Political Situation Weaves Publishing Business Godsend




The ascendancy of Prime Minister Abiy (PhD) and the liberalization of the political landscape has propelled a seasonal trend in publishing industry to the stratosphere. Book vendors and publishers are reporting increases in the number of books that are reaching the market. The double taxation on pulp and paper products, however, is considered a barrier in the industry. DAWIT ASTATIKA, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.


Habtamu Alemayehu is a 39-year old book vendor who has been selling books for the last three years in cafés, restaurants and on the streets round Addis Abeba Stadium.

He carries different books of varying genres, ranging from novels to politics and history.

The book business these days is thriving, according to Habtamu.

“The current political landscape is a blessing to my business,” he told Fortune, “Many books are coming out.”

This is the season when the book business and other publications such as newspapers and magazines see a boom in the business. This particular rising trend began about six months ago when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) took office.

The rise of Abiy as prime minister has changed the political landscape of the country, not just causing the book business to boom.

Thousands of prisoners were released; exiled and outlawed political parties were allowed to return; and other banned activists and journalists have also been welcomed back into the country.

This move by the government to broaden the political landscape has awakened the thirst of the masses for information throughout every corner of the country.

The books being published these days display portraits  of the current prime minister, the former prime minister and other prominent political leaders on their covers showing how the reading patterns of consumers have changed, according to the street booksellers.



It has motivated many writers, media people and publishers to publish books and newspapers to invest in the media business.

During the past five months, a total of 17 new licensees have been issued by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority to newspapers, magazines and radio stations. Additionally, nearly 20 books with political themes have been published.

The typical book in the market has 250 pages with an average price tag of 150 Br.

The books being published these days display portraits  of the current prime minister, the former prime minister and other prominent political leaders on their covers showing how the reading patterns of consumers have changed, according to the street booksellers.

27 Haymanot Alemu is another bookseller, who covers a large territory that extends from Arat Kilo, and St. Paul Hospital to Piassa.

A couple of months ago, readers were keen to buy books that narrated the history and political situations of the country in the 1960s and 70s, according to him.

“Most of the books I sold narrated the struggle between revolutionaries back then,” he said. “Now the new books are getting more traction.”

There are some days when he does not sell a single book. These days, however, he sells one or two books per day.

The law of the nation mandates the author, printer and publisher to submit two copies of a publication, whenever they publish, to the Agency within a month.



“I am earning 80 Br to 150 Br on a daily basis,” he said.

Teka Abadi, director general of one of the largest and oldest printing companies, Berhanena Selam Printing Enterprise, and president of the Ethiopian Printers & Publishers Association, also testifies that the publishing industry is motivated.

“The number of books coming up for publishing is increasing,” Teka said.

One of the writers who released a new book in this season is Andualem Aragie, a father of two.

A journalist by profession and a political leader, Andualem spent seven years in prison and was recently released by the amnesty granted to prisoners by the new prime minister.

Following his release, he published his fifth book, Bezemenat Mekakel, written during his incarceration.

“Beyond narrating my memories in prison, I tried to show the hope and the chapter of the new history the country is getting into,” Andualem told Fortune.

Another journalist released from prison recently, Woubshet Taye, has also published a book entitled  ‘Ethiopiaweneten Yememelese Tegadlow.

“I wrote the book just to leave a print in history,” said Woubshet.

Though Woubshet and Andualem published the books under their own names, some writers use pen names.

This is because they fear accusations and being labelled by the content of their publications, according toAynalem Mewa, owner of Aynalem Book Store and Mankusa Printing & Publishing Plc.

Mankusa has published one of the recent books, Yeabay Quaya, authored by Ayele Midekssa.

The season has both advantages and disadvantages for the writers, publishers, printers, sellers and readers, according to Gebrekirstos Gebresilassie, president of the Ethiopian Writers’ Association.

“It opens a chance for books that were written earlier but remain unpublished,” said Gebrekirstos “But this could put the business at risk by guerrilla marketers.”

“The art could be subjected to business people that only target the seasonal revenue and publish substandard books,” he added.

Haymanot shares this sentiment.

There are some books that disappoint readers, he said.

“Some of my customers ask me to return their money, stating that the books are below their expectations,” Haymanot said.

Despite these challenges, the stakeholders in the value chain are enjoying the increases in the seasonal business. However, there are issues that remain unresolved.

Ethiopia is not a signatory of the international treaty that protects against copyright infringements, which discourages writers and publishers from entering the business and growing the publishing industry, according to Aynalem.

As a result, the number of new books that are coming out is declining, according to Gebrekirstos.

Publishers also state that the double taxation on the import of raw materials is discouraging them and has significantly decreased the number of authors who come to them to publish.

“We are subjected to double taxation on the import of pulp and paper,” Teka said. “This has finally led to the increased book prices we see.”

The books that are already published are not properly catalogued and classified in a centralised manner.

The Ethiopian National Archive & Library Agency, established in 1952 and operating under the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, is mandated to collect the periodical literature in microform, photograph and document them.

During the past fiscal year, the Agency documented only 16 books. This is despite a single publisher, Mankusa, having printed 72 books in just a six-month period.

Muluembet Getachew, director of resource management at the Agency, admits to the gap in proper documentation.

“The number of books we document yearly has fallen,” she said. “This is mainly due to our law enforcement capacity problem.”

The law of the nation mandates the author, printer and publisher to submit two copies of a publication, whenever they publish, to the Agency within a month.

However, few of them are complying with this requirement. The Agency is also failing to properly enforce the law. As a result, not all the books published in the country are documented at the nation’s archive.

By DAWIT ASTATIKA
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER





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