African Flavour Books derails self-publishers as it closes shop, goes underground

African Flavour Books store in Braamfontein.
African Flavour Books store in Braamfontein.
Image: via Facebook African Flavour Books

A social media storm ensued on Tuesday after self-published writer Vangile Gantsho posted about her monetary losses following a business deal with the famed African Flavour books.  The bookstore, heralded as a pioneer, sourced and only stocked books by African authors. They had branches in Vanderbijlpark and Braamfontein.

The Braamfontein store has reportedly closed down.

Gantsho’s tweet read:   Imagine selling your books to African Flavour Books and them closing shop and disappearing off the face of the earth. With your money. Thousands of Rands just like that. Imagine they block you & don't respond to your calls or emails. Imagine. Yhu Bayatyhafisa abantu kodwa!

The tweet received a lot of responses with  self- published authors commenting on the lack of response from the company.

SowetanLIVE spoke to Dudu Busani Dube, author of Hlomu The Wife, who also stated that she was owed money by the bookshop.   “They do owe me money, a lot of money. I have invoices dating back to 2017. They kept saying we’ll pay you, we’ll pay you but then I don’t know what happened. The next thing we knew the store was closed and nobody’s saying anything, that’s where we are,” she said.

Dube went on to explain that she’s quite aware that businesses run into difficulties but she was perplexed by the lack of communication from the bookshop. The worst of it, she says, is that the company has derailed small/self-publishers. “The thing is, we also run businesses, this is how we make our money and this is the biggest problem about it,” she said.

How their business relationship works is that as an author you supply the bookshop with your books at a retail discount. The shop then sells the books and you as the supplier invoice the shop. 

Another person who is vocal about this issue is publisher Thabiso Mahlape. Mahlape expressed her sympathy at the plight of African Flavour Books but was also irked by their lack of communication. 

She speculated on how the company could have gotten to this state.  “I think how it went is that there was a time where they owed a lot of  big publishers. So how it works is that you get a credit limit and once you reach it and you haven’t paid it, you can no longer get any more books. So they couldn’t get books and the only books that they could get were from independent authors and self-published people, and people who didn’t know that they were in a rough place. It makes me so sad,” she said.

Mahlape went on to say that oftentimes people fall into the trap of not being well-versed in business. She went on to say that people have many assumptions about publishing since it’s in the arts and they think that you can "convert a hobby into a business". 

“The advice I would have is, have an understanding of business and especially this business which is incredibly hard. Even the publishers that are publishing for established readerships are struggling. Just looking at the sales this year alone, there’s a decline across the industry. You have to understand business, you have to be prepared,” she added.

She once again expressed that breaking into the industry requires a plan, research and steadfastness. Mahlape also went on to say that she’s also had moments were she thought about quitting and that the bookstore didn’t fail entirely.  “They had focus when they started, we knew what they stood for, we knew what culture they were for but in the end they kind of lost themselves and tried too much too quickly. Books are a tough business, they are a huge gamble,” she said.

The  chief operating officer of the bookstore Fortiscue Helepi’s cellphone went answered after numerous tries and the CEO Nokuthula Helepi’s number went straight to voicemail.  

There was no response to SMSes sent to them. The last message on their Facebook page was posted last year in October. It alerted customers that the stores would be closed for a certain period as staff would be taking part in a training exercise.

“Dear customers, please note that the shop in Braamfontein will be closed for the next three days (16 - 18 October 2018). The Braam store will reopen on 19 October 2018 while Vaal store will open on 20 October 2018. The management and staff will be participating in a strategy and training exercise. The training will be for our employees in Braamfontein and also for soon to open Vanderbijlpark store. Sorry for the inconvenience.”


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