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How Covid-19 Looks Like From The Literary World

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The future of publishing books and how they were forced to go on the e-literary sphere

GOSEGO MOTSUMI

Books and reading are one of the ideal ways of escaping our four walls for as long as the country is under lockdown. But with the closure of bookstores and print runs put on hold, it is difficult to get new reading material from most local authors. In Botswana’s context, books do not make it to the essential items leader board. As a result, physical book sales have been lost and authors are forced to get by using the digital sphere. This publication spoke to several local scribes and booksellers to see what COVID-19 looks like from inside the literary world.

Local author, Lauri Kubuitsile, who lives in Mahalapye, with no bookstore in sight, has always loved reading e-books. Kubuitsile has published more than 23 books and says she will likely feel the effects of the pandemic next year as royalties are paid on historic sales. But Kubuitsile’s view is that some changes brought on by the pandemic have been long overdue. One very important change would be to establish an e-book marketplace that takes debit cards or can work through money transfer platforms such as M-Pesa or Orange Money to allow people to download books into their phones and tablets.

For her books in the trade market, Kubuitsile says she has been frustrated for a long time at the way that South African publishers have marketed and distributed their books. “I suppose it’s the legacy of apartheid isolation that made them content with what was. When they were opened for the world, their eyes went straight to Europe and the USA, as if an entire continent was not there,” she says. “Now that their archaic world has crumbled, perhaps they can begin to live on this continent and adapt to the conditions on this continent. Maybe they could begin to establish the networks required to sell books to the millions of readers here under the conditions in which we live. I’m slightly hopeful.”

But not all is lost. In this time of extreme social distancing, virtual book clubs and literary festivals have emerged. One of the literary interventions from Kubuitsile’s publisher, Love Africa Press, is an online reading question and answer event slated for May 22, 2020.

In the days leading up to the nationwide lockdown, author and philanthropist Kagiso Madibana has seen a surge in her book sales as a result of stockpiling patrons. Delivery services further increased her sales under lockdown as she was able to meet orders from as far as Orapa and Maun while she pushed her marketing strategies on social media and radio.

Madibana has published two books, “Tales from the Heart of Botswana: Baareng’s Journey” and “To Rrangolo With Love.” The lockdown has given her an opportunity to work on her third book titled “Queen of Mayhem.” The upcoming book addresses issues of drug use in the community, femicide, rape, and the intelligence community among others. One theme that is prevalent in Madibana’s books is the issue of Gender-Based Violence.

“Under lockdown, I ran out of copies for my second book. A lot of people were more interested in getting either books or just the second book but the printers were closed. So I lost an opportunity to make more sales because there was nowhere for me to reprint,” she said.

She notes that there has been an increase in the number of people using e-readers compared to pre-lockdown. The scribe is currently in talks with a Motswana who is working on an e-bookstore that will only be selling Botswana books.

Bongani Malunga, author of “Why an African Team may never win the World Cup,” has also experienced challenges of printing new paperback copies to meet the growing demand for books under lockdown. He has decided to follow the online approach of Kindle and Amazon for an e-book model, which is a great alternative in these trying times. The writer continues to hone his writing skills with his upcoming book that will focus more on the history of Botswana football.

“Paperback or physical copies will always have a high appeal but e-books are also in demand. There will always be a balance here, so it is difficult to say which one of the two is the future of books. They can co-exist. Some people are old-fashioned while others like something they can read on the go on their mobile devices,” says Malunga.

In the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the author of “Naledi: Confessions,” Rorisang Mogojwe, has gone digital for her book to remain relevant and accessible. Locally her book is currently listed on BWMade online Bookstore alongside other local authors, as well as on SkyMartBW. She is also in the process of listing her book on Amazon to enable online sales and is currently seeking digital platforms for African authors. Mogojwe is currently working on the second installment of the #Naledi series as the plan has always been to pen a trilogy that will soon introduce “Naledi: Becoming.”

“Books are now more essential than ever,” she says. “However, reading seems to be a declining form of leisure and entertainment. The future of books is still kind of the ‘glass half full’ because reading is unavoidable. So books won’t die out. However, the medium in which they are offered and the platforms they exist on are poised to change as the world goes digital. While physical hard copies or paperback numbers will likely reduce significantly and e-books and audiobooks seem likely to take over, the book will not die.”

Author of the best-selling book, “My Mind On Paper,” Sam Carter, says the future of the publishing world is still uncertain, especially in Botswana where the reading culture still needs to be cultivated. This means as writers they needed to provide readers with something that is out of the ordinary by finding digital ways to cash cheques and keep the public reading.

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