In Summary
  • And while non-school books don’t sell in volumes, they have steady sales and can defy a seismic change in state policy.
  • Novels, biographies, plays and anthologies would be a great safety valve when the textbooks cash cow is no more.

One of the most difficult tasks for managers of private companies is to balance short-term gains and long-term growth. For, while shareholders need earnings for their capital at the AGM, the business has to be managed sustainably and as an entity strong enough to survive internal and external exigencies and outlive its current minders.

This dilemma is even scarier for publishing managers. Books, and good books, at that, need time to produce. And huge investment. In a year, you can only produce a handful. If they don’t sell, you will have incurred costs in vain. Shareholders can never forgive you for that.

CULTURAL BOOKS

Again, it is hard, in a country like Kenya, to tell whether the few novels or other cultural books you are working on will sell, for only textbooks and set books make money.

It is for this reason that most publishers prefer to put their money on textbooks.

The government invites publishers to participate in preparation of the curriculum or support materials. The publishers buy the bid documents and start preparing scripts for evaluation and eventual approval or rejection by the Ministry of Education.

From there, all you need is to adhere to the technical specifications prescribed by the government and the timelines and — voila! — you are selling tens of thousands of books a few months down the line.

The workload and long hours are hell on earth but, once your books are listed in the so-called “Orange Book”, half your marketing work is done.

The tragedy with blind faith in textbooks is that government policy on textbooks and curricula is so amorphous it melts like wax. Just the other day, it suspended the implementation of the competence-based curriculum (though that was rescinded). A few days later, another agency invited publishers to submit books for the programme.

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