“The [book] festival is centred on highlighting the importance of reading for it to become second nature to as many people in the country…”
Patron, Nigerian Booksellers Association of Nigeria and MD, Booksellers, Ibadan, Kolade Mosuro is a renowned name in the publishing industry. Early in the year, he published the last of J.P Clark’s poetry, Remains of the Tide. In this interview with OLAMIDE BABATUNDE, he speaks on publishing, the challenges and opportunities of the book trade and culture.
Tell us how you started out with the bookshop and how it grew into the biggest in Ibadan?
I worked with the doyen of the book trade in his time, Mr Ola Odusote, as his General Manager. In that capacity, I was exposed to the best practices of the trade and with his means; I travelled the world over in search of the best books for Nigeria. When I set up, I just built on that experience.
You have seen the insides and out of publishing and the book trade in Nigeria, having been involved with it for years. What would you say has gone awry with the industry?
Every industry is tested on an ongoing basis by the tribulations of the land. The Nigerian publishing industry started as marketing outfits for some key overseas publishers. So, in a large sense, we leaned on them such that when foreign exchange became very critical issues in terms of remittances of proceeds and purchase of goods, the overseas publishers gradually withdrew their involvement, largely capital and expertise. There are some very good publishers in Nigeria; however, our collective expertise is still low. Lack of serious capital in the industry translates into scarcity of goods.
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The allowance of lax regulations and weak enforcement, as we have in Nigeria, is incapable of curbing the menace of piracy, which tries to fill the book void and adulterate the few good titles.
As part of the book process, the publishing firm is responsible for the editing of manuscripts sent in. Do you think, there is still a rich pool of in-house editors to rely on?
Do not make the mistake of beginning the quality of the manuscript from the editors. Every soul is a book, but not every soul is a writer.
Not every manuscript is publishable and very few are commercially viable. There is a deluge of manuscripts, poorly researched, and badly written. The good editors are few, and we need more of them.
Self-publishing is fast becoming a trend among authors. Any idea why there is this shift?
There are more pens in town and more computers everywhere you turn. That’s all it takes to self-publish.
What role did the military regime play in the history of publishing industry in early 1980’s?
I cannot pinpoint any significant role they played. This is as well to say that all governments, military and civilian, have been largely insignificant to publishing.
What would you say is tasking about running the company?
Catering to the general public requires that the bookshop is updated with current materials such that, whenever any book is published within or beyond the country, we strive hard to make sure that our place is the first and last place to look. In any case, the world is getting smaller that we can’t just rely on the books that are done here alone.
Conversations have been held over the poor reading culture in Nigeria. Where does the onus lie to set things right?
Reading is a national assignment, and it has got to be tackled from the kindergarten, the primary school through to the secondary. Reading should be very pivotal in the training undergone in our colleges of education and teacher training institutions. Equally pivotal is reading training in all the library schools in our universities. At the helm of all these must be a government that knows the meaning of education. Supporting all these will be NGOs, book lovers and book makers, pitching in any creative manner they deem fit to help the nation read.
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Has it been a smooth journey being the director of one of the biggest bookshops in Nigeria?
No life journey is ever so smooth that you don’t have bumps or turbulence in the course of it. I have had my fair share. A few more, perhaps, in the rest of my journey, but not more than I can handle.
How does the publisher tackle the terror of piracy?
The tackling of piracy is a national assignment and not one to be left solely in the hands of the publisher.
Every society is driven by its creative talents, and those talents and their assets need to be nationally protected and promoted. It is the role of government to enact and enforce laws that will protect the works of its creative men and women and their industries. Literature has showcased Nigeria far more than any other discipline. I should also add that it remains the most enduring.
Describe your relationship with the book in three words…
Books are illuminating.
What career opportunities are available in the publishing industry for undergraduates who may want to get in that space?
A publishing outfit is a commercial enterprise, and it will necessarily need operational staff, accountants, managers and the like to hold it together; editors, artists, designers to mold the creative works; sales men and marketers to promote the products and administrative staff as conduits between them all.
What kind of books are keepers for you?
Any book that has covers and a voice in between the cover.
Have you had any book regrets or disappointment, ever?
My deepest regret is that we do not acquire books enough and we do not read enough.. I say that because the man who can read and who does not read is no different from the man who cannot read.
In Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, there are yearly book fairs and festivals germane to culture, is Ibadan not ripe enough for such?
In a short period of time, we will see that happening again. It used to happen, but it fizzled out. Reading for me is also not about a festive period which is no more than saying we eat only at this time. It should be a lifelong thing. The festival is centred on highlighting the importance of reading for it to become second nature to as many people in the country which would be the better for all of us.
What can you say about book buying habits of those who visit the Booksellers?
Buyers always find something of interest. It’s why the book shop has a length and breath for everyone to find what they need. The chances are high that a specific need leads to another book. Sometimes buyers come in not sure of what to get but definitely find something that catches their fancy.