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Things to not tell a bookseller



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I co-run an online bookstore called Rugano Books. We’re online, only, which is the first hurdle – people rarely want to pay delivery fees without being familiar with the store itself, and therefore that is a trust problem – and then, most people prefer coming to an actual store to get their goods, even though the total cost would probably be the same as just paying for it on site.

We’re not Amazon yet – so we’ve still had many people refusing to order, because they have no idea who we are.

It’s interesting, particularly in this economy, the kinds of things people who sell books are told. We were selling books at an event a few years ago, and a writer came up to us and said, ”How come you don’t have my book?” And I said, ”Well, you’ve never given it to us to sell.”

Surprisingly, there are quite a number of Kenyan authors out there, regardless of what the statistics say, and they are self-publishing books every day, thank goodness.

I really do think the way our industry will grow is to let more people into it, and let more people produce outside of the traditional and archaic methods of publishing – unless, of course, if it is a school text or a set book. But I digress.

This local author then said, ”Well, I haven’t brought my book to you to sell because Kenyans don’t read.” I was flummoxed by this statement. First of all, why bring up the fact that we don’t stock your book if Kenyans don’t read anyway? If we don’t read, then it shouldn’t matter whether we stock your book or not, should it? And then, why do we keep perpetuating this silly myth that Kenyans don’t read? Or do we mean they don’t read Kenyan authors? Or Dostoyevsky? Be more specific because that statement is just lazy.

Obviously, I believe that Kenyans read, and I have the facts to back that up, otherwise, I wouldn’t be here trying to run a bookstore. Rude.

Then another customer came, and said, ”Oh, I already have the pdf of this book.” I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes, but I think she saw the look on my face, because she said, ”I know that’s a horrible thing to say.”

The lines of piracy are so blurry – many WhatsApp groups I’m in, for example, have been sharing Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which has prompted a good number of discussions on the fairness of sharing PDFs of books – another problem that local authors do face, like when Joe Khamisi published Looters and Grabbers and was palpably losing money because people were just sharing the book. Eventually, he succumbed and just started selling the book himself, at a subsidised rate, on WhatsApp as well.

The point is, if you’re trying to help a local author, don’t ”pdf” their books. You literally take money out of their pocket, which kills the local creative economy, or the legions of people who want to make a living off their writing, but can’t.

Ignore the naysayers who say Kenyans don’t read, because, we do. We read, and we write, and we buy books. Be one of those guys.