By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Early Discussions’Many in the world book publishing business are accustomed to Andre Breedt arriving on a conference stage with layer after layer of data on a given market or region. The London-based managing director of Nielsen Book Research International, Breedt is affable, thorough, and always well-prepared, an asset to any programmer’s agenda.
When he speaks on publishing’s ecosystem, however, at the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) “Africa Rising” seminar in Nairobi, hosted by the Kenya Publishers Association, Breedt will be addressing why extensive industry data is important.
The brief description of his 15-minute address at midday on the second day of the seminar reads simply, “A short talk on building publishing industry stakeholder support for national book retail sales data collection systems.”
And in a conversation with Publishing Perspectives, Breedt says, “Basically, I’ll be talking about what already is being done in African markets, and then what could be done and also why.
“As you know, we measure book markets all around the world. In Africa, we actually only measure the product in South Africa. We’re in some early discussions with the Kenya Publishers Association and some others, to see if there’s more that can be done.
“I’ll be talking more about why we collect information, the sorts of information you can collect, and then what you can do with it. Really, what the benefits are, the benefits of having centralized metadata and [an accurate picture of ] sales in order to help you manage the supply chain—how that could work and how it could help the African markets to leverage their strengths, also helping consumers.”
While many of us are accustomed to the deep insights of the picture that retail sales data collection systems provide, these programs aren’t yet dominant in the industry at full scale. “I’d say more markets don’t have a measure than do. It isn’t only the African continent that lacks measurement.
“And the difficult thing to set up is that you need the volume of the retail trade and the publishing trade. You also need the centralized metadata database. What you really need is consensus among the organizations [that they need] to work together to everybody’s benefit. That’s actually the hardest part,” the agreement among stakeholders.
“It used to be the technology. But it’s really the willingness to share and the consensus, which is people realizing that if the book industry works together—and that’s obviously both publishers and retailers—then everybody benefits” from the ability to actually see and quantify the industry’s performance.”
‘To Help You Manage the Supply Chain’
Breedt is South African, as it happens, and he says that the metrics in that market are good, “really well up and running,” in partnership with a local firm that supports Nielsen’s work there.
Some of what Breedt will show the audience in Nairobi illustrates the kind of comparative clarity he can get on the South African market, including a comparative look at the levels of revenue being achieved there by the Top 10 publishers operating there across four years, from 2015 to 2018—from one publisher’s low in 2016 of under 40 million rand (US$2.8 million) to a high in 2015 for another publisher of 120 million rand (US$8.3 million).
In another glimpse of the data coming from the South African market, we see 41.3 percent of sales going to adult trade nonfiction in 2018, down from 45 percent in 2014. On the other hand, you can see adult fiction holding steady at between 20 and 21 percent for all five years. Annual book sales in South Africa appear to have peaked in 2010, though in 2015 a bump occurred, and since then sales have declined somewhat but not precipitously.
“It’s really the willingness to share and the consensus—which is people realizing that if the book industry works together, and that’s obviously both publishers and retailers, then everybody benefits”Andre Breedt, Nielsen Book
One way Breedt says he looks at the cooperative environment needed is “as something I’d describe as a feedback loop more than an exchange of data,” he says. “When you start, you realize that one of the most valuable side effects is that you have a good centralized metadata database of all the available books in your market, because you’re measuring everything that’s out,” which means, of course, that consumers can actually find the books they’re interested in.
Breedt says that Nigeria has special challenges, in that it’s a very large market. He expects Nielsen to first be looking at Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania, one of the primary criteria for selection being which markets are organized to a degree that their retailers and publishers and associations can work together.
“For now, I think it’s more like a research document than a plan,” Breedt says about the pathway to getting industry grade sales research into the African markets outside South Africa.
And it’s in Nairobi that the seed can certainly be planted to get the dream of a multiple quantified and analyzed African book markets into place. The leadership on this, Andre Breedt says, likely will lie with the publishers’ associations, making the IPA “Africa Rising” seminar a great place to start.
More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, more from us on its ‘Africa Rising’ Nairobi seminar is here, and more on African publishing markets and issues is here.
Our special magazine for the International Publishers Association’s (IPA) “Rising Africa” 2019 seminar has been printed by Modern Lithographic Kenya and is being provided in print to delegates as the conference convenes on June 14 and 15 in Nairobi.
We hope you’ll download a free copy here in PDF and join us in welcoming the second annual IPA Africa Seminars event, an important new series in world publishing.
In this new magazine, you’ll find commentary from the IPA leadership, from key stakeholders in the 2018 seminar at Lagos produced with the Nigerian Publishers Association, and from our hosts at this year’s event produced in cooperation with the Kenya Publishers Association. There also are insights from speakers in this week’s program and background coverage on publishing in Africa from Publishing Perspectives.