed in the end – based on the participants’ opinions at the programme that had the Chairman of the company, Dr. Lekan Are, as the chairman. And this is despite the fact that she was a little-challenged health-wise. As she recalled at the beginning of her presentation, she fell from the staircase in her house a few days ago, a development that took her to and fro the hospital. Indeed, she was advised against travelling but she was more than determined to grace the forum.
“I said, ‘Even if I have to be carried on the shoulders, I have to be there,” Ezeigbo noted.
The scholar explained that publishers and writers needed each other, saying one could hardly meaningfully exist without the other. She, however, noted that royalty and other related matters remained critical. She used her own experience as an example, saying out of the seven Nigerian publishers that had produced her books, only one had been paying her royalty as and when due. But her foreign publishers have also been faithful in terms of royalty and vital information.
She said, “The relationship between most authors and publishers in Nigeria has been froth with uneasy peace or outright rancour. From my conversations with fellow authors, I know that most Nigerians writers are unhappy with their publishers whom they accuse of a number of failings. For the purpose of confidentiality and privacy, I will not reveal the names of authors and publishers that will be referred to here. Authors accuse publishers of not keeping to the terms of the contract. They complain that publishers rob them of the rewards of their labour by not paying royalties either regularly or even at all. Publishers are also condemned for not marketing books effectively, as their distribution strategies are not always efficient.”
But she also painted a compelling picture of the environment the publishers operate in and some of the contradictions they have to grapple with. According to her, apart from the fact that reading culture is dwindling, many authors also fail where they need to support their publishers, while some could be dishonest.
Ezeigbo identified online publishing and distribution as some of the ways out for authors. So also is self-publishing which, she noted, had become a saving grace for many emerging writers that traditional publishers could not accommodate. Yet, each of these also has its own challenges which seem to put the writer and his muse in a fix. Ezeigbo noted that while online platforms, including Amazon, paid writers too little, self-published work had no potential to circulate widely.
The way out, she averred, was still for the big publishers to enlarge their visions and hearts towards expanding their businesses and further rewarding writers. Part of the options, according to her, is for the publishers to embrace aggressive online publishing and distribution. She also wants them to take writers on reading tours while advocating more of the Authors’ Forum ideas, for which many experts at the event commended UP Plc.
She indeed commended the company for its business practice, which she believes is uncommon in the country. According to her, the company pays her royalty promptly, just as she commended what she calls its policy of inclusion which, she added, brought financial and emotional reward to all parties. Ezeigbo identified the establishment and sustenance of the Authors’ Forum as one of the ideals that stand UP Plc out.
She said, “To the best of my knowledge, there is hardly any other publishing house that does this for writers. I believe this is a great initiative that other publishers should emulate.”
While many of the participants commended Ezeigbo for doing justice to the topic, they also joined her to salute UP Plc for sustaining the forum. For an Ibadan-based writer, Jare Ajayi, Nigerian publishers can come together to form a formidable joint distributing online outfit that will not be exploitative.
Another major issue that stirred up emotion at the event is the indiscriminate way in which students photocopy books in Nigerian universities. Ezeigbo and other stakeholders expressed frustration at this, with a lawyer insisting that culprits should be made to face the law. To Lekan Are, however, the first set of people to be prosecuted ought to be lecturers who indulge in handout sales. He recalled how he made the declaration when he was giving a lecture at the University of Ibadan, where he had said, “All the professors should be in jail. The moment you photocopy what others have written and compel students to buy such, you simply ought to be in jail.”
Are lamented that reading culture was bad and was getting poorer by the day. He recalled how a sound reading culture gave students of old a sound foundation, with the example of the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who, according to Are, used to read five books every week, as a pupil of Government College, Ibadan.
He is disturbed that most young people do not read again, noting that this was badly affecting their thinking capacity.
“What you find is that the pupils cannot think well. This is the difference between our education system and what obtains in the US and other similar countries. There, you are made to think. The school system must encourage the reading of literary works because they broaden their perspectives,” he said.
At the event attended by the Eze of Ndikeleonwu, Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike; poet paureate, Prof. Niyi Osundare, widow of Prof. Akinwumi Isola, Mrs. Abimbola Isola, among many other scholars, writers, and other practitioners, Are assured everyone that UP Plc had a strong passion for the overall growth of its authors. He said the company believed in not only rewarding them financially but in also empowering them in several other ways.
He said in his welcome remarks, “The relationship between authors and publishers is mutually rewarding. Good authors bring fortune to the publishers, just as reputable publishers promote authors beyond their shores. Publishers and authors are like Siamese twins whose dependence on each other cannot be undermined. You will agree with me that the relationship between authors and publishers, apart from being mutually rewarding, also produces a synergy that oils the wheel of educational development and advancement of the nation. The roles of authors and publishers remain distinct, each dependent on the other for the successful completion of a publishing project.
“The book, as a veritable source of information to teachers and students, a goldmine of knowledge for researchers and scholars, and a fountain of pleasure and leisure for general readers, is a link that binds the authors and publishers together.”
Based on the way they speak the truth without caring whose ox is gored, Osundare and Dr Are are bound to be drawn to each other. The acclaimed poet let this out at the forum, where he recalled how Are stole his hearts several years ago.
Osundare said, “My first contact with Dr Lalekan Are was when he appeared on a TV programme. He was then the Chief Executive Officer of the Ogun-Osun River Basin Authority. Each time he appeared on the platform he fired hard facts that many people would otherwise find difficult to express. Then I would tell myself, ‘Can I have the opportunity to move near this man?’ Now, it is book that has made this to happen. This Authors’ Forum is a very commendable one for which we cannot thank UP Plc enough. I have been doing some statistics and I have not seen any other outfit that has done this consistently.”
It was a fulfilled Managing Director of UP Plc, Mr. Samuel Kolawole, who promised the authors that the forum had come to stay. He promised them a bumper edition next year – when the forum will clock 10 and the publishing firm will be 70.
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