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Longhorn: We're ready to lead e-Learning initiative

By Mumbi Kinyua | August 9th 2016

Longhorn Publishers Managing Director Simon Ngige discusses the implications of the Government’s focus on e-Learning on his organisation, which is the country’s only listed publisher, and the Education ministry’s decision to take over book distribution.

The Government is intent on creating an education sector that relies heavily on technology to boost learning, what are the implications of this on Longhorn Publishers?

We are currently the leaders in innovation in digital technology and product offerings of the digital kind. For every product we launch in hard copy, there is a digital version. We will be launching the Longhorn digital platform soon, which will enable us to showcase all our regional business operations at the click of a button, and all the books we have on offer.

We have gone very far in this area. In the last two years, we have built our digital offering to a level above the Government’s level at that time. So when the Government says it is going the digital way, it is finding that Longhorn has been waiting for two years for it to buy the products that we have created.

With eBooks retailing at about half the price of hard copies, do you expect digitisation to affect your revenues?

This will not affect our profits because digital technology is working side by side with traditional publishing. Even if you go to Scandinavian countries, you will still find hard copy books on sale, even though virtually everyone has the digital versions in their mobile devices. Digital technology complements the old technology. We still expect to be in business over a period of time.

Currently, our projected turnover for digital products is 5 per cent. If the Government comes in it gives us a push, we expect to add another 10 per cent to 15 per cent.

Your firm mentioned key areas of investment before it floated its rights issue in April. Now that the firm got the money, what has been the progress so far?

We had a very successful rights issue with massive support from our shareholders, and we even had an oversubscription in an environment of collapsed banks, which had reduced investors’ appetite to spend money.

We got Sh533 million, and had highlighted how we plan to spend this money in our memorandum. We have invested in EDE [Early Childhood Education] by partnering with two organisations in India. We have tertiary books that were not there before. Product diversification has gone very well and we are also focused on geographical diversification. We bought LawAfrica Ltd, and are just waiting for the Competition Authority’s approval.

Do you plan to start publishing books under LawAfrica?

We have already started. The reason it was attractive to us is because it shares our strategy. We are aligned in that every hard copy book should have a soft copy. The digital side helps us very much in accessing these books. So LawAfrica already has digital and hard copy books — they are the market leaders, so we are actually buying a monopoly.

The Government cited high levels of corruption when it decided to take over distribution of books to public schools. What is your opinion on this move?

The decision to kill booksellers is a big mistake. The chief inspector of schools, who has 1,000 people working under him, reports to the Cabinet secretary. If somebody says that just because my people have not done their job, then let me kill the industry, that does not sound like a very rational thing to do. In every situation, there are always going to be good and bad elements.

People think that bookshops sell textbooks. The truth is that they sell 50 per cent textbooks and the other half includes things like magazines, journals and storybooks. These have nothing to do with the textbook-distribution system.

Killing bookshops because of a few bad elements will disrupt the economic fabric of the nation. There are more than 5,000 bookshops countrywide that have created job opportunities for 100,000 people. Closing them down would lead to unemployment and the collapse of a Sh30 billion economy.

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