Muli: It is not all doom and gloom for publishing industry
Cool, calm and collected are adjectives that best describe Aaron Muli, Signal Publishers Limited managing director. But behind this veneer of calmness is an astute entrepreneur, publisher and educationist with a burning desire to revolutionise the publishing world.
Born 36 years ago in the sleepy Nuu Village in Mwingi, Kitui County, the first born in a family of eight siblings dared to dream.
And his dream saw him go against the grain, ditching teaching – his father is still a teacher – to venture into the business of turning paper into money.
The father of two is now a proud owner of a publishing firm, tucked in the bustling Likoni Road in Industrial Area, Nairobi.
Growing up, Mr Muli dreamt of being a cartographer as he loved drawing maps. But fate would see him join Tambach Teachers Training College in Elgeyo Marakwet.
Even after graduating with a distinction as a P1 teacher, he only taught for a month before walking away to pursue his passion after developing an interest in writing.
The nagging bug to follow his dream saw Mr Muli venture into the publishing world, first at Jesma Publishers between 2011 and 2014.
“While still working at Jesma, I felt the urge to solve a need that I had identified in the market and that is how I started my journey. And the rest as they say, is history,” says Mr Muli.
In May 2014, Signal Publishers was born in a small office along River Road in the city centre. The business would be domiciled there until 2019 when a branch was established in Industrial Area along Likoni Road.
The firm is now a leading developer and publisher of school curriculum books, exams, assessment tools for both primary and secondary schools as well as literary works.
“We started by publishing assessment tools before venturing into book publishing and now we are doing creative work, too,” he avers. “I cannot say the journey has been easy. There are times when you do so well and others when you are at the lowest. All in all, I cannot complain.”
The MD says the firm has become one of the go-to publishers for schools, booksellers and general readers.
Drawing from his background as a teacher has seen him maintain the quality of products that Signal puts out.
Dealing with knowledgeable people, the measure of standards is quality production, says Mr Muli and being a teacher has helped him in quality control as he researches and develops formats and gives specifications himself.
“The market is huge and wide. There are so many schools in this country. As long as you are giving them quality products, they will support you,” he points out.
But even after becoming a powerhouse in the publishing sector, Mr Muli says they are not resting on their laurels as his goal is to expand, with an eye on the East African region.
“We are looking at publishing as many creative authors as there can be and also conquering the East Africa region.”
But he reckons that publishing is not an easy job as many challenges abound, saying a publishing house is the house between the church and the bank.
“Return on investment is not always guaranteed so you always go to the bank when you have made a lot of money or go to the church to seek divine intervention,” he explains.
The MD decries the high cost of printing paper that drives up the cost of production as they have to import paper from South Korea and Russia, as well as the high VAT on books which makes their products very expensive. The cost is passed on to the consumer.
He also pointed to another challenge facing the industry in the name of piracy, which has gone digital with people sharing material on WhatsApp and websites selling pirated material, resulting in publishers and authors losing billions of shillings in the process.
“Our exam papers are pirated and circulated online. They know what customers prefer, and know when you are releasing exam codes. Our copyright laws are not that effective in tackling this problem,” he laments.
However, continuing to set the bar in the market, the firm has set up an imprint – Indie Africa Books – to give a chance to up-and-coming authors who want to be published.
He says through the imprint; they strive to publish the budding writers limited by the high costs of publishing even as he also encourages writers to embrace self-publishing.
“There are many people who want to be published but all cannot be published. However, all the quality manuscripts that come to us will be published. If we don’t, we will give you the reasons why.”
“Writers are born and not made but the talent can be developed through education where writers dedicate much of their time in advancing their skills and honing them to be better.”
He says writing pays allaying fears that Kenyans do not read. “I know authors who depend on writing. It just depends on the kind of work you but it depends on the work you put out and effort at marketing.”