First Published in the Vanguard Newspapers, Sunday May 15, 2011.
As the Nigerian International Book Fair began in Lagos, Nigerian born but United States of America based writer and book promoter discusses how the new forms of social media can help to drive the future of book culture, market and promotion.
The Nigerian International Book Fair kicked off May 9th with the theme – Technology and the Future of the Book. In the last decade, innovations in the use of the internet have brought about a ballooning of those who are connected, and what we do when online has gone beyond e-mails and static websites. Social media and dynamic content have now made possible the sharing of ideas and stories, and the merchandizing of the same. The main social media forums include, message boards, blogs, bookmarking sites, videos/podcasting, and ideas are spread on these media ‘virtually’ – in huge numbers and in no time. With more people having access to computers and mobile devices, the world has become a true global village.
As the traditional publishing model is being strongly challenged by this new social media, many have said that the problem of book publishers and sellers in Nigeria is that people do not read, and prefer to spend more time online. The people who say this are ignoring available technology, and sticking with only the traditional model. In Nigeria, the traditional broadcast media include newspapers, television, movies, books, music CDs etc. Traditional media when compared to social media, though still powerful in allowing people to access or use information, has become less effective, more problematic and very expensive.
According to the monthly Webtrendsng.com report for August 2010, half of the top 10 websites were newspapers. In the top 50 of the same list, educational websites were making the strongest debuts, bringing more and more students online. In my opinion, these two audiences – readers and students – are the biggest target markets for book publishers, and if people are spending most of their time online, then you can take the books to their favorite networks. A perfect example is NaijaStories.com, a social networking site for those who love Nigerian literature. The website, which publishes fiction pieces, reviews, short stories/ series and poems from upcoming writers, receives over 10,500 average weeklypageviews.
Some may ask how the social media presence of book publishers can be monetized since Nigeria is still locked out of international payment systems like Paypal, etc. Well, local web payment options have recently begun to provide opportunities to securely transact business online in Nigeria. They include NetNaira, Surepay, Cash envoy, and the Virtual terminal Network which runs mobile, web and card services. Sites like Taafoo.com, debonairbookstore.com, Walahi.com, Naijareads.com, and Kalahari.com.ng, offer sales opportunities for book publishers.
Nigerian publishers also have to consider that books can be produced and consumed in forms different from a chapter and page content wrapped between two covers, what some call “the dead tree book”. Other ways of production have been made possible by new media including various formats of eBooks, audiobooks, podcasts, web-series and video stories. These different products cost less to produce and using print-on-demand (POD) technology means that no upper limits of runs have to be met. In terms of distribution, book publishers are limited by dependence on brick and mortar bookstores. The internet is without borders and social media allows digital content to be broadcast and distributed to the farthest reaches of the world.
Publicity is the next major strength of social media, which cannot be overlooked. Some people have compared social media to simple word of mouth, only this time powered by the internet which makes it so fast it is almost instantaneous. Most traditional publishers use Author appearances, or the radio, television and newspaper. These are good, but they can also be very expensive and not suited to the targeted niche. Book publishers have to use free press release sites, virtual book tour of some niche blogs with interviews conducted through emails and instant chat messages or skype.
For marketing and sales in Nigeria, the trend seems to be for book launches in order to spread the word about ready-made books when nobody has ever heard of the author or their books. I believe publishers should encourage their authors to have blogs and build platforms across the country and all over the world. After publication, book samples can be shared on Freado.com, scribd.com and naijastories.com with promo announcements sent via Facebook and Twitter.
The fact is that the goals of social media are the same strategies any publisher needs in order to be successful. These include reaching larger numbers, keeping audiences informed, allowing new visitors to sample products, making sales, encouraging fans to pass samples to others, and engaging the market so as to ensure follow-up. One is left to wonder why many Nigerian publishers have not readily integrated social media into their businesses, considering that social media sites can deliver captive audiences as potential customers.