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Kenyans now shift from bookshops to blogospheres

SCI & TECH
By | January 31st 2011

By SANDAY WANDERA

"This is the place where I shall share with you little musings from the inks of my heart.’’ This is one of the introductory description picked from a blog , a trend that seems to be taking over the bookshops’ counters in the city.

Often, an individual, especially those in their twenties, will bookmark a page or subscribe to a blog, as opposed to buying a magazine or a book. Creatives, too, are turning into the cyberspace for self-publishing as opposed to handing over manuscripts to mainstream publishers.

Blogging is not a trend that started the other day. It has been there for a long time. But probably what is changing at a very fast and alarming speed is the way they are replacing the almost-not-there reading culture in Kenya.

The attention seems to be shifting more to the cyberspace and away from print media. Every day, all around the world, thousands of new pages on Wordpress, Blogpost, iblog, etc are coming up.

Fictional writers too have taken to the trend and are opting to put up collections of their short stories and poetry up for free.

Some have gone to the extent of putting up complete manuscripts of novels that they have taken months to write. The questions that stand unanswered here are; why the change of focus from mainstream publishing to self-publishing; and why the sudden attention to blogs as opposed to books. James Wamathai, a blogger who has provided a space on his website, famously known as wamathai.com, for writers to put up their work observes that publishing a book is not easy.

For him, most publishers today are looking for a different content that the today’s writer cannot provide. "They are more on the serious educational stuff, something that is totally different from what you will see on a bloggers page."

He observes that there are many creative writers in Kenya, but you will rarely see new books on the shelves because getting a publisher to accept to go through your manuscript is not an easy task.

Blogs however do not need a lot of preparation or input. "Putting up a page takes a few minutes and you are set to go." Getting a readership on the cyberspace for most writers seems to be also an easy thing to do, especially through the two major social networks that have captured the masses; Facebook and Twitter.

"Good writing will always attract a huge traffic," adds Wamathai. For him, it is easy to get people to read your work on a blog than it is to get them to buy a book. Dr Tom Odhiambo, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi agrees to this, adding that Kenyans, especially the youth, have not been trained to read or buy a book.

"Most people will only buy a book if required to especially in the case of high school set books." For many people in Nairobi, getting time to even become a member of a library seems to be too much to ask.

Cyberspace however seems to be filling the space for the lovers of the written word, mostly because it takes only one click on an internet-connected phone to open a page on a blog.

It is probable that the dream of many writers has been smashed by the requirements that have been set by many publishing firms. Claudette, a blogger whose page, lostinthots, combines poetry, short story and daily ramblings, believes that it is a major breakthrough for a writer to get a publishing deal.

Unfortunately, by the time a writer gets to that point, it takes years of almost giving up, writing and rewriting to have work that is worthy the eye of a publisher.

"What makes the matter worse is the fact that the publisher will insist on going through the manuscript for ages before they give you feedback, most of which is a negative feedback."

Many readers seem to hold the opinion that published books rarely relate to them. Probably this emanates from the quality of work that a publisher will ask for.

COMPLICATED DEVICES

"Most of them want the Ngugi Wa Thiong’o kind of writing, something that most writers today cannot provide. There is need for them to know that the contemporary literature is taking a different turn. It is no longer about the traditional rhyme and rules. Writers just want to be allowed to be creative in their own ways’’ observes Wanjiku, a renowned spoken word poet in Nairobi.

Other blog readers hold the same opinion, pointing out that what they read on blogs are poems and stories that relate to their day-to-day life. "I have recently become an addict of three bloggers — wamathai, archermishale and Diary of Sketch’ observes Anne.

For her, it is the interesting pieces that pull her towards it, and not the complicated stylistic devices.

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