Poor reading culture tests resolve of local publishers

Poor reading culture among Rwandans presents a challenge to the country’s nascent publishing industry.
Gyr-Ukunda (L) and Mudacumura are  optimistic for local publishing industry. Courtesy.
Gyr-Ukunda (L) and Mudacumura are optimistic for local publishing industry. Courtesy.

Poor reading culture among Rwandans presents a challenge to the country’s nascent publishing industry.

A book production process that starts from a writer’s mind ends up in a reader’s hands. But in between, different jobs are involved. It involves writers, illustrators, editors, designers and publishers who bring a book to life to pass it through the hands of booksellers and librarians, who avail it to the readers.

Publishers who talked to Saturday Times said publishing involves a lot of work but the poor reading culture in the country presents major challenge.

Agnès Gyr-Ukunda established a publishing firm called Bakame Editions 22 years ago. She has seen her company publish 200 titles and produce more than one million copies to promote reading culture in a local language.

She sounded hopeful, though, that the industry will become more productive to the country.

Gyr-Ukunda said their principle is what keeps them standing strong.

“If you stop working and wait for more readers, you can risk losing even those few readers you had because you’re not producing anything,” Gyr-Ukunda said, adding that it is a principle for all publishers not to quit.

Her advice to those with intention of joining publishing business is to make their products good if they are to make something out of their efforts.

Dedication and wholeheartedness, she said, are required for one to embark on a publishing path because publishing in Rwanda goes beyond the entertaining purpose to accomplishing the tough mission of making people love books.

Gyr-Ukunda, as a publisher who started alone in the country, believes the industry is growing.

Not only are publishers making the industry grow, but they are also helping to bring reading culture to the country, she noted.

Delice Umuhire, the publishing and executive editor at SBD Books Limited, a company that has been publishing and selling books for students since 2014, also sees progress in local publishing.

Noting that the industry is still unexploited, Umuhire envisioned more writers in the future.

Writers are not actually few, she said, but many writers are not aware of how they have to do it.

“Nobody can blame them because they are still getting trainings to move with the times,” she said.

“When you look into the past few years, you could find that there were a big number of students’ books writers. However, it looks like writing and publishing started recently. Now, there is more content to include and more knowledge to impact,” she said.

‘Professionalism on course’

Fiston Mudacumura, the chief executive of Mudacumura Publishing House, said the process of building professionalism in the industry was ongoing.

Mudacumura praised the government for liberalising academic book publishing since the early 2000s.

“And from 2010-2017, many NGOs back by government started investing in local book publishers such as Save The Children (pioneer), Chemonics, VSO, Unicef and many more because they realised it is better to work with locals in creating local books or reading materials rather than importing books,” said Mudacumura.

Mudacumura pursued publishing studies at the University of Rwanda before starting his own local publishing firm.

He contends the industry can be a lucrative business with time.

Interestingly, Mudacumura revealed that, for them, “Rwandan readership status is inspiring to do more and aspire to publish big.”

However, he noted that the number of writers is too high compared to the current number of local publishers because “Rwandans passed through a lot and they have a lot to tell and share with the world.”

Gyr-Ukunda also argued that there is high demand for books compared to the number of publishers.

She cited printing, among other challenges, which delays the production of books as often printing is done outside the country.

Other challenges cited are presence of few libraries and bookshops.

Digitisation

Today, technology has affected jobs differently, with some careers being wiped off the market. For publishers, in contrast, technology is not a threat to publishing at all, but an advantage.

“It’ll allow publishers to extend their business like eBooks, online book shopping, and other options that will boost sales,” said Umuhire.

For Mudacumura, the company is trying to have a number of titles to be digitised and some of them are already available on sale as e-books via Amazon.

Gyr-Ukunda, who also heads Bakame Editions, recognised that changes and improvements are happening in the industry all over the world, but cited the need for more research on the issue as applications and online services are not yet available in local language.

Hope

In publishers’ words, you could understand the frequent expression that everything just goes fine. And, they never mentioned something like giving up.

They are positive for there’s something being done. This, despite the fact that reading eludes most of today’s adults, and children are growing up with that habit.

“Love for books is still low among Rwandans, but it’s still our job to keep doing what we’re doing now, no letting up.

This is because now we are starting with children, so they’ll grow up with positive attitude toward reading, it will surely change with time,” said Umuhire.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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