CEO Interview by Management Magazine Africa (KIM)
PUBLISHING AND THRIVING IN THE DIGITAL ERA
By Zachary Ochuodho
At a time when new technologies, shrinking readership and widespread piracy threaten to disrupt the book publishing industry, Longhorn Publishers Limited , a Kenyan owned company with presence in over 11 countries across Africa , continues to prove pessimists wrong.
With a clear track record of hard work, resilience and commitment, the company has embraced unmatched diversification steps into digital products, reference and tertiary books, completely minimizing its reliance on primary and secondary school text books, thus mitigating potential risks around the changes in the Kenyan school curriculum.
A recent interview with the Company’s Group Managing Director Mr. Simon Ngigi, brought out a team hungry for success and raring to cement its position as the local market leader in publishing. “Sales of digital products more than doubled in the previous financial year. We have developed eLearning platforms and digitized over 300 products,” Mr. Ngigi said .
Many of the products the firm has digitized can be purchase on the Company’s proprietory platform the Longhorn eBooks Store. The Company has gone further to provide revision material for Primary and Secondary level in its Longhorn eLearning Platform. Longhorn Publishers Ltd has developed the Kamusi Kuu ya Kiswahili and Kamusi ya Karne ya 21 applications which are now available on Google Play Store . Ngigi notes that the firm will continue its investment into the development and improvement of its digital products in a bid to strengthen its lead towards the provision of innovative learning solutions in Africa.
Longhorn Publishers Ltd, the only publishing firm listed on the stock exchange in Africa, is already charting its own path of growth despite the many challenges threatening the publishing industry. Indeed ever since the firm embraced digital publishing, the Company has grown in leaps and bounds. Mr. Ngigi says the Company’s operations has now expanded into 11 countries in Africa – up from three, two years ago. The launching of Longhorn’s three-year strategic plan has catapulted the company to higher heights of economic growth. “The sale of e-books which generated revenue of KSh1 million in the year 2015 when the digitization platform was introduced has now grown exponentially,” he opined.
Mr. Ngigi explained that the route of expanding its footprints in Africa, digitization and diversification of products was one measure of staying afloat in the market. “We are now producing books in almost all segments of publishing- from Early Childhood Development (ECD), primary, secondary schools and tertiary Level education ,” he said .
In June 2017, the publisher launched the 2nd Edition of the Kamusi Kuu ya Kiswahili in the Tanzanian Parliament in Dodoma – an event presided over by The Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa Kassim.
What makes the publisher tick?
Strategic partnerships and creative works, increasing level of literacy among the youth and rising number of literary events continue to make Longhorn Publishers Ltd stay ahead of the competition . Mr Ngigi remains optimistic that the Kenyan book industry, which is worth Sh6 billion, is vital and highly vibrant. In its full year financial results for the year ended June 30, 2017, the firm recorded an after tax profit of Sh133 million, an increase of 29 per cent from last year’s after tax profit of Sh104 million.
The company’s improved profitability was as a result of a 9 per cent drop in production and operating expenses. The company has set up fully functioning subsidiaries in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda and has entered into strategic agreements with partners in Senegal, DRC, Malawi, Zambia and Ethiopia. The group’s cash position remains strong, having generated Sh244 million from operating activities. This enabled the company to reduce its short-term borrowings by 30 per cent.
Similarly the company’s sales from Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda and Senegal contributed to 30 per cent of the group’s turnover as compared to 20 per cent contribution in the previous year, this is evident that our focus on geographical diversification continues to pay off.” Mr. Ngigi affirmed.
The publishing giant recognises the benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility and the need to give back to society. It has developed a CSR activity dubbed the Soma Caravan, this ensures that for every one shilling purchase of books meant for donation , Longhorn Publishers Ltd, matches the contribution. Through the program, the company identifies the most underprivileged communities in Kenya, like slums, pinpoints needy schools, and approaches a willing corporate to help buy and stock books. Longhorn will give an equal amount of what it gets from the corporate and channel it towards empowering the needy students. To date, the Soma Caravan has brought smiles across the faces of many children in this country.
Mr.Ngigi and team have now set their eyes on the ultimate prize. The publisher is on a journey. An unstoppable journey of market leadership and of producing quality products. In the next three years, the firm hopes to expand the number of countries it covers to half of the continent.
The difference the Company will be making in people’s lives is expected to grow. Moreover, the interaction with tertiary institutions will get bigger and better. Unlike Longhorn’s competitors, the company has now started investing in the more complex areas of study, including health sciences, veterinary sciences, woodwork, metal work among others. This will ensure that for the first time tertiary institutions in Africa will be able to buy the books locally and affordably.
The firm also looks forward to forming more strategic partnerships with a possibility of coming up with Longhorn branded schools across Africa. Clearly, the sky is the limit.