Magazine article New African

Bibi Comes to London

Magazine article New African

Bibi Comes to London

Article excerpt

In April, Nigerian publisher Cassava Republic proudly announced their arrival on the London literary scene with a stunning launch party. Novelist Zukiswa Wanner talked to Cassava's founder, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf about her latest venture and the future of African literature.

NA: Congratulations to you and your team on launching Cassava Republic in London, a mere ten years after you started in Nigeria. Who are Cassava Republic and how much work did you have to put in to get to where you are now?

BBY: Jeremy Weate and I began Cassava Republic Press in 2006 without business or publishing experience, just passion and a desire to see African stories written and owned by Africans. Inspirational figures in publishing such as Margaret Busby, co-founder of Allison & Busby, were our guide. The first five years were the toughest, with sleepless nights, expensive mistakes, reading and replying to all manuscript submissions, handling editorial, publicity, marketing and production--and learning about [more] maritime issues than I care to know. We also had the support of my sisters and my mother who played active roles in the company, especially in finance and administration, as well as experienced freelancers. It was so intense and unrelenting for so many years, that any stress in the setting up of the UK office simply cannot compare. Ten years later, there are six of us in the company including Emma Shercliff, who recently joined as director of sales. The intensity and the brand equity we have built over time has made it a bit easier to enter the UK market.

NA: Is Cassava Republic's move to London a signal of the reversal of the back-to-Africa optimism of a decade ago? How successful is Cassava commercially in Nigeria and West Africa?

BBY: We have not moved to London. We have simply expanded into a new market. The UK office is a subsidiary of Cassava Republic Nigeria, not a separate company. Africa is still at the heart of our business. We believe that Africa is still going to be the biggest market for literature in the world. The move to London is not to privilege the UK. Rather, it is to give us easier access to other African markets and to the rest of the world. Our commercial success in Nigeria has given us the confidence and resources to expand into different markets.

NA: Does your entry into the English market mean that readers in England and in Europe will be able to access Cassava Republic authors in English bookstores across Europe?

BBY: Yes. Our entry into the UK market means that our books are now available from bookshops in the UK and Europe. We have signed up with a distribution and sales and marketing agency which markets our books to bookshops in the UK and across Europe. Our books are also available for purchase from UK sites such as www.wordery.com, http://www.waterstones.com/, http://www.foyles.co.uk/ and of course our website, www.cassavarepublic.biz

We are also expanding our distribution into other African countries, using the UK as a base because it is cheaper. For example, our books will be distributed in South Africa by PanMacmillan.

NA: What challenges do publishers experience in the African market?

BBY: Publishing in Africa involves doing everything yourself. There aren't formal distribution systems, bookshops are reluctant to pay for books, and you have to contend with a lack of affordable and quality printing. Few retail spaces stock books, the cost of transporting books from one end of the country to another is prohibitive, and poor work ethics also poses an added challenge.

However, having now experienced the formal distribution systems of the UK, I am not convinced that what we perceived as challenges are not really more of a case of the grass being greener on the other side.

There are challenges in Africa but I actually now see more opportunities.

As Cassava Republic, for instance, we don't have to wait for our books to be part of the curriculum before people hear or read them. …

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