Brian Wafawarowa

International Publishers Association



Brian Wafawarowa has a long history in publishing in South Africa. He was managing director at New Africa Books and has served as Chairperson of the Publishers Association of South Africa (PASA), the African Publishers Network (APNET) and is currently on the board of the International Publishers Association (IPA). He is active in publishing and has a new press, Lefa Publishing and Research Services. Brian talks here to Stephanie Kitchen of the International Africa Institute.

March 2019


1. Stephanie Kitchen: Brian Wafawarowa (BW), I know you are working with the International Publishers Association, (IPA), the Publishers Association of South Africa (PASA) and other publishers’ associations from the African continent. You were also a publisher yourself at one time. And you are also a researcher, author and consultant on publishing in the African continent. Could you summarise for readers of readafricanbooks.com your interesting and varied career to date in African publishing? 

BW: I remain in publishing. As an independent publisher with my own new outfit, Lefa Publishing and Research Services (lefaPRS), I am free to participate in some of the activities that you have mentioned. It broadens my horizon beyond being employed as a publisher. I started my career at Wits University Press in 1994 where I was an intern helping the editors and the publisher with various aspects of their work. I later joined Juta as a trainee assistant publisher in 1996 and stayed there till 2000. By then I had become publishing director with responsibility for Juta education (schools and academic) and the University of Cape Town Press, which is an imprint of Juta. I left in 2000 to start New Africa Education (NAE) with New Africa Investment Limited (NAIL). Later I spearheaded the merger of NAE, David Philip and Spearhead to create New Africa Books (NAB) as its managing director. I left NAB in 2009 to become executive director of the PASA. In 2013 I joined Pearson South Africa (homes of Heinemann and Longman) as the executive director of Learning Services. I left Pearson in 2017 and started lefaPRS, which includes publishing and research services. My career has been much broader, to include significant involvement in sector policy and strategy in South Africa, the African continent and the globe. To this end I served as Chairperson of the Publishers Association of South Africa (PASA), the African Publishers Network (APNET) and also still serve on the board of the International Publishers Association (IPA). I spent a lot of time on literacy and reading programmes like the Exclusive Books Reading Trust and the Nick Perren Publishing Foundation, where I am a trustee. These foundations build libraries in rural areas and provide scholarships for postgraduate studies in publishing.

2. SK: how do you see the economic base of the publishing industry – in South Africa, and as far as possible in the continent more generally? 

BW: The economic base of the industry is quite precarious and erratic at the moment. This is mainly due to over-dependence on school textbooks. Education publishing accounts for more than 90% of all publishing in some parts of the continent, while in more mature and diverse markets like South Africa, it is still quite high, around 70%. Even companies that are in trade and general publishing rely on selling some of their products in the education market. The textbook market is very susceptible to changes in government policy, including procurement and copyright, as is being experienced in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and other countries at the moment.

3. SK: You have carried out research on the contribution of the publishing sector in Africa to GDP. Can you tell us more about this? What is the approximate contribution – of publishing to creative economies, GDP etc. Do you see this growing in the future? 

BW: We do not have reliable information on the continent. There are efforts with WIPO and the IPA to get more reliable figures on the continent. Even in South Africa, where the industry is relatively more developed, at approximately R4 billion, contribution to GDP, which is estimated at approximately R4.5 trillion, is insignificant in monetary terms. The publishing sector is part of a small creative industries economy, which is less than 3% of the total economy. At approximately R4 billion, the contribution of the publishing sector is less than 5% of the creative economy. I suspect that the situation is quite similar in other African countries and much direr in some. However, I think beyond contribution to GDP, the industry’s contribution needs to be viewed in terms of its role in critical sectors like education, where good textbooks are as important as teachers and lecturers in driving education outcomes. We also need to look at the sector in terms of its untapped potential. With a huge and growing youth population and a huge need for education, the book sector has much greater potential for growth than has been realised. There are fears in South Africa and in a number of other African countries that new copyright policies, ‘one textbook’ policies in education procurement, and state publishing will set the industry back and reduce output and employment in the sector significantly. This at a time when there is a strong call for decolonisation of the curriculum and education could be ironic and tragic. 

4. SK: What factors are involved in improving and expanding this economic base? I’m thinking here of copyright regimes, national, regional and international markets, distribution, book fairs and so on. Are there examples of where this is being done successfully? 

BW: Many African countries today have book and reading promotion activities that are aimed at expanding readership and publishing output. These promotions include high level initiatives like the Yaoundé conference organised by WIPO at the end of 2017 on the economic contribution of the publishing sector to Africa. This was attended by government and industry people from many African countries. The WIPO initiative has resulted in a number of ongoing programmes that are aimed at improving the African book sector. These include the Publishers Circles and the mentorship programmes. There is also the Global Book Alliance (GBA) made up of many book donor communities. It aims to increase the production of more appropriate children’s books by African countries. The IPA held a conference on African publishing in Lagos in 2018. The IPA will be holding its second conference on African publishing in Nairobi this year. Out of the Lagos conference came a number of programmes that are being pursued now. These include an industry statistics project, a programme to strengthen copyright and a national book policy development project. There are very strong African book fairs today, including in Ghana, Nairobi, Cairo, Zimbabwe and South Africa. These are backed by strong campaigns and literary festivals like the National Book Week in South Africa. We also are seeing a strong revival of the African Publishers Network (APNET). It is co-ordinating the activities of many African countries in global programmes and book events. So, there is really a lot going on. What is encouraging about these initiatives is that they are backed by real projects that seek to uplift the publishing and book sector. However, as indicated earlier, the policy environment is challenging and paints a rather bleak picture for the future. 

5. SK: what do you see as the key agencies in promoting and developing publishing on the continent – both regional and international bodies? How do you see their roles? How can these bodies help promote the sustainability of the African publishing industry and professional capacity of African publishers? Are there examples or case studies from other parts of the world African publishing can draw on? 

BW: It is regrettable that after years of notable advocacy and capacity building, the African Publishers Network (APNET) and the Pan African Booksellers Association (PABA) went through a major lull and could not carry out their important work. The African book sector will only be viable when it reduces its dependence on textbooks and state procurement, to include general books that are aimed at a reading public. For that to be realised we need larger book economies that go beyond national borders along common social interests, fiction, general folklore and common languages. However, there are many issues that have to be overcome at a continental and regional level. APNET and PABA can play a critical role in resolving some of those regional and sub-regional issues. It is interesting that at multilateral agencies like WIPO, African countries often present one voice in their negotiations with their European, American, Latin American and other regional counterparts. These positions are hardly informed by the needs of these sectors back home. APNET and PABA could play a key role in lobbying African groups before positions are formulated for multilateral engagements. Such views would then be more informed by the situation on the ground and the needs of the sector. A clear example of how this has worked well is the role that the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) has played in influencing policy development to the European Union. 

6. SK: it is well known that African publishers are over-dependent on educational publishing (representing some 90% of all publishing in the continent), which makes them vulnerable to educational and curriculum policy changes, and unable to develop other kinds of general, academic and literary publishing. What are the reasons for this situation? Are there examples of publishers which have broken with this cycle and been more successful across other kinds of publishing?

BW: The last 20 years have seen remarkable progress in the production and distribution of education materials. Many centres of excellence emerged. This includes the East Africa region, including Kenya and Uganda as examples; Southern Africa, including South Africa and Zimbabwe; West Africa, including Nigeria and Ghana; and North Africa, including Egypt and Tunisia. This progress saw a great part of the continent move away from importing textbook materials to producing them locally. In the majority of cases these are good quality materials that meet the needs of local education fully. These decades also saw the development of local professional publishers and the establishment of local companies. This was buoyed by the development of strong local publishers’ associations, book fairs and regional and sub-regional book development organisations like APNET, PABA and the East African Book Development Association. These organisations implemented capacity building programmes that helped professionalise and strengthened local publishing. In some of these countries close to 100% of all books used in their education sector are produced locally. The gains in education publishing and the various reading campaigns have also improved general publishing and improved distribution outlets for general readers. Notable achievements in this regard include Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe, before the current economic and social crisis. Despite this progress, a lot more still has to happen to create an industry that is less dependent on textbooks and government procurement. These gains are likely to be eroded by negative developments that are mainly driven by a desire by education authorities to achieve universal access to education materials. This is leading to initiatives like state publishing, the call for additional exceptions to copyright on education materials and in some cases severe limiting of the number of approved titles.

7. SK: At the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair, ‘Programme Lettres d’Afrique: changing the narrative’ you spoke memorably about a ‘crisis of access’ in education, schools and educational publishing in the African continent; this could also arguably characterise the academic sector too. Could you say more about what you meant by this ‘crisis of access’ – its roots, the demand for universal education and access to materials, which is still primarily through printed books in the case of schools. You also discussed what you characterised as ‘negative policy developments’ ensuing from this access crisis as symptoms of what actors are doing wrong. Could you elaborate on this?

BW: What I describe as the crisis of access is the feeling and to a great extent the fact that the success of local publishing that I described earlier has not necessarily led to the expected universal coverage of textbooks in the education sector. Governments and education authorities are facing huge social pressure for access to services, including education. The part that affects the industry most is access to textbooks. The education authorities in many African countries today are thinking of changing copyright and procurement laws to enhance access to textbooks. For example the Africa Group on the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) are pushing together for copyright reform that would create greater access to education materials for education, libraries and archives. South Africa has gone ahead and created a Bill that seeks among other things to achieve this. In the publishing area, both South Africa and Rwanda are close to state publishing while other countries like Cameroon and Kenya are implementing one textbook policies. The problem is that additional exceptions which weaken copyright protection for greater access to education undermine the base of the African education publishing sector. The argument is often that these exceptions are only for education. Yet, with education accounting in many cases for more than 90% of the book sector, there is very little left outside education. On the other hand, state publishing and one textbook policies will also negatively affect the education publishing sector. State publishing has the potential to wipe out education publishing while one textbook policies will certainly reduce the commercial space for education publishers. Although this is aimed at education books, it will have ripple effects for the whole publishing sector. Developments in both copyright and textbook procurement pose a serious challenge to the viability of the African education publishing sector and the continent’s ability to produce suitable education materials for local education. 

8. SK: Continuing on these policy developments, would you say some more about the Copyright Amendment Bill in South Africa? What’s at stake here? It strikes me that all who are concerned with publishing and knowledge production in Africa, sometimes now framed in terms of ‘decolonisation’, need to be alert to and engage with these developments.

BW: The Copyright Amendment Bill is the result of a comprehensive legislative process that has been on the cards for a long time. Among other objectives, it seeks to enhance access to education materials by allowing additional exceptions to copyright protection on education materials, including in the schools and post-schools sector. It also seeks to regulate collecting societies and to enhance the benefits of copyright protection for authors and creators. The Bill has many positive elements but also some very problematic provisions for rights holders and creators, especially the fair use provision for education. Publishers and authors have issues with the content of the Bill and also the process followed. For example a law with such huge potential implications needs to have an impact assessment done on it, but there is none. The only one that was commissioned by the Publishers’ Association with PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) indicates that the sector will be adversely affected with reduced output, loss of income and significant job losses. It also points out that local production and exports will suffer and imports are likely to increase. Rights holders argue that their inputs were disregarded on critical issues and that the Bill is at odds with international copyright statutes. On the other hand, advocates of greater access for education find a lot of positives with the Bill, especially around greater access to education materials through the fair use provisions. The Bill also lumps together quite a number of very different sectors, including music and book publishing without looking into the nuances of each. The parliamentary committee that was working on the Bill has passed it and it is now waiting to go through the National Council of Provinces legislators before it is signed into law. There is a strong chance that it will be challenged in the constitutional court. It is ironic that a bill that started with the objective of ensuring that authors benefit more from their work is very likely to result in reduced income for them and is also likely to result in reduced local production of content and a concomitant increase in imports. If this happens, as feared, it will have taken the industry back many years. I analyse the contradiction of the Bill’s attempt to empower authors and enhance access at the same time in this extensive article, ‘Copyright reform: Carrying water and fire in the same mouth’ published by the Daily Maverick earlier this year. Local knowledge production and publishing are part and parcel of the decolonisation discourse. If the local sector is undermined like this, it will be a setback for the decolonisation agenda too. If the campaigners for the decolonisation of curricula want to go beyond rhetoric and slogans, these developments should concern them too. 

9. SK: What are ‘open educational resources’? What are these in an African context?

BW: Open Education Resources (OERs) are freely available and freely licensed education materials, including textbooks, text, media, photographs, digital assets and other materials that aid teaching and learning. In some cases, they include full courses and assessment tools. Given the greater need for education materials in Africa, the idea of OERs is quite appealing to educators and policy makers. Initially I think OERs were oversold as solutions for access to education materials and an effective substitute for textbooks but it looks like there is a realisation that most of the OERs are not especially designed as curriculum management and implementation tools, the same way that textbooks are. While they are suitable as supplementary tools, they cannot substitute a good textbook. There is greater realisation among educators and publishers in Africa that traditional textbooks and OERs can complement each other. For example, in South Africa the Department of Basic Education has created a healthy mix of commercially produced textbooks, OERs and state published supplementary materials. This mix up to this point has not harmed the publishing industry. I think publishers have over the last few years come to terms with OERs and the role they can play in education, and do not perceive them as big a threat as they thought initially.

10. SK: Stepping beyond the African context for a few moments, publishing in Africa is, of course, integrated into global markets and technologies. There are intense debates elsewhere on the likely effects of the so-called ‘platform economies’ (search engines and the like) on research and publishing economies and how academia and the publishing industries should respond and position themselves. What’s at stake for African publishers in all this? What are the risks? Are there ways publishers in Africa can take advantage of such economies? I’m thinking for example of harnessing them for efficient distribution of unique and hard to access content. 

BW: Many attempts to launch e-learning and learning platforms in many parts of the continent, including South Africa, have met significant challenges. These challenges include infrastructural and bandwidth problems, security for learners who become targets of criminals who want their devices and teacher reluctance to adopt new ways. Despite these, it is clear that the “platform economies” are the future and traditional publishers need to gear themselves for this and participate in the promotion of e-learning, digital content and distribution. Many content aggregators are joining the book sector and beginning to play a significant role in the distribution of content, especially in education. However, a new business model needs to be developed as a matter of urgency. The efficacy of digital content and e-learning and their potential to improve learning outcomes in a region where this is a priority is not questionable but the economics of it remains a challenge. The transition is taking too long and costing education authorities a lot more. Due to the hesitancy to move on to e-learning and digital content in education, the majority of schools and colleges remain in the dual medium and are spending on both digital and print content, for example. On the other hand, publishers are finding it difficult to implement new business models in this dual medium environment. The result is that the expected savings of digital are not being realised. This compounds the crisis of access that I mentioned earlier. The new business model needs to be informed by a reconfiguration of the different roles that traditional publishers and platform and conduit operators play. Platform operators should not undermine the role that rights holders play, in an attempt to assert their own role in education. One of the key contentions around the copyright Bill in South Africa is the fear that fair use provisions will allow platform owners to use rights holders’ content without compensation. Indeed, one of the fears that policy makers have is the restriction that copyright protection will have on education materials in the digital era. The belief is that digital will open up access to content, but copyright will restrict that access. That polarity is not helpful at all. Platform operators can play a vital role in the distribution of content and management of content while publishers can continue to develop content and enhanced digital content that can improve learning outcomes.

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