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Relief as Kenyan publishers hold first book fair in two years

It was relief for Kenyan publishers after they held their first book fair in two years in Nakuru City last week.

The publishers are just recovering from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw them lose a whole year’s sales when learning institutions were closed in 2020.

Kiarie Kamau (third from left), the chairman of Kenya Publishers Association conducts Jared Obiero (in blue suit), the Rift Valley Director of Education, around the stands at the Nakuru Regional Book Fair. PICTURE| KLB

Due to restrictions pertaining to Covid protocols, they could not hold a physical book fair. They therefore tried something new, a virtual book fair, which however did not realise any sales. The disappointing outcome made them to cancel plans for holding fairs in 2021.

In total, Kenyan publishers missed out on four book fairs. Each year, the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) holds two book fairs; a regional one in the counties and an international one at the Sarit Centre in Nairobi.

They were thus raring to go when it became clear that the Nakuru regional book fair would finally become a reality. Kiarie Kamau, the chairperson of KPA expressed optimism that the worst is now behind and urged publishers to diversify their product portfolio to avoid over-reliance on textbooks. “Though schools were closed due to Covid restrictions, people were still reading behind closed doors. We need to fully service this general market while at the same time publishing for the school market,” said Mr Kamau who is also the managing director of East African Educational Publishers (EAEP).

He noted that their decision to hold the regional book fair in Nakuru was informed by the fact that exactly a year ago the town acquired city status. “We wanted to celebrate with the people of Nakuru,” explained Mr. Kamau. “We were excited to see the enthusiastic response from teachers, parents, students and booksellers who thronged our stands during the four days we were at the Maasai Market, along Kenyatta Avenue. Publishers made good sales.”

He added that booksellers were particularly excited to see the fair come to their city. “Booksellers were hard hit by the Covid pandemic; some had even closed shop. To them, this was a clear indication that things are back to normal,” added Mr Kamau.


On her part, Mary Maina, the chairperson of the Nairobi International Book Fair, regional book fairs are the best avenues of taking books to the people, in the true spirit of devolution. “In our case we are distributing knowledge, thereby giving Kenyans throughout the country a chance to sample what publishers have to offer,” said Ms Maina, who is also the managing director of Moran Publishers.

She added that visitors to the Fair got a chance to see all the books that have been approved to be used in the Competency Based Curriculum, which is currently in Grade Six as well as the remaining classes of the 8-4-4 System. “Also on offer were revision books for school children, as well and books for general reading like readers and novels for adults. We got very encouraging reception from booksellers who were keen to stock up,” added Ms Maina.

Kithusi Mulonzya, the CEO of One Planet Publishers, noted that the Nakuru Regional Book Fair was a dry run for the Nairobi International Book Fair that will be held in September. “This year’s event will be bigger and better,” he said. 

John Mburu, the general manager of Patmat Bookshop, in Nakuru, thanked publishers for marketing and promoting booksellers in the region. “The coming of the book fair in Nakuru has really boosted our sales,” he said.

The highlight of the Fair was a visit to the Love for All Children’s Home in Shabab area, where publishers donated foodstuffs and books worth sh200,000.

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Nairobi Book Fair postponed indefinitely

The 23rd edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair, which was scheduled to be held from September 28 to October 2, has been postponed indefinitely, as a way of prevention against Covid-19.

“After careful consultative discussions with key stakeholders, the KPA board agreed that the presidential directive issued on 18th August 2021, vide Public Order No. 5 on the Coronavirus pandemic suspending public gatherings and in-person meetings, be strictly adhered to and hence the board has postponed the book fair to a later date, notwithstanding the strict and meticulous Covid 19 protocols advanced by the Sarit Centre management,” reads a statement from the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), who are the organisers of the Book Fair.

KPA, adds the statement, will inform book lovers on whether the Fair will be held at a later date. “Kenya Publishers Association is keen to make the Nairobi International Bookfair happen soon,” said KPA. “The board shall be watching the environment and ministry directives in order to communicate to the general public and potential exhibitors on the new book fair dates.”

Maisha Yetu understands that the decision to postpone the Fair was arrived at by holding consultations with stakeholders, including the Ministry of Education. Schools are also understood to have expressed reservations about busing in pupils to the Fair.

KPA only held a virtual book fair last year, when the whole country was put on very severe Covid lockdowns.

With Covid cases on the increase in the country, publishers have privately expressed fears that the Fair might be cancelled altogether. A looming cancellation would be a huge blow to the KPA secretariat, seeing the Fair is its main source of revenue, where exhibitors buy stands to showcase their wares.

Individual publishers are crossing their collective fingers, hoping that the Covid situation improves, as the Fair is the venue through which they seal book deals with various institutions, for them to purchase books.

Also hanging in the balance is the announcement of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, which is awarded after every two years. However, the judging process of the manuscripts is on-going and nominees will soon be announced. It is hoped that winners will be announced when the new dates of the Fair are made public.

Still, KPA has made arrangements for the Fair to be hosted virtually, even when the new dates are announced.

“Please also note that once the date is set the Bookfair will still be blended (both in person and virtual),” adds the KPA statement.

The Book Fair is held on annual basis at the Sarit Center in Westlands.