With the world's youngest population, one of the fastest growing Internet development rates and its many burgeoning economies, Africa is an extraordinary reservoir of potential new readers and, more especially, of new publishing ideas and creativity, particularly when it comes to literature for children and young people.
"I have been told by textbook sellers that publishing fiction in Mozambique is an act of courage. High illiteracy rates, low income and poor reading habits and culture among those who can afford to buy books are a reality," says Sandra Tamele, founder of Editora Trinta Zero Nine (Mozambique). "Most countries in Africa are struggling with the cost of books, lack of book distribution networks (including lack of infrastructure to support online bookstores), few brick-and-mortar bookstores, inadequate library services and lack of relevant local stories in local languages. And when there is a well-developed publishing industry, it is often focused on educational content for schools and universities. Some other challenges include piracy and lack of quality content especially in children's books," adds Swaady Martin (Loving Kindness Boma, Côte d'Ivoire).
Sandra and Swaady are among the guests of the Spotlight on Africa programme which, in partnership with the International Publishers Association (IPA) – managing of the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund – and the support of the Italian Trade Agency (ITA/ICE) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI), is bringing publishers from Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Ethiopia, Côte d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania, Tunisia, Togo, Guinea, Benin and Nigeria to this year's BCBF – its 59th edition – along with leading figures from the African publishing scene, including authors, illustrators and innovators.
Although coming from countries with very different identities, all participants have the same goal: to lay the foundations for communities with an ever-stronger cultural scene made up of creative local communities. Experiences, visions and ideas will be shared during a broad series of panel discussions. Particular focus will be placed on the increasingly urgent need to develop the skills needed to manage growth and rapid change. "The state of the publishing industry in Africa is as diverse as the number of countries on the continent. Cultural differences of religion, language, and customs, socio-economic development, literacy, infrastructure and the relationship with the former colonizer create different sets of challenges and opportunities. For example, 9 of the least literate countries in the world are in Africa (the least literate is Chad: 22%) but some of the most literate countries in the world are also in Africa (Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa ~95%). While Equatorial Guinea and South Africa have similar high literacy rates, access to books in these two markets is very different. While South Africa has the most developed book distribution network in Africa, there is almost no book distribution network in Equatorial Guinea," Martin continues.
Sandra Tamele notes, however, that despite the obvious difficulties, "In the last two years, we have seen the emergence of young independent publishers, such as ETZN, eager to engage with the digital age and make books more affordable and appealing, bringing them closer to the homes of potential readers. And children and young adults make up the vast majority of these readers”.
An important response to such a complex situation could be increased interaction with potential global partners. BCBF has offered its venue as a meeting place to make this happen. "Participating in BCBF could therefore be a key turning point as it is a unique opportunity to connect with publishers with valuable insights into these target groups. I am particularly interested in exploring silent books, an incredible solution for a publisher in a country with 43 languages," concludes Sandra Tamele. "All these challenges may seem daunting,” adds Swaady Martin, “but they also make Africa one of the best regions to disrupt the publishing and book industry and really think about new ways to reach this huge untapped market."
See the full Spotlight on Africa programme at Bologna Children's Book Fair (21-24 March 2022).