IT was encouraging to see Freddy Philander’s article in Friday’s New Era concerning the round table discussion on independent publishing in Namibia held at Unam last week. However, I would like to correct some misconceptions in the article.
There is reference to New Namibia Books as dominating the textbook market and being a multinational. Neither of these statements is true.
I established and ran the company from 1990 to 2000. The investment and risk were all my own. I spoke about this experience at the round table, to try to highlight the difficulties of independent publishing in our small market.
We did publish two science textbook series – a total of seven books – a joint venture with the multinational publishers Heinemann, but they did not own any part of New Namibia Books.
I chose to invest income from sales of these textbooks into some sixty non-educational books – children’s books, traditional stories, scholarly books, literature and life stories. Some of these had subsidies from donor agencies to cover printing costs, but the development costs were all borne by NNB.
Unfortunately, this proved not to be sustainable. Looking back, I can see that if I had made different editorial choices and focused on more textbooks, the company might still be an independent entity.
Last week’s round table discussion brought together educationalists, Ministry of Education officials, Unam staff, publishers, writers and information workers, and was a valuable forum to exchange ideas about how to promote writing, reading and publishing in Namibia. One of the main topics was that of investment.
As stated in your paper, Ottilie Abrahams spoke passionately in favour of supporting writers directly. However, there are also other areas where investment could help to develop local writing and publishing, such as assisting independent publishers with guaranteed low-interest loans, or a commitment to purchasing new writing for school and public libraries, or working with educational publishers to ensure that literature is published alongside textbooks.
The first step towards any of these measures, however, is a consensus that it is important to develop local writing and publishing as a vital step in the preservation and development of culture. This consensus has yet to be achieved.