News / Africa

    Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagosi
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    Chris Stein
    February 11, 2016 5:35 AM
    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
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    From the piles of paperbacks that line the sidewalks in downtown Lagos, pleasure readers can find books that teach local languages or tell the stories of American presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

    Nigeria boasts a vibrant publishing industry and has produced a number of internationally renowned authors like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.

    On the streets of Africa’s largest city, Lagos, Nigerian authors compete with imported used books for shelf space.

    “We have novels, we have motivationals,” said Faith Ojii, who sells books near a massive public square in the Lagos Island business district. Her stock includes novels by John Grisham and Robert Ludlum along with motivational books by Christian evangelist Derek Prince and real estate mogul-turned-presidential-candidate Donald Trump, whose writings on business are popular with Nigeria’s many aspiring entrepreneurs.

    Ojii relies on importers like Ogbonna Osiri to keep the books coming.

    Osiri keeps a warehouse full of used books that are shipped from the United States and Canada, where everything from decades-old encyclopedias to Canadian real estate maps can be found stacked in overloaded cardboard boxes.

    “Some people can stay in my warehouse from morning to night, looking for books. They can just make out one day, be spending here, searching for books,” Osiri said.

    Readers looking for motivation

    Most booksellers say their bestsellers are motivational books geared toward people looking to make money or attain spiritual fulfillment.

    “People use it, some for their business plan, some other things,” Solomon Roabiu, a bookseller on Lagos Island, said of his selection of self-empowerment paperbacks. “People buy a lot.”

    Roabiu sells his books just around the corner from CSS Bookshops, one of Nigeria’s oldest bookselling concerns. Founded in 1869, CSS prints, publishes and sells school textbooks, autobiographies and Christian books. 

    Managing Director Dotun Adegboyega said while used booksellers are his competition, his biggest problem involves the counterfeiters who pirate CSS’s textbooks and sell them for half of his price.

    “Pirated books are cheaper, because maybe an individual will just go and do some copies, he’s not incurring any overhead, he’s not paying any tax to the government, he’s not doing anything,” Adegboyega said. “Government needs to ... put on a lot of efforts to stop [this].”

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