Why we focus entirely on primary, secondary school books, by Ogunbiyi
Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi is no stranger to books; in fact, he has been in a book environment all his life. From academia to journalism and now book publishing, he has seen it all. In a country with acute book shortage, Ogunbiyi, with his Tanus Books Limited, has carved a niche for himself as educational book publisher for primary and secondary schools. In this interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Ogunbiyi shares his experiences and insight into his genre of publishing and how fulfilling it has been filling the educational needs of a vulnerable segment of society
Producing books for children must be quite challenging. Could you share with us your experiences in this line of business?
For us as a company, it’s been quite challenging and I have had to learn so many things. For instance, children relates to colours differently from adults and in designing books for them, therefore, you must take into account their own interest as kids generally. Younger kids love brighter colours which is quite apart from the fact that in designing books for them you must take into account their own ability to relate to details. You have to learn that some colours work better with children – the more colourful the book is, the more interesting the book is to them.
However, as the classes get higher – that is, when the child gets to senior secondary school level, there is far less colour in the books. Now, that’s not an accident, but that’s what we have to learn in collaboration with our people in the design department. I don’t want to appear boastful here but I think in some ways, our books are very well designed than many books in the market today.
Self-publishing has become endemic in the country, with issues of badly edited and produced books dominating. But as a professional coming from journalism and academic background, what processes do your books go through before being published?
Under the laws of our country, you cannot sell school textbooks without going through the Federal Ministry of Education because the books that we sell generally are based on the school curriculum as designed by the National Education Research and Development Council (NERDC). They design the syllabus and in the cause of designing these books, we take the syllabus as a guide in terms of designing the books.
The way we produce our books is this. When the authors send in the manuscripts to us, we sit down with other teams of editors who take a look at the books again, edit them after which the books are sent back to the authors to see the corrections made. Our people in the office then give them colours and then we design them as books. Once they have done that and the books have been formatted as books, we send them back to the authors who will take a look at them one more time after which we send them back to the editors who look at them again before we send them back to the Federal Ministry of Education for clearing because they have to take a look at them and make sure there are no errors at all. Once this is done, we send copies to NERDC to get their comments and as soon as we get their comment, we begin to sell the books. Our books go through a lot of processes for us to make sure they are almost completely error-free; it’s a very tedious process and we can confidently say that the books we sell are completely error-free due to the process they go through before production.
Which stages of schools do you prepare books for?
We do books for primary schools, junior secondary schools and senior secondary schools. We have resisted the attempt to do other kinds of books and we stuck mainly with school textbooks and educational materials. So, that way we are forced to focus entirely on primary and secondary school books. We don’t do tertiary education schoolbooks; we might in the end because we are under some kind of pressure to do them but for now, we are strictly on secondary books. We’ve published one or two books on tertiary institutions, like my own book, Drama and Theatre: A Critical Source book; but it’s not our main focus.
Your books are not readily available in the market. What is the target market?
We don’t sell our books to bookstores directly; our major targets are the state governments and our second targets are schools. We have avoided bookstores not because we don’t like bookstores – at least one or two bookstores carry our books – one in the North and one in Ibadan. But we don’t sell books directly to bookstores because once we do that we are open to all forms of piracy which is one of the major problems we face in the industry right now. Most state governments now buy books for their students directly from us and that keeps us happy. We have also found an open market system where we sell books directly to schools. If we start selling our books everywhere in the market you can buy our books everywhere, but even without doing that some of our books are being pirated already. We are victims of piracy and yet we are not selling directly to bookstores. You can imagine what would happen if we start selling to bookstores. Our choice has been to remain with the state governments and schools as we now do directly nationwide. We deal with the Army schools, Navy schools, Airforce school, private schools, Catholic schools and state schools. But we are far less in the East not because we don’t like to be there but because we don’t have an office in the East as we speak. We have offices in PH, Benin City, Ibadan, Abuja and other places.
You were a former Managing Director of one of Nigeria’s biggest newspapers Daily Times and now you are into book publication. How did you make that transition?
It’s actually been easy publishing books for me because you’re coming from newspaper organization. I don’t see more transition. You publish on a daily basis as a newspaper. So, coming from newspapering to book publishing, I’d say it has been quite easy and interesting to me because at the end of the day it’s about spreading knowledge and also applying the skills of writing. It’s about your skills of being able to judge your readers as a newspaper or a book for students. I find the transition to be very smooth and not difficult at all. In fact, at the end of the day, it’s the same realm of profession
Online is the biggest place where published books are found. How accessible are your books online?
If you go online, you cannot only access our books, you can actually buy our books online and pay us online through our portal. You can also download our books online and it’s slightly cheaper buying our books online than buying our hard copies. All our books have been formatted to e-books. We have books for primaries 1-3, 4-6, JSS1-3 and those of SS1-3. So, we have four types of` books online for those that like to read online. It’s like buying from Amazon.com. Our e-book portal is www.estores.tanusbooks.com; we have the Tanus Digital Reader which is a mobile reading app that allows users Tanus textbooks in an e-book format via a secure and encrypted means running on Android and Blackberry devices. It can also be found on Tanus Books Ltd website, Google store and Blackberry Apple world.
Some of your books are custom made for particular states. Why is this so?
We came to realize that some of the states we deal engage in the free education programme and they themselves realised that most of the books they supply to kids are getting into wrong hands. Some of the books are not just branded we have a little security code on them. If you buy the books and look at the covers you will discover that there is security imprint on them. It means you cannot resell them; so what we do is to say that the books are specially produced for Rivers State, for instance. The other reason why the books are branded is that sometimes some books are redesigned to suit a particular state.
How do you source your authors? Do you commission them to write for you?
Basically, some of our authors are my former colleagues in the university; some of them are persons who approach us to write for us. We also have the consulting team headed by Prof. Ibidapo Obe. He would sometimes recommend authors to us, gives us a list of names to pick from. We equally have in some of the universities key consultants; we enter into an agreement with them. Some of them we also pay off. In one or two cases, we pay them royalties, but that’s based on the arrangement. So far we have about 40-45 authors and then we have another 30-40 editors because the guys who write the books don’t edit them for us.
Coming from the background of storytelling and journalism, how much of storybooks do you have for children?
We have about 50 classics and these are old classics like Alice in Wonderland, Oliver Twist and we have those copyrights for almost seven years now. Some of them are Shakespeare books and they have been adapted for younger readers. We are trying to see whether we can acquire some African titles and some African classics like Things Fall Apart and The Jero Plays but the classics we have now are mainly English classics.
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