Publishing houses in Kenya could be losing billions of shillings every year to hungry book pirates who collude with bookshops and some schools to maintain the illegal trade.
Mostly affected are publishers dealing with set books approved for use in public and private secondary schools as well as textbooks like English, Kiswahili and Mathematics which are a must-have in all primary and secondary schools right from the time a child sets their foot into Standard One.
According to Moran Publishers CEO David Muita, whose firm is one of the most affected , the situation is made worse by the Kenyan police force where most officers have little or no knowledge of copyright laws.
"Sometimes when they arrest someone selling pirated books they do not know what crime to charge them with," he says regrettably. "We have a number of court cases at the moment."
In their own estimation, the Kenya Publishers Association says revenues of between 40 and 50 per cent that could have gone to the pockets of publishers every year ends up in bank accounts of the rogue pirates. As a result, most book publishers in the country are limping and facing an uncertain future, while book sellers continue to post impressive sales because they can afford to sell pirated books cheaply and without taxes meaning the Kenya Revenue Authority is also losing millions in unpaid levies.
"This is getting very serious, especially to those who have set-books," says Phoenix chief executive officer John Mwazemba. "Mostly because of technology these pirates have been able to survive since they can copy everything the way it is." In one of the perfect cases of what piracy is doing, Moran Publishers who have published a Kiswahili set book Damu Nyeusi, says they are now selling less than 15,000 copies every year compared to more than 300,000 copies when the book was launched.
At the receiving end as well are the book authors who miss out on their expected royalties. Basically, the pirates approach colluding book sellers with a promise to deliver the books at a big discount. Then they take the original book and reproduce it word for word and sometimes in the same quality as the publishers.
They then deliver the pirated books to the book distributors who then sell to schools, some of which are aware of the trade. Parents are always never aware or do not have the time to authenticate a book so long as the title matches with what they have been given by their schools.