A Nigerian Children's Book Author Struggles with Distribution and PromotionPublished: October 01, 2010
Abayomi Ogunlari writes children's books, and prints and sells them through Showers Integrated Marketing Co., her Lagos, Nigeria-based firm.
Ogunlari tapped into her creative side to expand Showers from a low-volume printing shop to an integrated publishing and marketing firm, and now -- with a boost from the knowledge gained from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women entrepreneurship program -- she has continuing to expand her customer base. In Nigeria, Goldman Sachs has partnered with Pan African University’s Enterprise Development Services to reach out to women entrepreneurs.
“Our books are tailored towards nursery and primary schools, so our basic research is focused on what the schools are allowed to teach,” Ogunlari says. “Since we can’t go outside of the curriculum, we differentiate our books by making them attractive, using many colorful pictures since young children are attracted to colors.” They focus on simple fictional and moral themes that resonate with her young audience, often addressing subjects that the children are likely to deal with as they grow older. Top titles include Toby and Kitty Go to School, Know How to Color Nursery and Know Your Mathematics Book.
“We offer a complete package to the schools at competitive prices,” notes Ogunlari. “Our line is made up of books designed to address the lesson plans and the series of story books.”
Ogunlari’s growing business has already outstripped the capacity of her single printing press, so she has turned to outsourcing to meet the demand until she takes delivery of a second press that is currently on order.
Piracy Limits Market Access
In a bid to spur demand, Showers employees attend book fairs and other events where they hand out brochures, posters and wall charts that highlight the firm. But most of her business is generated by teams of marketing associates who visit schools and try to stir up referrals. Ogunlari acknowledges the labor-intensive aspect of this approach, but argues that her options are limited by the nature of her market. “Piracy concerns keep us from selling many of our books in bookshops,” she says. “So right now we increase distribution by employing more commission-based marketers. A few months ago, we tried to market our story books in shops and supermarkets, but the effort didn’t generate many sales.”
Piracy is a big concern, notes Peter Bamkole, director of Pan African University’s EDS program. “Piracy laws exist in Nigeria but enforcement is weak, especially for small business owners who would rather focus on their business instead of spending their limited funds on lawsuits,” he notes. “But of course, not selling in bookstores limits the company’s access [to the market] and can truly restrict its growth.”
Ogunlari hopes to address this shortfall with a plan -- still in the pipeline -- to introduce reading clubs in selected schools. And by the end of 2010, she hopes to offer electronic versions of her books. “Making books come alive is a great way to get more readers,” Bamkole says. “I was amazed to find children’s books in one hotel I stayed in. Rather than sit and simply watch television, kids could read.”
He says that engaging in strategic alliances with organizations that already interact with children could be another way for Ogunlari to promote her products. “For instance, what if her company created an alliance with a bank to give every ‘child saver’ account owner a book as a present during Christmas, Easter or their birthday?” he says. “It will stimulate growth for both the bank and for her company, and will deepen the reach of both parties.” Similar alliances could be struck with fast food chains, supermarkets, airlines and other outlets, he suggests.
“Building or supporting the kind of infrastructure that helps ease distribution may be another solution” to growing Ogunlari’s business,Bamkole says. “Amazon.com.ng is one possibility; another would involve establishing annual book fairs for children that would attract customers and offer more opportunities to seal contracts with distributors and others.” The challenge in the fragmented small-publisher segment is that “everyone wants to do things on their own and they're all too small to make a meaningful impact on their own,” he says. “Instead, they must cooperate.”
Right now, however, much of Ogunlari’s time is spent battling inventory challenges. “We try to anticipate demand by producing more of the fast moving titles and cutting down on the ones that are not best sellers in the market, she says. “We try to forecast demand based on the quantity sold per title the previous year and the number of vendors marketing the books.” Unsold books are either stored away for the next academic season or given to charities.
Instead of simply responding to previous period demand, Ogunlari could try to stimulate it, perhaps by targeting specific schools and deploying additional resources to spark interest in her products, says Bamkole. “And rather than donating unsold books, she could launch a ‘Donate-a-Book’ project that would let people contribute money each year that will help support the donation of books to children in the public schools.” Bamkole adds that this social enterprise would benefit the nation’s children while also increasing Showers’ distribution and, as a side benefit, would give Ogunlari’s company additional publicity.
“My vision is to build a lasting business,” Ogunlari says. “The education I received through the 10,000 Women initiative was the first management course I ever took and it has gone a long way to help me realize my vision.”