|Preserving reading culture the soul of ZIBF|
|Saturday, 04 August 2012 00:00|
This year the Zimbabwe International Book Fair celebrates 29 years of existence. The exhibition accords Zimbabweans an opportunity to interact with writers and publishers of books. Our Senior Reporter Fortious Nhambura (FN) caught up with board chairman Musaemura Zimunya (MZ) to discuss this and other issues related to the book industry.
FN: Can you briefly give us the concept of the ZIBF?
MZ: The history of the book fair goes back to 1983. Around that time we already had outstanding literary works by Zimbabwean writers such as Dambudzo Marechera, Charles Mungoshi, Stanlake Samkange, Wilson Katiyo, and others. In due course we had Tsitsi Dangarembga, Yvonne Vera, Shimmer Chinodya, Chenjerai Hove and so on.
The original founders of the ZIBF discovered that there was something flourishing in Zimbabwe as a far as the book was concerned. We already had established publishers, Longman, Mambo Press and College Press with a lot of books on African literature and lot of school textbooks.
The Zimbabwe Publishing House was founded at around the same time bringing African classics such as Things Fall Apart, The Grain of Wheat and others, and publishing them under licence. It was discovered that there was no African book fair and I am told the founders were encouraged to do this following the London Book Fair.
Over the years the ZIBF has represented one week every year when stakeholders of the book gather to view what is on sight regarding Zimbabwean publishing and what is on offer. It is an occasion to reflect on a particular theme, a theme which is of particular relevance at the particular time in the country.
FN: What is your theme and who is ZIBF targeting this year?
MZ: Our theme is “African Literature in The Global and Digital”. It touches on very crucial aspects in African writing and publishing occasioned by the digital revolution. We held an Indaba on that theme on July 30 and 31 where we had scholars from across Zimbabwe and outside addressing the issues of African identities in the global era and Zimbabwean literature in the Diaspora and how it relates the situation home.
We are targeting everyone who wants to read and wants their children to read for whatever reason . . . ZIBF 2012 is targeting everyone. I would like to plead with everyone that after finishing with their facebooking and blogging, etc; not to forget to spare a moment to interact with your mind through reading.
That is fruitful for the mind because through reading we learn more and that helps you to interact with the world. As a book fair, we don’t just look at the current situation, but we try to imagine what we can do better for the future. We will continue looking for ways to make sure our writers are not left behind in the global economy.
FN: What was the outcome of the Indaba and how was it of value to ZIBF stakeholders?
MZ: During the indaba we had some fascinating presentations on the status of copyrights in the digital era. In other words, how do writers protect their work in this era of digital revolution given the fact that for example we have massive illegal photocopying of works in institutions of higher learning and private colleges? We even have an underground industry occasioned by the availability of high volume digital photocopiers. Some of the photocopies are so accurate that it is difficult to tell the difference between the original and the pirated material. Unless it is clumsy kind of presentation, it is impossible to say. We also had an insightful presentation from a police officer citing the laws, legislation available and also indication of what is not available in protecting the writers.
She also outlined the role of the book industry in the fight against piracy. She was quick to remind us that the police alone may not be able to establish who is behind the material so a combination of the police, public and writers themselves is necessary to fight piracy.
FN: Has the technological revolution brought all gloom for the writer or producers of literary work?
MZ: For writers it has brought enormous opportunities. One of the possibilities is that a writer can actually go through all the processes of writing right until the process of publishing by himself or herself. In other words you can go through the process of creating a book, writing, editing, layout, and create a cover for it, proof read and then put it out on the Internet.
You can promote it by creating a blog and putting an excerpt of it on the blog. By keeping it as an e-book you can actually have it protected from piracy. You can even sell it without even knowing the location of people who are buying.
Or you can sub-contract the work to sites like Amazon and they can do all the work for you and remit your royalties. I am told that they have better royalties than the traditional publishers. That is the value of the book fair as it tackles issues of relevance to the industry. That is our role as book fair
FN: How are you combating piracy?
MZ: I want to tell you: publishers are stuck with hordes of books in their warehouses, but what the small guy, the underground baron, is doing is using the simplest technology to achieve maximum gains at the loss of the publisher.
Their books are not expensive. We are urging all players in the book industry to make their books cheaper. We are pushing for an all stakeholders meeting to discuss the threat of piracy. We are not there yet, but we have made a start by bringing to these stakeholders. We are there together.
FN: How different is this edition of the ZIBF from previous ones?
MZ: We are coming from a very difficult period because of the economic crisis we went through to an extent that the biggest consumer of books, the Ministry of Education, Sports Arts and Culture, was knocked out. The collapse of that funding had direct impact on the viability of the industry and also had a direct impact upon the expectations of the writers.
Publishers were sitting on warehouses full of books because there was no one to purchase the literature. People had to take care of bread and butter issues and in some instances education became a luxury. That is how badly the economic situation affected all sectors including the book industry.
But since the establishment of the inclusive Government we have been reviving and re-growing. I would say, two years ago I would not have sat down with you talking about book fair because it was there in the same way it is now. So when I took over I was glad to see that my predecessors had started to steer the ship in the right direction or at least began to stabilise it.
The Indaba conference I was talking about had an upward of 200 registered participants from across the country. The fact of the matter is that ZIBF is a home-grown institution that I personally believe all those who believe in the success of the country should, corporate sector, Government, NGOs, help re-grow it become it bring the essence that the book is critical for development.
FN: What is being done to lure back the international exhibitor to ZIBF?
MZ: We are opening up to the world and inviting those who had given up on the book fair to come back so that we can take it to the next level. What we are seized with now is the international component of the book fair. We need to bring back the international exhibitor.
Yes, we do have foreign exhibitors, but these are people who have come on their own volition, who love the country, but we have to invite those who do not know that the ZIBF is still alive. We have gone on the Internet and have a website and blog to reach the rest of the region and world so that they know they are welcome to participate.