African Books Collective, founded, owned and governed by African publishers, seeks to strengthen indigenous African publishing through collective action and to increase the visibility and accessibility of the wealth of African scholarship and culture.
WHO WE ARE
African Books Collective (ABC) is a non-profit Oxford-based, worldwide marketing and distribution outlet for 2,500 print titles from Africa, of which 800 are also ebooks - scholarly, literature and children's books. Founded, owned and governed by a group of African publishers, its participants are 149 independent and autonomous African publishers from 24 countries.
ABC seeks to be the primary distribution choice for independent African publishers; to provide the most comprehensive selection of relevant material to customers worldwide in the form they require; to achieve ABC's cultural aims whilst operating in a wholly commercial space; and to grow the market for African books worldwide.
A group of African publishers met in 1985 to address the constraints publishers were experiencing in financing, marketing and distributing their books, and the dearth of African published materials in the North. They founded ABC as a collective self-help initiative to strengthen the economic base of independent African publishers and to meet the needs of Northern libraries and other book buyers. With initial support from funding agencies, trading began in 1989.
Major remodelling of ABC took place in 2007, when it became self-financing, and moved to a largely digital model. Since then further refinements have been made in the organisation and consequently profitability is on the increase with publishers seeing bonuses paid out in recent years. New opportunities afforded by the evolution of digital publishing and electronic books have been seized upon with ABC playing a key role in the digitisation of African cultural output. Whilst adapting to changing markets and methodologies, ABC's founding ethos and aims remain unchanged and ABC remains a not-for-profit organisation on its own behalf.
GOVERNANCE AND ORGANISATION
ABC is a collective owned by its 17 founder publishers. The founder publishers elect a five-member Council of Management which meets annually. The Council of Management is responsible for setting the collective's strategy and for its representation in the wider book and publishing world, in government, NGO and cultural organizations, within and outside Africa.
ABC is a UK-registered company limited by guarantee. It has two UK non-executive directors who are legally responsible for the company. ABC seeks to be profit making on behalf of its publishers, and is non-profit making on its own behalf.
Without the need for need for a physical central office in the digital age, ABC is run by a core staff based in Oxford and elsewhere. A small warehouse is maintained near Oxford.
Titles stocked are from many of the leading publishers in Africa: scholarly, literary, art books, children's books, and books in African languages and in translation. They are available in print, and many also as ebooks, in European and some African languages.
Scholarly titles cover the major academic disciplines from throughout Africa and include many of Africa's notable world-leading scholar authors including Claude Ake, Samir Amin, Paulin Hountondji, Amina Mama, Mahmood Mamdani, Thandika Mkandawire, Issa Shivji and Paul Zeleza. Many of the scholars won or were cited in the past Noma Award for Publishing in Africa.
Creating writing showcases fiction from writers who have since gone on to international acclaim, such as Yvonne Vera; and some of the exciting emerging voices from Africa, many of them winning local and international prizes. The books encompass the great issues in fiction: love/loss, hope/despair, human dilemmas, beautiful things found in unexpected places. A number of Caine Prize winners or shortlisted writers are included, having first been published in Africa: NoViolet Bulawayo, Florent Couao-Zotti, Laurie Kubuitsile and Okwiri Oduor. Yewande Omotoso was short-listed for the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature; and Pede Hollist won Best Book of the Year from the African Literature Association for Creative Writing.
Children's books represent stories from Africa, contributing to the richness of international cultural diversity. Anna Cottrell and Agbotadua Togbi Kumassah won Best Book in the Children's Africana Book Awards 2014; and Masayo was previously awarded Notable Book in the same Awards. Meshack Asare, the Ghanaian children's author and illustrator, has won numerous Awards, including the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, and Unesco First Prize for Children and Young People's Literature in the Service of Tolerance.
There is a small but distinguished list of beautifully illustrated Art books: painting and photography from Morocco and Tanzania. John Kiyaya won the Leopold Godowsky Jr. Colour Photography Award. The books are presented in their cultural context.
Books in 6 African languages are stocked, the greater part in Kiswahili. Notable translations into Kiswahili include the Nobel prize winner, Naguib Mahfouz, Mariama Bâ, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and an unabridged edition of the Arabian Nights.
The participants in ABC are 150 autonomous and independent African publishers on the Continent. They share a common ethos of publishing from within African cultures, asserting Africa's voice within Africa and internationally. They include scholarly and literary, and some children's book publishers: research institutes, university presses, commercial presses - large and small, NGOs, and writers' organisations. Of the 24 countries where the publishers are based, over half include participants who are women publishers.
This snapshot view of representative publishers illustrates the range covered.
Codesria is the leading pan-African scholarly research institute, noted for the rigour and range of scholarship from established and younger scholars; whilst OSSREA in Ethiopia, the oldest of the main research institutes in Africa, publishes social science research from eastern and southern Africa. The Africa Institute of South Africa, an independent research institute and think-tank, publishes unique continent-wide data, and has a large resource library and documentation centre.
Langaa RPCIG in Cameroon has a large and innovative publishing programme both in scholarly and literary titles, and runs a writers' resource centre. Mkuki na Nyota Publishers in Tanzania, publishes progressive scholarship, art, literary and children's books in English and Swahili, and is noted also for its exceptionally high quality book designs. Sub-Saharan Publishers in Ghana, headed by a woman publisher includes noted archival research on European interactions, particularly with Denmark.
Amongst smaller publishers, Modjaji Books in South Africa, headed by a woman, focuses on writing by Southern Africa women; Weaver Press in Zimbabwe publishes both scholarship from and about southern Africa, and the most noted creative Zimbabwean writers.
Two large commercial presses, East African Educational Publishers in Kenya and HEBN Publishers in Nigeria, represent successful indigenisation of companies which started as subsidiaries of the British owned Heinemann.
The Basler Afrika Bibliographien Publishing House has been publishing scholarly works on southern Africa, especially Namibia, since 1971 and is the first publisher based outside of Africa to be part of the collective.