Progress for Macmillan's Africa authors

Progress for Macmillan's Africa authors

Authors of Macmillan titles put on hold during the recent Serious Fraud Office investigation say they have been given a "glimmer of hope" for the future, with "sensible" discussions now beginning with the publisher after months of poor communication.

The development follows the conclusion of the SFO case, which saw Macmillan pay out £11.3m last month in a civil settlement over "unlawful conduct" in its education business in east and west Africa. The case followed on from a World Bank ban imposed on Macmillan last year for attempted bribery carried out by an agent in Southern Sudan. Macmillan voluntarily stopped trading in east and west Africa when the World Bank investigations began.

One author, who preferred to speak anonymously, said her own Macmillan project, involving specialist titles for a west African market, had been on hold for nine months, but that following the announcement of the SFO settlement she had received an email saying there would now be developments in its production.

She said: "There is a glimmer of hope. But there has been a total lack of editorial support and total blankness from Macmillan—I have had to push and push to get any kind of contact and that is very bad."

Kate Poole, deputy general secretary of the Society of Authors, said "a fair handful" of British authors had contacted the society with concerns about their titles for Macmillan, but that since the SFO settlement the publisher had begun "talking sensibly" to authors. She said: "They are trying to find a way forward."

A Macmillan spokesperson said: "Our businesses in Kenya and Uganda are now being taken forward by local management and the remainder of our east and west Africa business remains under review. While these reviews have been in progress it has been impossible for us to communicate with our authors to the extent we would have liked, but these issues will now start to resolve."

The publisher added: "With regard to the futures of the staff involved in our east and west Africa business, there is a process under way, and it is not appropriate for us to comment further than that."

Macmillan's absence from the east and west African markets is said to have left a void in the region, with pirated textbooks on the increase to compensate for lack of available titles. One Africa expert, who preferred to speak anonymously, said: "Quite a lot of people feel Macmillan was prepared to go where nobody else was prepared to go and it's a real pity they have moved out of the game."

Another predicted a decline in the editorial and production standard of titles available as indigenous publishers became responsible for more of the region's publishing. "Books for the poor and underprivileged will get worse and worse and in five or 10 years the World Bank will say ‘We have to do something about this,'" he commented. Macmillan emphasised that its businesses in Southern Africa were a separate entity and remained strong.

Pearson recently sold Longman Nigeria, in which it had a controlling stake, but plans to establish a wholly-owned new company in its place. Oxford University Press, which has branch offices in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, and a 7% stake in Nigerian company University Press Ltd, said it was "not currently reviewing" its operations in Africa.