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Publishers face lean times as competition and government cutbacks eat into their returns

Shopping for books. KIE fears that  digitising books might escalate  piracy and other forms of copyright infringement.  CHRIS  OJOW
Shopping for books. KIE fears that digitising books might escalate piracy and other forms of copyright infringement. CHRIS OJOW 

Last December Macmillan Kenya, a local publishing house, launched its first autobiography of Benjamin Kipkorir titled Descent from Cherang’any Hills: Memoirs of a Reluctant Academic.

It is not Macmillan’s norm to print memoirs. “We have to diversify to survive, competition is tough when it comes to textbooks,” says Mr James Mwazemba, the publishing manager. Macmillan is known for publishing textbooks but the firm has lately shown interest in trade books, e-books, and even early childhood books. As with Macmillan, most publishers are changing tack to survive in a competitive field.
Apart from competition, a leading publishers’ top customer — the government — has been cutting back on textbook buying. Since the introduction of the Free Primary Education (FPE) programme in 2003, the government has been the lifeline of the Sh5 billion industry, accounting for 50 per cent of sales. The government has been spending Sh650 per child on learning materials yearly, including textbooks for the eight million children enrolled under FPE. The amount has been reduced to Sh400.

“We are facing a bleak future because business is going down,” says Ms Nancy Karimi, the chairperson of the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA).

She says in future the government will only be looking to replace torn or lost books. When the government started spending heavily on textbooks, publishers abandoned their main customers — parents.
“We moved from there because the government was a safe market,” says Mr James Ogolla, the business and development manager at Oxford University Press.