Literature and the Creative Economy: Finding Relevance and Overcoming Misconceptions on the Book Industry’s Contributions to a Nation’s Economic Well-Being.

Being a Paper Presented at the 1st African Union Pan African Writers’ Conference Holding in Accra, Ghana from 7-10 March, 2018




The paper examines the concept of the creative economy as arising out of the newfound quest to extract economic values out of cultural and creative activities. The paper goes on to attempt to find the place of literature and the book sector within the creative economies of most African nations ,using Nigeria as a representative example. The findings show that the sector is still a poor cousin to other sectors within the creative economy as its real status as an economic earner is yet to be mapped and potentials yet to be empirically ascertained. The paper goes ahead to proffer measures through which the actual contributions of the sector to the GDP of most African nations can be assessed and enhanced so that it becomes a major player in the diversification of national economic activities




 The global economic downturn of the 1980s necessitated the search for alternative drivers of the economy of most nations. Hitherto, the culture sector from which the buzz of the creative economy has evolved was portrayed as secondary to any economy as it is dependent mostly on public subsidy and never considered as a domain of mainstream economic activity. Most nations in Africa and in other developing economies in the world are largely dependent on commodities and mineral resources to generate wealth and earn income for the sustenance of governance. However, in the last two decades, a broader appreciation of the sector emerged as emphasis shifted to understanding:

not just the traditional art forms, such as theatre, music and film, but service

businesses such as advertising(which sell their creative skills mostly to other

                    businesses)manufacturing processes that feed into cultural production, and

                       the retail of creative goods. It was argued that the industries with their roots

                     in culture and creativity were an important and growing source of jobs and wealth


With this awakening came a renewed interest in concepts like the cultural industries and creative industries as part of the emerging field of the creative economy. This was a time when traditional cultural activities like

designing, making, decorating, performing-began to be woven with a wider range

              of modern economic activities-advertising, design,fashion and moving image media

  • and, even more importantly, began to be given much greater reach through the power of digital technology-that was the moment when the ‘creative economy’ as most people use the term ,was truly born.(British Council:2010).

In the UNESCO Creative Economy Report 2013, it was highlighted that the need to graft cultural practices into the lane of tangibility of economic gains has given room to the evolvement of buzzwords such as creative economy, cultural industries and creative industries which are used differently and interchangeably in different situations. The term creative economy was said to be popularized by the British writer and media manager, John Howkins, who applied it to 15 industries ranging from the arts to science and technology. Cultural industries refer to forms of cultural production and consumption that have at their core a symbolic and expressive element and now embraces a wide range of fields, such as music, art, writing, fashion and design, and media industries, e.g. radio, publishing, film and television production. The term creative industries is applied to a much wider productive set, including goods and services produced by the cultural industries and those that depend on innovation, including many types of research and software development.


The Place of Literature in the Creative Economy

               The talk about the creative economy foregrounds the necessity of moving away from the intangibility of service or existence to commodification of cultural products or services that can be traded for income generation and wealth creation. Literature as we know it starts from the realm of the intangible; from the creative pedestal involving mostly the individual with no primary inkling of commerce but expression being the guiding principle. It is when this creative expression is frozen into a form for transmission to others that we have the book which is a major product of the publishing industry. Thus, if we are to find the place of literature in the creative economy, the fortunes will largely be tied to books and the publishing industry. Though Africa is largely an oral culture before the coming of the colonialists from the East and West, the book and the publishing industry in Africa has come a long way and has been there all along as a medium of general societal re-orientation and education. The book and the publishing industry has for long been consigned to the realm of the provision of social services with profit not often intended. In the beginnings of the publishing industry in Africa, we find colonial enterprise at the helms with big time publishing houses with ties to foreign capitals being the big players. As expected, whatever economic profits made from these early days of publishing were repatriated away from the continent to foreign capitals. However, in the sphere of literary arts or literature as we may call it, there was an attendant collateral benefits to these colonial publishing enterprise with the discovery of indigenous African literary minds whose writings went ahead to shape African thoughts for many years ahead. The commercial and intellectual success story of the African Writers Series (AWS), published by Heinemann is a supreme example of what the book industry was in those early period of African political independence from Western colonialism. The AWS example ensured two things and those were the establishment of a continental wide economically thriving book industry and the cross pollination of ideas across Africa.

Since the demise of the model of the AWS of Heinemann and other such publishing giants like Longman, Evans etc, arising out of the economic downturn that pillaged Africa with the continent-wide adoption of economic structural adjustment programmes handed out by IMF and other Bretton wood institutions in the 1980s, the book and publishing industry were hardest hit. Multinational publishing houses closed down across Africa and relocated   back to their mother foreign capitals, the educational institutions collapsed, libraries and renowned international book fairs within the continent closed shops, paper mills were abolished and writers and intellectuals (those writing the books that sustained the creative flow into the publishing industry) left the continent fleeing from dictatorship and other desperate conditions.


Literature, Publishing and the Creative Economy in the Aftermath of the Afro-Pessimism Phase

            Two decades after the painful and societal debilitating economic downturn in Africa of the 80s , life gradually returned to the publishing world with local publishers striving to fit into the schema abandoned by the hitherto multinational publishing companies. The period of the Africa Rising syndrome came on board with emphasis shifting away from the largely mono-cultural economies of most African countries to the insistent need to mine the creative economy for economic diversification. Africa had to look back to its grand history and cultural heritage to find economic use for most of what it had earlier treated as aesthetic adornments of its historical existence. The arts, culture and tourism sectors became the new avenues for keeping the booming youthful population engaged in productive activities, some of which became exportable in the areas of music, film and broadcast. The publishing industry even in this new found use for the components of the creative economy remained a poor cousin of the other players in that economy. Let us here illustrate with the example of Nigeria and assume that is largely representative of the average situation in most African countries:


               The reality in Nigeria as exemplified in the graph above is that the contribution of the book and publishing industry to the GDP of the country is not that significant. The potentials of the music, film and allied industries in generating foreign exchange and providing jobs for the citizens of the country are well noted within government circles to the extent that government has attempted to boost the hitherto informal sector with all sort of financial interventionist schemes. The popular Nigerian film industry, called Nollywood, which has become the flagship of its creative economy, with its soaring success as the second largest producer of films in the world and a great generator of importable income for its practitioners, has experienced a number of generous government funding interventions such as the N3 Billion Naira Project ACT Nollywood and $200million Entertainment Fund administered by the NEXIM Bank and the Bank of Industry and N1 Billion Naira Bank of Industry Nollywood Fund. The music industry and other sectors in the cultural and creative industries are receiving similar attention and featuring regularly in the general discourse of big time public and private sectors players so much that those of us in the book and publishing sectors have started feeling excluded from a place of relevance in the creative economy.


Finding Relevance and Overcoming the Misconceptions of the place of the Book Sector in the Creative Economy.

 I am a member of Council of the Nigerian International Book Fair Trust, an organization comprising of all the major stakeholders in the Nigerian Book Industry, that has been organizing the Nigerian International Book Fair annually in Lagos for about 17 years running. I can tell you that in spite of the successes recorded by this fair in creating local and international markets and network of engagements for the players of the book industry, it is still hankering after non-existent, lukewarm and rather indifferent government participation. Every year, the Trust try its best to draw the attention of the relevant government authorities and agencies to its activities without success. This situation led us to conclude at the last Board Meeting in 2017 to draw up a study of the contribution of our annual Book Fair to the creative economy of the hosting State and the income it generates yearly for the participating authors, publishers, book sellers and advertisers, who attend from different parts of the world. In essence, we have come to the point in which we need to prove the relevance of our book business in factual economic terms to the creative economy in order to be taken seriously by government and policy makers.

Taking a close look at the publishing industry and the book market in Nigeria, it would be discovered that beyond the commodification of its products, it has consistently been connected to the building of the cultural capital and advancement of education in Nigeria. The publishing industry and the book market cannot be divorced from the huge education industry spanning the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Servicing of the education industry with required books has given rise to a crop of educational publishers who are mainly devoted to the publication of texts for the schools curricula. This set of publishers with their strategic connections to the educational regulatory authorities who prescribe texts for schools have been able to remain profitably in business, employing many and keeping the wheel of their publishing economy running. Other kinds of publishers focusing on general interest books have arisen which each capturing its targeted slice of the market in line with identified publishing predilections. Thus we have in Nigeria now, like we may have elsewhere, publishers of children books, religious texts, academic texts, literary texts, aesthetically packaged texts, biographies and political books etc. Each of the major publishing houses have found their niche and have maintained their peculiar competitive advantages.

Publishing clusters have arisen in the country around the Ibadan –Lagos axis where the dominant publishers are located and where the machines, know-how and labour are available. The publishing industry can be said today to be stable in spite of the absence of favourable environment for its production with the infrastructural and power deficits facing the nation and with it not near optimal capacity in terms of the consumption of its products. The book sector is still over dependent on imported raw materials and operates in an atmosphere of lack of a functional national book development policy and poor reading culture. The book sector as it is today has no identified strategic linkage with the other sectors of the creative economy such as the film industry and is still heavily dependent on its traditional distributive framework. The industry in the absence of its identification by government as central to the sustenance of the nation’s cultural and intellectual capitals has not enjoyed any special protection from the ills of piracy nor the facility of focused funding intervention.

To bring the book sector and the creative producers in it into proper reckoning as contributors to the general economic well-being of the nations and countries of Africa, the following measures need to be taken:

  1. Each country should embark on a research-based mapping of the publishing and book sector’s contributions to the national economy in order to establish the real contribution of the sector to each nation’s GDP.
  2. The stakeholders in the sector should put pressure on governments to enact and implement functional book development policies that will help in enhancing the economic potentials of the sector.
  3. The African Union should pay particular attention to National Association of Writers across the continent who are presently keeping the fountain heads of the publishing sector vibrant with various intra-national and international literary activities such as capacity building workshops for writers, organization of book fairs and administration of literary prizes.
  4. The African Union should think of establishing continental wide literary prizes of great merit and integrity to encourage literary creativity and publishing in the continent.
  5. Circulation of literary materials across the continent from one part to the other should be encourage to create understanding and cement the spirit of Pan-Africanism. This dialogue across nations and cultures through the circulation of literary texts, which hitherto existed in the hey days of multinational publishers, should be brought back with the coming into being a kind of scheme to ensure continental wide publishing and distribution of books.
  6. The organization of major book fairs and literary festivals in each of the regions of Africa should be encouraged and sustained as these are the present platforms in which the contributions of the book sector to the economic growth of African nations can be readily measured.
  7. There is a lot of residual income to be mined from the protection of intellectual property and establishment of collecting societies to collect and distribute income to right owners for the use of their intellectual property. This is important with the advent of the digital age with growing interest in e-books and e-publishing.



The book sector remains one of the most resilient sectors of the creative economy of African nations because of its ties to educational development. However, its real contributions to economic growth of nations has been taken for granted because of the lack of empirical data and due to the perception of the sector as belonging to the realm of social service rather than that of economic activity. With the imperative for the diversification of most economies of nations in the continent, the sector has grown enough in status for a thorough self-appraisal towards tracking its economic potentials and enhancing its capabilities as a major contributor to general economic well-being.



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Bello, Sule. “Repositioning Culture and Tourism in a Diversified Economy.” Being a paper Presented at the Culture and Tourism Summit Organised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture from 27-29 April,2016 in Abuja, Nigeria.

British Council (2010). The Creative Economy: An Introductory Guide, Creative/Cultural Economy Series/1 London (Author: John Newbigin)

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