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Why the publishing industry is struggling

Kampala, Uganda | FLAVIA NASSAKA | Herbert Asiimwe Mutamba is the CEO of Reviser Uganda Limited. He spoke to Flavia Nassaka about their entry into the book publishing.

What exactly does Reviser Uganda offer in the publishing industry?

Our main business is to help children and young people develop a reading culture by availing them with relevant reading materials. These are in form of storybooks, based on the Uganda primary schools syllabus topics. The children do not only enjoy the stories but also use them to develop their language competences for use in other subjects and out of schools. The materials contain information on health, tourism, agriculture, technology such that as they enjoy the stories, they also get informed on particular themes. We operate a unique subscription model to enable as many pupils as possible to access the books without leaving their schools. Every term, pupils pay Shs 8,000 and get two readers delivered to them at their schools based on their age and class.

What were the key drivers for starting such a business?

I have been in the education sector for all my life. And I discovered that there is a serious knowledge gap. Many people coming out of the school system know little else from what they read in class for exams. Yet in real life, we need more than that. The world now needs people with diversified knowledge and skills, all of which cannot be learnt in class. They must be self-taught through personal reading. And this is only possible if we start with the young and interest them in reading because that is when habits are formed.

Considering the social environment where many people don’t value reading, how is this impacting your business?

It is indeed true that it is much easier for most parents to buy cakes for their children rather than buy them books. This is worsened with the fact that the parents themselves don’t read. Surprisingly, even teachers don’t read outside what they have to teach in class.

However, we are now doing a lot of sensitization for parents, teachers and pupils. We are explaining to them that in an information age like the one we live in, we need to keep educating ourselves through reading. We attend class days in schools and interact with the parents and pupils to help them understand that continuous learning through reading is no longer a matter of choice.

How do you rate Uganda’s market for publications?

The demand for non-school books is very small and technology is making this worse. People have substituted books with WhatsApp and other social media channels and for the few people who read, they can easily access electronic books on their electronic gadgets making the demand for the printed book decline. Since this does not seem to end soon, the publishing industry needs to innovate and make the printed book a treasure that it used to be.

How are you incorporating ICTs in the Reviser?

There is no business that can ignore ICT now because it makes business operations cheaper, quicker and accurate. However, it also makes business more fluid and unpredictable. Every department of a business uses ICT differently. This ranges from computerized bookkeeping to the use of ICT in marketing. We want to make use of these advancements.

Last year, we tested our mobile app called Reviser Mobile where parents received reading materials on their mobile phones which they shared with their children on a daily basis We are trying to see how ICT can make reading more interesting and dynamic for the teachers, parents and pupils.

Businesses often fail to survive their fifth birthday. What’s your sustainability plan?

Once you have a business, be flexible. Allow the business to be shaped by the changing environment. Allow a lot of feedback from the consumers and adjust the product and processes accordingly. This is what we intend to do because we believe this will enable us remain relevant to the customers and increase our chances of survival. We also want to develop robust systems and procedures to help us predict trends in the customer needs so that we always adopt early.

What are your future plans?

Our ultimate objective is to create a reading country .We want to help in creating a country where people value self-education through reading to complement what they study in formal schools.

We want to enroll more schools in the reading programs and excite partners into joining this crusade. We also want to keep abreast of the changing needs and developments in the industry as a way to shape our products and channels.

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