Challenges of Book Publishing in Ethiopia

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HOHE Awards had the chance to take part in the second edition of the Tukul of the book, which took place on 21-22 of April 2017, a unique event organized by Alliance Ethio Francaise in Addis Ababa.
Taking the name of the traditional Ethiopian circular houses, the Tukul of the book is an opportunity to gather publishers, professors, writers and students around the theme of the book. It is organized cognizant to the fact that, the book is an item that creates encounters, exchanges, debates; it brings people closer together.
One of the panel discussions on the topic was «The book, from publishing to reading» whereby we heard from key industry players in Ethiopia including Shama Books and giant publishers who came from France like l’Harmattan about publishing. In Ethiopia the publishing industry is in its infant stage, which brings different challenges for writers, as the role of publishing is non-existent, writers are obliged to find a way by themselves to self-publish their works. We have few publishers in country including the age old Addis Ababa University press, the newly established Ethiopian Academy of Sciences Press, which has managed to publish Belatten Geta Heruy’s travel blog to Europe some 100 years back, Shama Books, Book Light and others.The role of publisher is immense in translating a manuscript toa book and making it available in the market. A traditional print publisher actually has to do a lot, and someone self-publishing has to find a way to do the equivalent. At a publishing company, different people fill the roles of designing, editing, copyediting, distributing, marketing and selling. A self-publisherof a print book, need to work on all of them. A self-publisher has to compete in marketplace, head to head with publishing companies and many other self-publishers. It’s possible to do that, but it takes time, money, and knowledge of the market. That is why we need many vibrant publishers in the country.
According to HOHE Awards observations, In Ethiopia90% of books are published by organizations that do not have publishing licenses and of this about 20% of them have not had any prior experience in publishing. Of course one can self-publish their own book. But when it comes to distribution, the book needs to go through local booksellers and distribution channels. We have been seeing a growing number of sensational politics and pornography books with limited research and quality contents. Books who have high literary merits and which are considered to have critical perspective are lacking marketability. The price of books is also one of the areas, which needs serious attention. Most books in the market are highly inflated with the view to attract booksellers whom we have been countering in the streets. Lack of publishing houses makes it hard to bring books that have contemporary issues to light. It is high time for those who have been engaged in publishing of books even at micro level to come together and work with the government to facilitate favorable environment for book publishing and nurturing the industry.
At the panel we have had a chance to hear from l’Harmattan’s experience on how they have conducted publishing in France. Every year they publish about 2,000 titles in different fields. Out of the manuscripts submitted for publishing requested by authors l’Harmattan accepted only 2% of those submitted, as they are obliged to go through a rigorous editorial review process. Publishing 2000 books per year means about 6 new book titles are entering the market every day. According to Shama Books representative, they have managed to publish 200 titles since the establishment of the company. One can easily guess where we are in terms of documenting and sharing knowledge. These types of forums are crucial to discuss this type of timely and important issues. It is with this in view that HOHE Awards will be collaborating with Alliance EthioFranciase to make the 3rd book festival a big one next year.

Ephrem Berhanu