Poor reading culture killing publishing industry in Rwanda

Saturday December 17 2016

Libraries are available in a few urban places. Poor reading culture has destroyed the publishing sector in Rwanda. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

Low demand for reading materials attributed mainly to the acute lack of the reading culture is taking its toll on Rwanda’s nascent publishing industry.

Local publishers said the demand for other reading materials besides school textbooks has remained low despite extensive reading initiatives by both government and non-governmental organisations.

The scrapping of value added tax (VAT) on books since 2006 hasn’t attracted buyers for the commodity, thereby discouraging  publishers’ investment in books in view of high printing and other costs.

Government tenders for school textbooks are therefore the only way to survive for a number of local and international publishers, accounting for over 80 per cent of their total book sales revenues.

Other potential buyers are local non-governmental organisations involved in education as well as a few private schools.

“What influences a publisher to work on a particular book is purchase. We cannot produce books for decoration, so publishers will in all cases target government tenders,” said Stephen Mugisha, the head of Rwanda’s association of publishers and book sellers union.


According to publishers, the reading culture hasn’t grown enough in the past years despite the academic arena having registered significant growth with expansion of access to schooling. The market for reading materials has remained narrow with bookshops and libraries only available in a few urban places.

“Without government tenders for textbooks, we have no business,” said Emmanuel Habarurema of Mountain Top Publishers. “Any market where a publisher can be able to sell 5,000 copies within three months is a good market, but there are instances when selling a single copy becomes a problem, and we incur high printing costs,” Mr Habarurema added.

Market prices indicate that of every copy sold, 10 per cent of the sale goes to the author while 25-30 per cent and 30 per cent go to the seller and the publisher respectively, along with tax and other costs.

While the 2014 baseline assessment of the community component of Save The Children’s Literacy Boost programme revealed that many Rwandans would be willing to spend Rwf500 on reading materials on average, publishers said given the costs involved it would be difficult to produce content for this clientele.

“It would require that the book sells at least at Rwf1,500 which rural Rwandans find beyond their reach,” argued Fiston Mudacumura, a local publisher.

Publishers who talked to Rwanda Today opined that unless government comes up with a deliberate policy and incentives to support the bourgeoning and largely incapable local players, the poor performance of the sector could still impede the aspired growth of the reading culture.

The market challenges have also been cited as contributing in discouraging most local writers and editors from immersing in the industry, hence lack of quality local content to suit the needs of the upcoming reading audience.