ART CHECK

Publishers adapt to disruption by virus

Author meetings are being convened virtually and sales done digitally

In Summary

• The pandemic calls for Kenyans to innovate as we come to terms with the corona

• Bookstores have closed but online sales have surged as clients stay at home

A section of Longhorn books on display in Nairobi
A section of Longhorn books on display in Nairobi
Image: FILE

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything — George Bernard Shaw

The great Irish theatre critic and social commentator could as well have been describing the current times. Since the beginning of the year and after Covid-19 went viral, literally and literature-wise, no sector of the economy of nations across the world remains unscathed.

Unprecedented changes are afoot. In the book world, the pandemic has led to massive disruption of activities, some of which had taken months of planning and have now to be cancelled.

 

In places such as New York, New Delhi, Cape Town or London, where total lockdowns are enforced, bookstores and other players in the supply chains have had to come up with drastic coping strategies, including temporary closure. Online sales, however, appear to be picking up as the stay-at-home policies and curfews aggravate online shopping for books, among other goods.

Here in Nairobi, one player in the book industry presents an interesting case study on how the industry is coping with the new calamitous times. Christian Literature Communications is a growing publishing outfit with branches across the country courtesy of its Kenyan chapter.

Mercy Omukhango is their business development manager and head of publishing. She talked to the Star recently and decried the disruptions being occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, but also shared practical golden opportunities that have arisen out of it.

Her outfit has come up with a number of strategies to fit itself into the new times relevantly. She says many plays in the industry stand to benefit if they convert the current challenges they face into opportunities for change and progress. CLC-Kenya has shifted its operations to online platforms for continuity with some of their brand activities. They held their first Authors' Breakfast at the beginning of this week yesterday. This event would have occurred as face to face, ideally, but it was convened virtually.

This is an example of the new creed of continuation of work-from-home as the new location of duties and responsibilities among the working class. Many companies and institutions, including universities, have advised their employees to carry on with their essential services online from the safety of their homes.

Omukhango’s organisation has strengthened their online presence with strategic renovations on their website, https://kenyaclc.org/. This enables their clients and other interested parties to interact remotely with the outfit. It heralds the new practice that certainly cuts across the corporate world at the moment. Online presence and virtual visibility is a key coping mechanism and it starts with enhanced websites and webpages. Companies now find these as vital necessities rather than just bare essentials in line with ISO certification requirement, in some cases.

WHATSAPP COLLABO

Secondly, CLC-Kenya has moved her authors' collaboration group on WhatsApp and it is working very well. There are several interaction exercises that occur on a daily basis. These include: Spiritual Inspiration for Authors (Mondays), Featured Authors Series (Tuesdays), Topical Trainings (Wednesday), Future of Book Trainings (Thursdays) and Book Market Day (Fridays to Sundays).

Thirdly, they have shifted their Book Programme Courses online, and one can interact using the following link: https://kenyaclc.org/courses-2/

 

Finally, CLC-K has initiated five different book programmes. There is an inspirational one for the guidance and counselling sector and another for company and business owners, who want to create an ownership culture among their employees.

This is crucial as different employers explore avenues of boosting the morale of their workers. Some of the workers across the country have been given temporary layoffs and others sent on compulsory leave as the fear of massive job losses looms large daily across the country.

Due to the pandemic, the CLC-K 2020 teen writers’ class that was to start this Saturday will not start (offline). It has since been moved online as well. See https://kenyaclc.org/course/igen-teen-authors-artists/

In a nutshell, the current season of precarity portends a very uncertain future for the book industry. Whereas this seems to be the case at surface value, the pandemic has offered a golden opportunity for players in the publishing industry to explore new horizons of expectations and operations.

There is no doubt that interfacing offline and online approaches is one of the new pathways into the future. Indeed, even universities, as apex players in the book industry, have already come to terms with this reality. Saint Paul’s University, Mount Kenya University and Kenyatta University have continued with their normal operations by shifting their learning activities online for many courses normally offered offline.

The pandemic calls for Kenyans to seize the moment and ponder on the progressive changes we can all initiate for the betterment of the present and progress into the post-corona future.

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Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University