Let us kindle the reading culture

Two Asian shoe manufacturers decided to visit an African country called Abanturika and open branches of their factories there. On arrival, they found that the majority of the people in Abanturika wore no shoes. “Why don’t you wear shoes?” the visitors asked.

“It is a foreign tradition. We don’t like it,” the locals said.

One of the visitors decided to return to Asia. “What is the use?” he asked: “Opening a shoe factory in a country where people do not wear shoes.”

Another decided to remain. He reasoned since he would be the first to open a shoe factory, he would reap the advantages of having no competitors.

“I will teach these people the advantages of wearing shoes,” he assured himself.

He built the factory and then mounted a marketing campaign. He handed samples of his shoes to young men and women and held fairs where shoe-wearing demonstrators paraded.

The Asian adopted a penetrating pricing system. That is, he charged low prices. Within a few months, he was constantly running out of stock. By the end of the year, he had prospered.

In Malawi, there are people who have made a partial adoption of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Asian who went and set up a factory in Abanturika even though there was no shoe-wearing culture. They have written and are writing books despite the absence of a reading culture in Malawi. They have fallen short of what the Asian shoe manufacturer did by not launching marketing campaigns to enthuse Malawians with the joy and love of reading.

They are like a man who made a nice mouse trap and placed it somewhere, hoping the mice would enter it though he had put no bait there. Days, months and years went by, the trap caught no mouse. He blamed the mice, rather than himself.

If Malawians are not avid book readers and buyers, is this not the fault of the authors and such official institutions which claim to promote literary culture?

Look at what musicians in Malawi are doing. Does a week pass without daily newspapers displaying one or two of our popular musicians? They are earning much and so are footballers because they take the trouble to interest, cajole and win the affection of potential clients. They do not take their customers for granted.

A man asked a manufacturer why he was continuously advertising his products when people were already familiar with it. The manufacturer responded by posing his own question: “When a pilot has taken the plane up the air, does he switch off the engine just because the plane has already taken off?”

We writers in Malawi lack the marketing spirit. Our society called Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) is very active in promoting the interest of budding writers by holding workshops and short story competitions. But it could be more creative on behalf of writers who have already published books but are not selling them in abundance.

I suggest representatives of Mawu, book publishers and book sellers should hold a meeting and discuss ways of marketing local books.

Meanwhile, I would suggest several stratagems to be tried. Annually, there should be a book reading competition. Members of the public should write summaries of three or four books they have read during the year: fiction and non-fiction, by Malawian authors, one fiction and non-fiction by non-Malawian publisher. Attractive prizes should be given for those essays or summaries which are genuine.

Authors should regularly put up joint adverts in our popular papers. Each author should contribute to the cost according to the number of books he wants to be included in the advert.

Our regular papers and magazines should employ on their staff regular book reviewers. Book reviewing is one of the regular features of British and American magazines. If newspapers take part in building up the reading culture, they will be catering for their own interests as well. Thanks are due to the editor of The Lamp magazine for already doing what I am asking for in this paragraph.

How nice it would be if well-wishers, both local and foreign, would sponsor some Malawians to visit other countries and learn how the trade is organised and nurtured there. These Malawians should include representatives of Mawu and publishing houses.

It goes without saying that publishers in Malawi hardly engage in marketing and perhaps they too, wonder why they have not made a success of their business.

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