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NewsE-books give hard times to bookstores and libraries

E-books give hard times to bookstores and libraries

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Bookstores, libraries face hard times, poor patronage as students, others embrace e-books

JANET OGUNDEPO, writes about the effects of e-books, internet on libraries and paper books

Seated on a chair in front of his dimly lit stall at the popular Oshodi market, Lagos State, a bookseller and publisher, Emeka Okochie, rested his clasped hands on his knees and bowed his head in prayers. He intermittently shook his head while his eyes were closed as he muttered some prayers.

“A lot of us (booksellers) have become prayer warriors,” he remarked after a short prayer session. “Once we come to the shop, we keep praying to God to help us make sales.”

Beyond the advent of electronic books which has disrupted his business in some way, Okochie said people who still love to stock their personal libraries with hard copies of their choice books had been restrained from doing so due to the current state of the economy.

He said, “The truth is that the internet has not drastically affected us in Nigeria so much that booksellers cannot make sales. Some people are not buying books because of the emergence of the internet but others still wish to have their hard copy books, but because there is not enough money in circulation, we have been struggling. One advanced (university) book is now between N8,000 and N11,000 and a lot of people don’t have the money to buy such.”

After casting hopeful glances at a fellow bookseller who came to enquire the availability of a university book, Okochie was disappointed as he did not have the text.

He lamented, “In the last three days, I have not sold a book. Customer patronage is low. When primary schools resumed, parents compulsorily bought English and Mathematics textbooks but they hardly bought sciences and social studies books. They did this to make sure the children had some textbooks in school while those in the universities go online to download materials.  

“I believe a lot of people would love to have the hard copy because of the disadvantages of relying on the internet and e-books. But when there is no money to buy, it becomes a viable option.”

Okochie said he could not publish the manuscripts he wrote last year because he could not get a loan from his bank. He had been tagged a defaulter when he could not repay the loan he took in 2020 to publish some books that have remained unsold and continued gathering dust on the shelves.

He added, “The cost of paper for production is so high that one of my books that was sold for N300 as of last year is now sold for N1,000 and some parents couldn’t afford it. I write and produce books but there are low sales.”

Sadly, Okochie is not alone in this downturn, other booksellers recount their experiences.

Poor economy, social media, low sales

The harsh economic situation is also taking its toll on a once bustling paper book industry based in Abuja. The manager of Donatus Books, Mr Donatus Nwaogu, said devaluation of the naira and the consequent increase in the price of commodities had affected the purchasing power of paper book lovers.

Sad and bothered about the situation, Donatus said, “The effects of e-books and the internet on the book business are huge but it is not as huge as the bad economy which has made everything hopeless. It would be difficult for someone who has been unable to feed and clothe properly to buy books. This will further kill reading in Nigeria because the books I was buying N3,000 and sold for N4,500 is now sold betweenat N6,000 and N7,000. How can you cope when the economy is too poor?”

Donatus, who has been selling books for three decades, recalled that when e-books were first introduced to Nigeria, the production and sale of paper books were not affected. He, however, said social media have become a distraction and contributed to the low reading culture of Nigerians.

He said, “I have never had it this bad.  Before now, in a week, when I was in Lagos, not less than 50 people were patronising me, sometimes the number rose from 70-100 but when I got to Abuja in 2011, in a week, I got 30 customers and now it has reduced to 10. Those customers were buying two to three books but now it’s hard to see anyone buy more than one book these days. The number of customers has reduced, and they don’t go for expensive books”

Low adoption of technology

According to Britannica, e-books emerged in the mainstream business world in the late 1990s when a publishing company referred to as Peanut Press made book content available on personal digital assistants, a handheld device that preceded the invention of smart phones and tablets.

The site added that the sale of e-books grew in the early 2000s when “Sony Corporation released an e-reading device in 2006 and Amazon.com released the Kindle in 2007.”

However, a teacher and purchasing manager at Bible Wonderland, a bookstore in Nigeria, Isaiah Adeogun, stated that the invention of e-books had not affected the production and sale of paper books. Nigerians had a slow adoption of technological advancements compared to other countries of the world.

Adeogun emphasised that his bookstore, which sold both electronic and hard copy books, got more patronage and sales from the paper book section, adding that paper books would still be “available in Nigeria and be relatively high to reckon with in the next 15 years.”  

He added, “Though sales of books are relatively low, everybody is feeling the heat of the inflation, the fewer people that still patronise go for paper books and that can still not be compared to the patronage of e-books. The younger generation, despite their access to gadgets, do not make use of it to access information that would add to their knowledge about life.

“I still feel shocked that the youth of this generation don’t have the knowledge of current affairs that will help them. This shows that definitely, they are just using the advent of gadgets and technology on the wrong side. They are not maximising the benefits. At the end of it all, they still fall back on paper books.”

Seated behind the desk in his U-shaped bookstore in Oshodi, Emmanuel Okorie gazed eagerly at the throng of shoppers going back and forth with the hope that a few would stop by in his shop to buy books or Bibles.

He told Sunday PUNCH that Nigerians still buy books, especially for academic purposes despite the advent of the internet. He however said increase in the prices of books and notebooks had affected customers’ patronage as well as his profit margin.

Okorie said, “Books are needed in institutions and Nigerians don’t embrace technology or new improvement fast. People have no option but to buy academic books despite the increase in prices and introduction of gadgets especially in primary and secondary schools. The prices of books, even notebooks, have greatly increased.”

In another vein, a bookseller, Ben Chucks, lamented that the pandemic had drastically affected sales.

He added, “It is someone who has been able to feed well that would remember to buy books, except for those who must buy books for their children who are in primary and secondary schools. The sales are low.”

E-books aiding under utilisation of libraries

Neat sets of books of varying genres adorned the rows and columns of the shelves of a public library at Ilupeju, Lagos State. Our correspondent who had been to the facility four times recently, observed that the books were largely lying idle as readers came to the library with their laptops to study.

Interviews with some university students revealed that though a few of them still make use of the libraries in their schools, many of them go to the libraries armed with their reading materials.

An undergraduate at the University of Benin, Edo State, identified as Praise, said she was an ardent reader of paper books because they were recommended by her lecturers. She added that “students in my school still use the library.”

Due to the distractions that come from reading on his gadgets, an undergraduate at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Ogun State, Tolulope Aribisala, said he preferred paper books to e-books, “because I concentrate more on it than e-books.”

However, Tolulope added that e-books were his lecturers’ recommendations in class and that was an advantage to them since contents on the e-books could be easily upgraded.

On the use of libraries, Tolulope said, “It is mainly those that find it difficult to read at home who use the library. I don’t use it; I read at home and sometimes go for night classes.”  

Meanwhile, Samuel Ogundele, an undergraduate at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta said the strain on his eyes whenever he reads from his gadgets made him detest e-books, adding that he was forced to print out recommended texts in e-book version.

On whether students attending his institution still visit the library, Ogundele said he does not make use of his school’s library because it is located far from his off-campus hostel.

“Students (in my school) use the library but it is four out of 10 and most of them live in the school hostel,” he added.

Conversely, an undergraduate identified as Ademola said that he preferred to use e-books to paper ones. He emphasised that the electronic method was what applied when he was in the lecture hall.

He said, “I use and prefer e-books. Our lecturers give us slides/pdf copies of their materials which show they also use e-books. Notwithstanding, students in my school still make use of the library and I do too.”

Lack of constant electricity which resulted in either low or dead phones or computer batteries  including lack of data subscriptions to surf the internet were the reasons Ayomide, an undergraduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, preferred to read paper books.

She said, “At the moment I use e-book the most and my lecturers recommend e-books for us but I prefer hard copies. The challenge I currently have with reading e-books is that, if  I want to read and my phone is dead I won’t be able to read I will just sit down doing nothing or I sleep.

“Also, there are some e-books one can’t download. One just has to read online, so if I don’t have data I won’t be able to read but if I have a hard copy, I can read anytime; nothing will stop me from reading.”

Stating that the ambience of the library moved her to read, Ayomide added, “In the library, one can get the full contents of a book whereas the e-book might limit one to a few chapters.”

Librarians’ responses

A library officer with the National Library Board, Ogun State chapter, Mr Lukman Adelaja, said the emergence of e-books had negatively affected students’ usage of public libraries.

Adelaja said, “There has been a drastic reduction in people coming to the library after the emergence of the internet and e-books. In the late ’90s, in our library, we would have to go round the communities to search for chairs. Now the chairs are there but there are no students to use them.

book library E-books give hard times to bookstores and libraries

“Students have abandoned library rooms because they believe they can get anything they want on the internet, which is partially correct. However, on the internet, most of the time, there is scarcity of books by some major authors. In that wise, if any student goes to the library to search for materials for his or her project, they would have total control of the topic because they would have access to different authors and quote the original owner or the right person that wrote the book.”

Adelaja stated that students’ dependence on electronic materials and the internet for their research would make them inadvertently guilty of plagiarism, adding that such practice “would make them end up being an unserious researcher in the nearest future.”  

“When students know that they have already prepared materials on the internet, they go there to copy it,” he noted.

To revive the reading culture and encourage the use of the library, the National Library introduced the e-libraries in 2017 but the “e-libraries as it is today does not add many numbers to library patronage.”

The librarian said, “In our office  in Abeokuta, we have about 60 computers. With the e-libraries, one can read books from the library of congress in America and we believe that if we do that as well, it would draw people into the library. As of now, most people have access to smart phones so I think they believe there is no use in going to the libraries.

“Now we are trying to revive the reading culture from the grass-roots. That is why the National Library Board introduced the readership campaign in 2017 to bring the younger generation into the library halls, not only during examinations but constantly.”

Another library officer with the Lagos State Library Board, YouRead Library, Yaba, Lagos State, Mrs Adesuwa Ohiwere, said despite the presence of the internet and e-books some people still visit public libraries.

Adesuwa said many users of the library were students and professionals who come to read during the examination periods.

She said, “People still use the library very well because it is not everyone that has access to the internet, though it is rampant especially in the elderly compared to the younger ones. The younger generation especially professionals and students also make use of the library. We have an influx of users during examination periods, students from universities and colleges.”

“There has been a sporadic increase in the use of libraries because it was recently renovated so the availability of the internet and the ambience of the library has made it conducive for reading.”

Meanwhile, the Director of the Lagos State Library Board, Mr Asimiyu Oyadipe, had earlier in the month called on students to utilise libraries in their schools as well as public libraries around them. As about 200 public libraries had been renovated and contained a digital library section.

Experts urge students, others to use available libraries

A professor of Library and Information Science at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna, Hanna Daudu, said the advent of the internet and electronic books would not override the importance of the libraries and paper books.

The professor further advised students to maximise the use of the libraries, stating that the presence of library professionals would assist them in getting good and needed materials for their coursework, research or personal development.

Daudu said, “They are actually supposed to maximise the use of the library and use the information to increase their knowledge. They think the library can’t give them what they require because they can access materials on the internet, but it is an error. There are some things that one can never replace in the library.

“You can’t replace the services in the library with the internet. The professionals there can’t be replaced with the internet. We go out of our way to get information for people; you can’t do that on the internet. Students need to be educated so that they can make use of the facilities that are provided in the library. It is better to use the library than stay off the library because they have the library on their phones.”  

She maintained that e-books were good especially in light of financial constraint whereby people who could not afford to buy hard copies would be able to access them online.

The librarian added, “Now, libraries have lifted a lot of burden cost. Library materials are well selected, the professionals go through many books to get the best option of materials to meet individuals needs, they select based on the individual’s needs and they improvise accurately what the individuals need but on e-books, one will find it difficult to select correct information that one needs.”

Daudu added that electronic books should complement paper books and that the ease of access to available information should not be a reason to “stay off the library. There are some libraries that are also online, they have different materials that they can also upload online.”

Speaking on the influence of e-books on students usage of printed books and library, a professor of Library and Information Studies at the University of Ibadan, Kenneth Nwalo, said the former should be seen as supplement to the latter, adding that libraries were a good source of both book versions.

Nwalo said, “On the one hand, the emergence of e-books could make purposeful students visit the library more, depending on the level of the student. For example, the postgraduate student would want to visit the library more because important academic e-books are right there and they are not available on the open access. There are some general books and texts that are in open access domain. These are the ones people can access on their devices in the comfort of their homes, hotels or anywhere.

“On the other hand, secondary school students can find enough materials on open access where they can get information for their assignments. But many a student, out of ignorance, believes that the information they have got on the internet is adequate, not knowing that there is something better. For some reasons, some organisations decided to pay for those materials that are available on open access but not always. The main thing is that more important materials are on licensed databases and since an individual cannot pay, that should encourage them to visit the libraries.”

Nwalo further noted that students would rather surf the internet and explore social media sites instead of reading materials available to them in various versions. He said this was affecting the reading culture of students.

He said, “That students have access to e-books on their phones does not mean that they are reading all the time. It depends on the mindset of the student. Also, it depends on the type of information they get. Some of them get their information from wikipedia, encyclopaedia, while there are better explanations available on licensed databases.”

According to the don, the library is in the best position to guide students on the materials they need, where to get them and how to use them. He explained that libraries now had facilities for e-books for students to utilise at no cost.

He called on the school administrators to create more awareness of the availability of e-libraries and the quality of resources available on such platforms and urged the government at all levels to “fund university libraries adequately to sustain subscriptions to e-libraries.”

Nwalo added, “The reality is that print books have come to stay. From ancient times till now, printed books are the most permanent storage of books, even electronic one can be corrupted or disappear. Formerly, people depended exclusively on printed books but now they have alternatives. So, textbooks have come to stay and would not be replaced by e-books though sales may not be as much as before because e-books certainly have an influence on them.

  • Additional report by Victoria Adenekan

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