Relief for publishers as Nairobi book fair returns

Le Pic Primary School

Pupils from Le Pic Primary School in Nairobi reading books during the Nairobi International Book Fair  at Sarit Centre on September 25, 2019. This year’s book fair will be held at the same venue from September 28 to October 2.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Nairobi International Book Fair (NIBF) is back after a two year break occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a big relief to publishers and their umbrella body, the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA).

In the intervening period, publishers had undergone a baptism of fire as the Covid-19 restrictions of, especially, 2020, saw their businesses grind to a halt as schools, their main outlet for books, had been shut down.

In 2020, KPA held a virtual book fair, which, though well attended, did not realise much in terms of sales. In 2021, preparations for the Fair were in high gear but again, Covid-19 restrictions put paid to the plans. KPA, which organises the book fair, tested waters in June this year, when they held the regional book fair in Nakuru City, which turned out to be a resounding success.

“We were excited to see the enthusiastic response from teachers, parents, students and booksellers who thronged our stands during the four days we were in Nakuru. Publishers were equally happy as they realised good sales,” says Mary Maina, who chairs the Nairobi International Book Fair.

Ms Maina, who is also the managing director of Moran Publishers, is confident that they will ride on the success of the Nakuru event, and hopes that this year’s event will be bigger and better. “We are excited that we are holding a physical book Fair, in Nairobi, after being unable to do so for the last two years owing to Covid-19 disruption,” she explains. “Publishers were hard hit by this disruption: sales plummeted, some industry players closed shop, staff were retrenched. However, most publishers demonstrated resilience and they are slowly and gallantly soldering on.”

Generous discounts

She asks book lovers to come expecting generous discounts on all books on offer. “Publishers have offers that you cannot resist; you only need to turn up,” she adds.

Kiarie Kamau, the chairman of KPA, says the Nairobi International Book Fair is the regional marketplace for books, bringing together publishing professionals, authors, booksellers, print suppliers, media, and readers from Africa and around the world. “The NIBF has been held for the last 23 years and has grown to be one of the leading book exhibition places in the region.”

NIBF has quite an admirable profile internationally. Kamau, who is also the managing director of East African Educational Publishers (EAEP), explains that it is the biggest book fair in this part of Africa. “Perhaps the only one than comes close is the Cairo International Book Fair,” he adds.

The book fair will take place at the Sarit Centre, in Westlands, Nairobi between September 28 and October 2. The theme for this year’s book fair is ‘Publishing for the New Era’. In a way, the theme is timely as the country has ushered in a new administration led by Dr William Ruto, Kenya’s fifth president.

Clearly, and from Dr Ruto’s September 13 inauguration speech, publishers and their products are firmly in his radar. He announced that he would be constituting a taskforce to review the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC), with a view to aligning it with the needs of the masses.

As publishers of educational materials, publishers will no doubt form the core group that will determine what changes, if any, will be included in the new system of education. Publishers are currently working on materials for Grade Seven. “Publishers have continued to collaborate with the Ministry of Education to develop high quality books for the new Curriculum, CBC,” explains the KPA chairman. “KPA enthusiastically welcomes the President’s announcement that a taskforce to review CBC will be set up in order to identify the teething implementation problems, fix them and strengthen the curriculum.”

He added that KPA is already preparing the Memorandum to be presented to the taskforce.

Apart from CBC, visitors to the book fair will be on the lookout for new literary output from publishers. Well, this is a point dear to the KPA chair, seeing as EAEP has the largest collection of creative and general readership books in Kenya and indeed the region.

“Not only is EAEP the home of Ngugi wa Thiong'o, it, through its predecessor Heinemann, played host to the African Writers Series, which published some of Africa's biggest minds, including Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Taban lo Liyong, among others,” says Kamau.

Reading culture

As chair of KPA, Mr Kamau hopes to reinvigorate the reading culture among Kenyans, as well as rekindle focus on general publishing in the country. His position is that an ideal publishing house is one that recognises the need to balance between publishing textbooks and sociocultural reading materials. “To gain international recognition, publishing in Kenya needs to lay focus on such enduring works,” he says.

KPA, he explains, believes in Lifelong learning. “As such, many Publishers have developed books that can be read for leisure, cutting across the demographics; from the young, teenage, young adults, adults,” he says. “Towards this end, visitors to the Fair should expect a wide variety of general readership materials from publishers, ranging from class readers, literary set books, to biographies and autobiographies.

A number of new notable books have been published in the recent past. For one, former minister Joe Khamisi has released his latest book titled Uhuru Kenyatta: Promises Broken, which, as the title suggests, contains intrigues of the Jubilee administration. Another new entrant in the biographical series is Babior Newton’s The Rise of a Hustler: From Chicken Seller to the Presidency, which is the authorised biography of William Ruto.

The Rise of a Hustler should be a fast mover, seeing as its release coincided with Ruto’s triumph at the August 9 presidential elections. It is hoped that the book contains new anecdotes other that the ones well known to Kenyans.

Political scene

And speaking of anecdotes on the political scene. Lee Njirus book, The President’s Pressman, published by the Kenya Literature Bureau, is still fresh in the minds of Kenyans. Despite its rather costly cover price (Sh2,000) The President’s Pressman has been flying off bookshelves. Last Saturday, Prestige Bookshop, Mama Ngina Street, told this writer that in the two months the book has been in the market, they have sold over 800 copies.

This is a pretty handsome return for a book, seeing as some titles struggle to sell 500 copies in a year.

Another book that should be of interest to readers at the book fair is Prof George Magoha’s autobiography titled, Tower of Transformational Leadership (EAEP). Ever since Prof Magoha became Education CS, he is never far off news headlines for all the right and wrong reasons. Social media loves him and he has been the source of all manner of hilarious memes.

Well, one simply needs to read his book and discover why this urologist ticks.

The book fair is not only about physical books, digital books are also available in plenty and publishers will be having them in display.

Winners of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature will be announced on Saturday, October 1.