Bookselling in Ghana

Ghanaian publishing industry is a growing industry. The publishers are noted for traditional ways of bookselling. The books are predominantly sold in traditional “brick-and-mortar” stores (bookshop) and others through churches, schools, buses, filling stations, and supermarkets. However the most commonest and widely ways of selling books in Ghana is through itinerant booksellers.

Itinerant booksellers play a leading role in the sales of books throughout Ghana. They are mobile booksellers who carry books moving from one location to the other. They mostly operate as they move in marketplaces, schools, along highways, bus stations and others.

Bookshops are also spread all across the regions. In some areas however they are concentrated. Those who find themselves in a large group form associations. Most of the booksellers are into the business to make money. They are mostly those who lack knowledge in information technology.

One avenue of marketing that may be significant to publishers in Ghana is internet bookselling. Some people have suggested that the Internet may be a less expensive way to sell books than the traditional “brick-and-mortar” stores. However, in most cases, selling books online in Ghana will probably be more costly than selling in traditional stores due to the high costs of processing orders and direct delivery to the customer.

The first great challenge that affects the viability of internet bookselling in Ghana is visit. A visit is definitely not the same as a purchase but without the visit by the e-Shopper there is no chance of anything being bought. Having a website easily found by the major global and local search engines and web directories is an important factor in attracting visitors, but it is by no means sufficient to generate a sound e-business. Attracting visitors to a website is not a simple matter of keeping the search engines up to date with the appropriate keywords.

However most Ghanaians living in the other parts of Ghana do not have access to internet facility where they can visit a publisher’s site to make purchase. However, visiting the internet is a paid venture which most to the people will find unacceptable.

Some factors that are relevant in assessing the viability of internet as an effective way to bookselling in Ghana are:

“Value-to-bulk” ratio – Books that have a lot of value squeezed often more cost-effective to deliver to end-customers than are bulkier ones with less value. However, most of the Ghanaian publishers are less resourceful to deliver their books to customers even if they buy on-line.

Absolute margins – Some books may have a rather high percentage margin-for instance, if a book is bought at wholesale at GH¢10 and marked up 100% to be sold at GH¢20. However, the absolute margin is only GH¢20-GH¢10=$10. In contrast, another book may be bought at GH¢50 and be marked up by only 15%, or GH¢7.5, for a total price of GH¢57.5. Here, however, the absolute margin will be larger- GH¢7.5. This allows the publisher to spend money on processing, packaging, and delivering the order. Ten Ghana Cedis, in contrast, can only cover a small amount of employee time and very limited packaging.

However there are a number of economic realities of online competition:

As discussed, costs of handling online orders is often higher than that of distributing through traditional stores. The publishers may not have the financial resource to cater for the distribution of the books.

Even if online selling is more cost effective in some situations, a Ghanaian publisher selling online will, in the long run, be competing with other online booksellers-not just against traditional “brick-and-mortar” stores. By the forces of supply and demand, online prices will then be driven down so that the profit from selling online will be no greater than that from traditional retailing. Any reduced costs would then be expected to go to customers.

The prerequisite for internet bookselling is the existence of an efficient telecommunication infrastructure and services, the poor state of which has been one of the main constraints to the accessibility of many African countries to the global information infrastructure. However, the promotion of books will require efficient financial and payment systems to settle inter-regional transactions. This means regional and national infrastructure are required to provide adequate access information technology in banking; strengthen prudential regulations and the legal framework; build sound and efficient payment systems; and deepening capital markets.

Several factors are also identified to the major factors that affect the viability of internet bookselling in Ghana.

Constraints on the supply side have also affected the development of services to meet the growing demand that set the platform for access to information technology. These constraints include the state monopoly of telecommunications and the existence of regulations that prevent the private sector from participating in the sector.

Also contributory is the lack of resources to augment investment in telecommunications sector sometimes due to the high level of indebtedness of the local operator. Even where funds are available, limited project implementation capacity may constrain network development. In other cases, investors are deterred by the lack of political stability and civil strife.

The concept of internet bookselling requires a publisher’s clientele to utilize modern technology in order to surpass the limitations of traditional book marketing. This ever changing and excessively advanced technology requires not only a natural flair for book marketing. This means that publisher must also have some technical skills in computers and software. A haphazardly constructed site will only generate complains; not profits.

However, the high cost of computers and software is also a major factor to consideration. This represents a serious impediment to accessibility to the world of information technology. The cost of personal computers is higher than the per capita income of many Ghanaians such that most people including some publishers do not have access to them.

Many large online book marketers tend to assemble extremely complicated sites. This poses one of the main limitations of internet bookselling where prospective customers find it complicated to access some sites. The complications maybe in the form of error messages popping up when trying to access a link or the website may consist of bugs that affect the general marketing campaign.

It is also important to also note that internet bookselling is diversified. For example it does not only serve its customers by providing information but also consists of services. Promos and various other adverts are included in order to stand out from other competitors. It is not incorrect though that internet bookselling can provide a broad venue for market research and analysis.

Internet bookselling as compared to traditional marketing in Ghana has various setbacks such that it does not offer the customers the ability to touch and feel the book, to flip through the pages and to have fair assessment of its physical characteristics to know the type of paper used, cover type (paper back or hard cover) and layout design before purchase. From a buyer’s perspective, many people who buy books in Ghana do not want to only see but wish to ‘touch’ before making a purchase. This creates a sense of security for most. Therefore internet marketing can pose a challenge in this area.

It is also very difficult to convince senior members of businesses to take a shot at the internet due to their limited knowledge of modern technology.