At the first ever International Publishers Association (IPA) African Regional Seminar in May, the CEO of OkadaBooks, Okechukwu Ofili, made a comment which took the audience by surprise- He called them out on their age and emphasized at great length, on the need to target a younger generation. He had an interview with the IPA to buttress this remark, and also to discuss other issues concerning publishing in Africa. See his responses below:
Why did you get involved in publishing?
I stumbled upon publishing accidentally to be honest. Growing up I never did well in English and was definitely the last person that anyone would think would get published. But via my blog ofilispeaks.com I was able to express myself without thinking about a book, and several years of expression later. I had a book “how Stupidity Saved My Life.” It’s a title that’s crazier than my story!
How would you describe OkadaBooks?
OkadaBooks is like the actual Okada motorcycles in Lagos, that passengers use to circumvent the notorious Lagos traffic. Because the motorcycles are nimble and small, they are able to weave between cars to get their passengers to their destination. At OkadaBooks we believe there is a traffic jam in the African publishing industry and we much like the Okada’s are using mobile devices to weave thru the traffic and deliver books to people across the continent!
At the IPA Regional Seminar in Lagos in April in 2018 you were direct – you said the speakers were too old, that you were too old! What did you mean?
lol…I thought I would get in trouble with this statement. But to be honest, I am 37 years old, and when we look at the reading habits of our core demographic of OkadaBooks users 18 to 25, I realize that what I think I know about reading is not what is happening. And that even though I think of OkadaBooks as this hip app, the youths want something slightly different, and that something evolves overtime. So to stay up to date, we have gone out of our way to hire younger people in our staff and talk more to the youths. I say all that to say, that at IPA I felt that I was one of the youngest people in the room. And this is dangerous, if we are to really get to know what is going on in the publishing space, IPA like OkadaBooks would have to deliberately invite younger people to the event and on-stage. When we do this, we will see something different. Our ideas will be fresher. Another analogy … I like to think that I am hip, but when I go to the club, I don’t know half of the dance steps or songs, if I was a DJ playing music, that club will go out of business. And we would say, the club went out of business because the Youth don’t dance, when in essence we were not playing the songs that the youth want to dance to. We were playing the tune we thought they wanted to dance to. This is how it is for publishing!
Was the Regional Seminar in Lagos valuable to you?
Yes it was. But I would say to make it even better, we should have breakout sessions. That’s what’s missing to me that could take this to the next level. Let’s have the talks on stage, but then the next day, let’s spend 2 hours in a classroom brainstorming on actionable ideas and forming actionable groups.
Had you heard of the IPA before the event?
Not at all.
What role do you think the IPA can play in supporting publishers?
I can only speak comprehensively about Nigeria, because that is the market I really have a grasp on. IPA can help Nigeria publishers by going past the layers fluff we like to put up and getting us to focus on what is key. And what is key is “money” publishers want to know how to make money. A lot of publishers are not making as much money as they should be making. Here’s how IPA can help:
- Get publishers to talk to each other and share information with each other.
- Help conduct surveys across Nigeria to allow publishers understand the habits and peculairties of their market. Currently in Nigeria we don’t know the best-selling book for 2017, its unacceptable.
- Give us training, let’s see how other publishers across the globe are doing it.
- And for us personally at OkadaBooks, we need people to understand that Nigeria is not a piracy center. That you can actually make money in Nigeria and Africa if you follow the right methods. We believe that strategy is digital.
Are there any big differences or similarities you see between the challenges faced by publishers regionally and internationally?
The problems are similar, but are more exacerbated regionally in Nigeria. For instance, that sweet word piracy. People pirate books in America at a larger number than Nigeria, however, America can counter piracy because they have 20,000+ bookstores and numerous digital outlets. But the same level of piracy in Nigeria has a bigger impact, because we have about 33 bookstores that major publishers trust and those 33 are smaller than the average sized American bookstore and we have no digital outlets to sell that is of the level of Amazon (hopefully OkadaBooks becomes that someday). So yeah, same problems, but different magnitude.
The IPA’s two main policy pillars are copyright and the freedom to publish – do you believe these issues are important?
Yes and no. I don’t want to get in trouble. But I will say it.
Copyright is important, but it has to evolve to the level of other industries. I give you an example, NETFLIX is the beast of the movie industry. They have single handedly revolutionalized movies and series and will likely kill off cable TV, and created a sort of FREEDOM in MOVIE MAKING. But here is where things get interesting. People can share NETFLIX passwords to their friends and families. It’s even a pop-culture reference, jokes are made about it, and Meme’s as well. Can NETFLIX write a code to stop password sharing? Absolutely, but they don’t because they know it allows their business go viral and inspires other young film makers to hone their craft. That’s not to say that NETFLIX will not go after you if you upload their video to YOUTUBE ilegally, but they have a flexible interpretation of copyright, they have a working balance.
However in publishing, we have not evolved or been flexible on COPYRIGHT from a digital angle. We want an app to ensure password sharing is not possible and multiple people can’t read a book from a different device, unlike NETFLIX. But we fail to see how this over interpretation of our COPYRIGHT counters that freedom to publish. If more people read, they get the ideas to publish and our industry sees more interesting books, just like NETFLIX. But if you guard everything, over protect everything, we counter ourselves.
So in essence COPYRIGHT when applied too rigidly, indirectly kills that FREEDOM TO PUBLISH we push for.
Where do you think publishing will be 5 years from now?
I can only speak for Africa/Nigeria, We started this 5 years ago, and it has not changed much. I am fighting everyday to say it will change in 5 years time, but for that to happen new ideas have to be brought in, and people would have to move faster and with more urgency. In 5 years, we should be able to have best selling authors in Nigeria that are actually living in Nigeria, you should be able to write a book and become a bestseller in Nigeria, without signing a publishing deal. That’s what I see. At OkadaBooks our information motto is “Make authors rich again.” And in 5 years time we want to see that happen!