'Pricing regime can help fight piracy'

HARARE - The publishing industry in Zimbabwe is going through very difficult times, having ploughed through a trying two decades or so that have been characterised by rampant piracy and flouting of copyright.

Two young entrepreneurs, Tawanda Ndhela and Alistine Chirume decided to navigate through this murky terrain by establishing Palm Publications in 2016.

The Daily News caught up with Ndhela and Chirume and below are excerpts of the interview.

Q: What is and who is Palm Publications?
A: Palm Publications is a wholly Zimbabwean-owned company. Currently, Palm comprises the chief operations director and head of sales department Tawanda Ndhlela, Alistine Chirume as CEO, graphic designer and head of production. We have a sales manager — Primrose Sulia — who heads a team of enthusiastic and results-driven sales representatives.

Q: When you established Palm Publications, what intentions did you have?
A: Palm Publications came into being in 2016 after realising the opportunity offered by the rolling out of the new curriculum by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry at the beginning of 2017. As we speak, several of our publications have been approved by the Education ministry.

Q: The book industry has witnessed serious challenges in the past 15-20 years with some big publishers folding. How do you intend to navigate past these challenges?
A: Palm Publications is very positive about its ability to navigate past all these challenges. First and foremost, we feel we are primed to provide answers to the demands of the new curriculum. Incidentally, we should also be clear that this new curriculum has been something phenomenal in the education system in Zimbabwe. It responds to the needs of the country.

Q: One of the key challenges that have dogged the book sector is piracy. How have you been able to circumvent these?
A: We believe God will guide us. We are members of the African Apostolic Church led by Paul Mwazha. God helps people deal with certain things they may think are insurmountable. One area that has continued to make piracy rampant is the pricing regime obtaining in the book industry. What we have done is to reduce our costs — both production and overheads — this is a formula that will lower the ultimate costs thereby leading us to have competitive prices on our books. We are aware we can not end piracy in the country but surely, the pricing model will discourage people from reproducing other people’s work.

Q: How do you handle contracts with writers with accusations that publishers are shortchanging authors?
A: Our contracts with writers are specific with individuals. Over the years, there has been an outcry over publishers who have tricked authors inadvertently leading to the gradual reluctance by writers to bring their manuscripts for publication. Every author negotiates their own contract and as such we encourage writers to bring their manuscripts because we have win-win agreements with them.

Q: It appears you concentrate on the textbook. Does it mean textbook publishing is profitable?
A: We realised that textbooks are mandatory materials in schools so it came as an opportunity for us. We deal directly with schools and also booksellers who come and get our books for resale. Because of technological advancement in the world today, including Zimbabwe, you will realise that the culture of reading has gone down now competing with the traditional book, of course at a cost for the book industry. We intend to hold promotional sessions to try and bring back that interest in reading.

Q: What works have you produced to date?
A: We have done Computer Science Books 1 and 3 for Form Three and Four, Introduction to Microsoft Word and Excel for Grades Three up to Seven. We also have done Mathematics for Grade Seven (new curriculum) and Software Engineering Book 5 for the Lower Sixth form among other books that are designed for the new curriculum. We are working on Computer Science for Form Five and Six and theseshould be available around the middle of the second term. Also, material in Shangani is coming through for both primary and secondary levels.

Q: What word do you have for writers?
A: The door is open for authors to bring their manuscripts through; we can help each other. We take manuscripts from ECD to “A” Level. This does not mean that we do not accept materials from fiction writers. We do. We are also encouraging those who write in indigenous languages to bring their manuscripts. This is an opportunity for us to uphold our values as a people. There is a way in which every Zimbabwean can support the new curriculum. We can all contribute towards shaping the future of our country though content generation. We need to shape our own base as a country. There is no need to rely on the Western world, we should set up our own foundation and help instil in the African child the spirit of self-awareness and assertiveness.


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