For 53 years, everyday releasing reading materials, equipping students and book lovers with content, East African Educational Publishers (EAEP) has noticeable footprints.
The publishing firm, acquired from a British publisher, Heinemann, in 1992, has grown in leaps and bounds despite challenges and emerging technologies.
“There is no looking back,” says the chief executive officer Kiarie Kamau.
Heinemann was bought by local entrepreneurs who were interested in publishing and education in 1992, led by the current EAEP chairman Henry Chakava, Mr Kiarie said.
It is one of the companies that led the pack in the arena of mergers and acquisitions in Kenya.
“After the acquisition, we expanded our publishing programme and incorporated broader publishing approach,” he says.
Mr Kiarie notes that to survive in the face of internet, digital technologies and globalisation, publishing firms must take stock and find the best ways to adapt.
For EAEP, he says the advent of digitisation opened new vistas towards packaging and reading of learning materials.
“We have embraced digitisation because we live in a world of disruption, and this is a positive disruption. We are doing digital learning materials which target the school market and also for the general readers,” he says.
The publisher is currently developing interactive digital content with the aim of helping young learners to acquire knowledge in a more practical manner as opposed to “still content” which is a characteristic of printed books.
The new books which have been developed include for pre-primary 1 and 2 as well as for grades 1, 2 and 3, which are based on the new competence-based curriculum.
“We are working very closely with the Kenyan Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) because of the curriculum and syllabus. It also advises us on what to do so as to produce products that fit their benchmark,” says Mr Kamau.
For adult reading, the publisher is developing e-books which can be read anywhere and anytime via mobile phones, tablets or laptops.
One of the biggest challenges facing the publishing industry is piracy and East African Publishers is no exception.
“If we are able to fight piracy, we are sure of selling those copies they sell,” Mr Kiarie says.
“Counterfeiting is eating so much of the publishing business and therefore it is necessary to regulate the industry better.”
The industry losses Sh3 billion to Sh5 billion per year to piracy.
“They are printing copies almost of the same quality as ours and selling at half the price. May be it is time to relook at the fines. It should not be nothing short of dismantling the plants,” he says and adds that piracy cases take long in courts and those found guilty are only fined Sh800,000.
This is despite the fact that the cost of producing one book could be as much as Sh250,000 considering research, labour, product development, printing and overhead costs as well as the cost of submission of books to the relevant authorities. In addition, the turnaround time is long, and return on investment takes time.
It could take even eight months to produce one book. Coupled with other challenges such as VAT and cutthroat competition, counterfeiting is a real threat to the industry, Mr Kiarie warns.
“Copyright issues should be re-looked, the punishment for such traders should be hefty. But we are determined. Currently we are doing private investigations in collaboration with the Anti-Counterfeit Agency and the Kenya Copyright Board,” he reveals.
To stay afloat in the highly competitive industry, he says EAEP has developed a new approach: “Our priority area is defined by where we expect more revenues.”
The firm is thus targeting the new curriculum for schools. It is currently developing new content since almost 95 per cent in the new curriculum is completely new.
The publisher produces between 100,000 and 300,000 copies of a textbook that has a good market niche every year. It also publishes between 400,000 and 600,000 copies of set books per year, given that every student in Form Three or Form Four must have a copy.
The company has employed at least 2,000 and has created a book chain that benefits hundreds of thousands of other people across East Africa and Malawi.