Thursday, July 26, 2012

Free Books Are Not Enough To Revive Reading Culture in Nigeria

Dear UBA and Read Africa,

I sincerely appreciate your commendable commitment to corporate social responsibility by your laudable initiative Read Africa for championing the revival of the reading culture across Africa.

Distribution of books to pupils and other young people through their schools is proactive, but that will not be enough to revive a reading culture in Africa, because the problem is not with our children, but with our intellectually disorientated society of youths and older people who are more distracted by the challenges and vanities of catching up with the Joneses in the rat race than being attracted to reading for pleasure, because it is what the children see their fathers, mothers and uncles are doing that they would emulate?

Giving free books to children will not make their parents to go and buy more books for them later, because they have been disconnected from the intellectual appreciation of our literary culture.

Until we address the intellectual disorientation and disconnection of the youths and older generation, the reading culture cannot be revived by the mere distribution of free books.
How many books are you going to distribute?
100, 000 or 1, 000, 000 copies of one single title or several titles of a particular book?
Are the selected titles the kinds of books the present generation of children would like to read?

Have you studied why the Harry Potter novels or The Twilight Saga attracted millions of children in America, Europe, Asia and Australia, but did not attract even a million children in Africa and the Middle East?
What factors discouraged the children in Africa and the Middle East?

Edward of the Twilight Saga and Harry of the Harry Potter fame. Photo Credit: Fan Pop.

The Missing Clock and the Missing Link in Our Reading Culture

The 2011 Nigeria Prize for Literature was won by Adeleke Adeyemi aka Mai Nasara for his children’s book The Missing Clock and the Nigeria LNG Limited, sponsors of the highly coveted prize $100, 000 which is currently the biggest literary prize in Africa distributed thousands of free copies of the book to school children and others. But that has not made the book a bestseller and even though there are over 43 million Nigerians in Nigeria accessing the Internet with other millions in the Diaspora and millions of them spend an average of $76 million daily paying for internet access, mobile phone calls and text messages, not even one thousand of them have gone to or Glendora and other book stores online to buy copies of the book after all the news media publicity given to The Missing Clock by the sponsors and news reporters in Nigeria and abroad. Why?

The answer is neither a puzzle nor a riddle of the Phoenix and the Sphinx, but simply the fact that the intellectual disorientation and disconnection of majority of Nigerians and other Africans distract them from the appreciation of reading books, except the books on how to get rich quick, pornographic booklets and celebrity fashion and gossip magazines or society photo albums like the popular OVATION International magazine, I call Dele Momodu’s Society Photo Album.

If Nigerians spend over $76 million daily on GSM phone calls, text messages and internet bundles, therefore they can afford to buy thousands of story books if they are attracted to them!

How do we make reading story books attractive to millions of distracted Nigerians and other Africans?

The problem of their intellectual disorientation and disconnection can be solved by behaviour change and how do we do this?

The first thing is to know what they are attracted to that is making them distracted from reading story books and prefer wasting minutes and hours chatting, gossiping and talking on their GSM phones and exchanging the same conversations via text messages.

Why are they attracted to these mundane or temporal things that do not add much value to life?

In spite of the cheering reports of Nigeria’s GDP growing at seven per cent annually and being rated as one of the fastest growing emerging markets in the world, Nigeria is still one of the most insecure places on earth with more darkness than light in majority of homes and more missing meals than having three square meals daily among the majority of the over 160 million people. So, the uncomfortable conditions of living in Nigeria have an adverse affect on reading for pleasure and those reading for academic scholarship or professional titles do so because it is compulsory for their progress and success! So, they would rather spend $1 on what comes natural to them from the oral culture of story telling by chatting, gossiping and talking to themselves on their GSM phones than going to the bookshop or roadside bookseller to spend that $1 on a small story book to read just for the pleasure of reading. Chatting, gossiping and talking on mobile phones are more engaging, exciting and interactive than reading a story book.

By our oral tradition, Nigerians and other African naturally talk more and read less.
We are naturally a talking people and not a reading people!
Western education introduced us to reading and reading more for academic retention to pass an examination in order to get a qualification for further education or for a lucrative occupation/profession for our survival and welfare. That’s all. And once we have passed the compulsory examinations and secured the compulsory qualifications to secure the dream jobs or titular positions in catching up with the Joneses in the rat race, we don’t have anymore need for books, except to read newspapers, tabloids, watch TV and surf the Internet to continue our conversations on Facebook and other social media that will not challenge our intellect. And the herd instinct drives majority of us than the intellect.

The millions of Nigerians on Facebook do nothing more than post the trivial minutiae of their daily lives with complimentary photographs to tickle their fancies in romantic escapism.

Now what is the solution to the problem I have identified and analyzed to start a positive behaviour change in the mannerisms and nuances of the daily lives of Nigerians and other Africans so that they can be attracted to reading story books for pleasure and intellectual empowerment?

I have the solution which is simple in application and the same things Nigerians are attracted to will also be used to make them turn to reading story books.
Let us consider the following approaches.

Have we tried audio books?

If they don’t like reading books, they may like listening to the books!
So, we can upload audio versions of the stories of our writers on audio blogs like Blog Radio, Facebook, Twitter, Googlle Plus, and make them downloadable on laptops, desktops, iPods, iTunes, iPhones and other mobile devices as I have done on my blogs.

Have we done enough publicity for the books to create a social buzz around them?

Majority of Nigerian and other African authors and their publishers hardly have any publicity plan for their books.
They simply dump the books at the bookshops and expect people to rush their books when the people are also being attracted by other things buzzing around them on the street and on the internet!

In America, Europe and other developed countries, authors and publishers spend thousands to millions of dollars on publicity such as placing adverts on the pages of newspapers, magazines, TV spots, and on websites and go on book signing tours from place to place to attract readers to their books! And this is why they are attracting thousands and millions of readers.
So, Nigerian and other African authors and publishers should include multimedia campaigns for the promotions of their books and start active book signing tours to bridge the wide gap between them and their target readers.

We have to promote books like music and movies, because they are all for the same entertainment and enlightenment.
In fact, there is nothing wrong in making book trailers like movie trailers to attract readers to your story books!

What else?
You can add your own ideas!

~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima
Nigerians Report
Nigerian Times
CEO, International Digital Post Network Limited
CEO, King of Kings Book International
Founder, Eko International Film Festival,
Founder/CEO, Screen Outdoor Open Air Cinema

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