Why we gave out 500 books during this lock-down - Next Page Bookstore

In April, 2020, at a time the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown was biting harder on Nigerians and many organizations were responding with donations of food, hand sanitizers and facemasks, the Next Page Bookstore came differently and announced a donation of books to Nigerians. In this interview, Aliyu Bashir Almusawi, the Sales and Marketing Manager of Next Page Bookstore, explained the reason for the book donation and spoke on other issues including book publishing and sales in Nigeria. Read on.  

Could you please let us know who Aliyu Bashir Almusawi is?

Well, you can describe Aliyu Bashir Almusawi as a bookworm and bookseller who is deeply in love with books and those who read them.

I was born in Bauchi to a polygamous family, and as you know, growing up in such kind of tumultuous household is often full of hardship and futuristic uncertainty. So, I learnt to hustle at very young by eking out a living in order to keep my body and soul together. But that did not stop me from attending schools.
In 2009 I was admitted to study African language and Cultures at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and I was able to graduate successfully in 2013.  I am very passionate about education, languages and literature. So, I taught English language and literature for few years before I left to fully ventured into entrepreneurship.

What triggered your fascination with books and which book would you say has left a lasting impression on your life?

It was my grandmother of blessed memory who often entertained us with swashbuckling tales and scary stories during my childhood, and I developed interest in books shortly after her demise. I used to read books in Hausa literatures before I developed reading skills to start reading English story books.
As a person who has read hundreds of books, it is not easy to single out a particular book that has made a lasting impression on me. However, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is the best book that completely changed my life and made me who I am today. No sooner had I read the book than I resigned my job and ventured into entrepreneurship despite the fact that I did not have sufficient capital to run my new business. Thankfully, Napoleon Hill has taught me great lessons in life about courage and how self-discipline can change a person forever. It is one of the best books a person should read before he/she dies. 
Aliyu Bashir Almusawi
What type books do you recommend for a distraught people in the time of a pandemic?

Answer: during a pandemic there are leaders and health workers who are at the forefront of leading the fight and people whose freedom of movement have been circumscribed. So, for leaders I would recommend biographies of great leaders like Sir Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Mahatma Gandhi who led their countries during wars and unprecedented hardship.
As for ordinary folks and health workers, reading The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, The Stand by Stephen King, The Plague by Albert Camus and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez are some of the best books that can remind us that with patience, love and unity, we can conquer and surmount every adversity.

Tell us about the Next Page Bookstore. What is the idea behind its establishment?

Next Page Bookstore was established in 2019 with branches in Bauchi and Gombe states. The idea behind its establishment is to rekindle reading cultures and revolutionize the way books are sold in Nigeria.  There are so many people who need books from distant places but they can't get them because most people rely solely on physical bookstores which have become obsolete for the world has shifted to digital marketing. We are relying heavily on the internet to reach out to our potential customers from all parts of Nigeria. The fact that readers have integrity, we ship books to customers and accept payments on or after delivery. Thank God, our customers have never failed us.

The Next Page Bookstore is giving away five hundred books to people affected by this harsh lockdown. What do you hope to achieve with the book donations?

Yes, people are often concerned about lack of foods and other necessities during the lockdown, seeming to forget that books are best companions against solitude and depression caused by the lockdown. We have decided to give away five hundred copies of books to lucky readers all over Nigeria, and we hope the gesture would remind people of the need for the mainstream society to revive the reading culture because no country can ever develop when a vast majority of it hardly reads.

Considering that you are a business man, don’t you think many might consider your donations as a marketing strategy to advertise your outfit?

Well, many people would think that way. But our pet project is promoting reading culture. In just over a year, we've recorded thousands of loyal customers who have been patronizing us. So, this is the right moment to remind them that we too care about them.
Aliyu Bashir Almusawi
Have you been able to start the distribution considering the national lockdown and what has been the response to your call for indication of interest?

Answer: Hundreds of people have shown interests in our donations. We have already started the distribution to states that are not affected by travel restrictions. But for those who have been totally locked up, we will deliver them their copies once travel restriction is eased.

Which are the most expensive books in your collection and how much did it cost you?

Books published in Nigeria are less expensive than the ones we order from foreign countries like the US and the United Kingdom which are very pricy. A lot of factors are to blame such as depreciating naira and Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) that exists between developed countries and poorer ones.

However, Edward Snowden's Permanent Record and For the Record by David Cameron remain the most expensive books in store with each copy costing more than 15,000 naira.

Besides book promotion and marketing, do you write, and have you published any works of your own?

Answer: I am a budding writer and I have an unpublished manuscript titled "The Utopian Hitchhiker" which details the story of one promising graduate displaced by Boko Haram insurgency, and after losing his everything including his mother he is left with no option but to take a perilous journey to Europe in search of a better life which turns out to be the worst decision he ever made in his life. The book will soon be published.

What is your take on the quality of books published in Nigeria and how profitable is selling books in Nigeria?

Quality of books is still an issue in the country because a lot of publishers have come to realize that quality books are too expensive for the majority of Nigerians because they are very poor. This is why publishers prioritize profits over quality, and I see nothing wrong with this because survival of the business is more important.

Do Nigerians buy books, what is your experience as a book seller?

A vast majority of Nigerians do not buy books but a country with over 200 million people, even if 90% of them do not read, the number constituting the 10% is more than enough for the   business to succeed.
As for my experience as a bookseller, what I have learnt is the world has changed and the paradigm shift has forced us to switch to digital marketing and home delivery services because these are  the only way to reach out to potential customers all over the country. Physical bookstores are becoming obsolete.

How can we improve literacy and reading culture in Nigeria?

Books and Creative Writers Clubs can help promote reading culture. But the fact that our people are repugnant to reading, I must confess that governments at all levels need to step in by launching reading and writing competitions. Such initiatives can go a long way in reviving reading culture among our idle youths

What are the implications of the convid-19 pandemic for creative people, especially writers?

It is a huge setback for the books industry and writers alike because schools are closed and bookstores are not considered as essential services providers. So, writers hardly gain anything during the lockdown.