Adedotun Eyinade is the co-founder and director of Roving Heights a bookstore with two stores located in Lagos Island and mainland, and Abuja. A family-run business operated alongside his sister and wife, Roving Heights has a staff strength of twenty-two and has held a greater public interest since its collaboration with Orisun Gallery and 2MG Theatre to host an interactive book reading and book signing session with Wole Soyinka recently in Abuja.
Established in 2016, Roving Heights started as a campus book reading session run by Eyinade after experiencing a similar event in Lagos, during school vacation. Soon after, he is hosting a similar event in campus with a popular Nigerian author, then employing students on commission to market and distribute books to their family and friends. After graduation, he invests his first work paycheck into the business hiring a hand to help in the selling and distribution of self-published works.
Today, the brand offers thousands of books, in various genres literature, art, politics, faith, economy, motivation, etc. both from traditional and self-publishers, with the mission to expand into eBooks within a year.
People who sell books and other gems by the roadside, who I don’t dismiss are also serving an essential market. People who buy used books for instance. You find there’s a lot of people looking for gem books that you can only find at that roadside. They also serve the part of the public that cannot affect the more contemporary or newly published books.
On the flipside, they also sell the roadside sellers have the pernicious trade of piracy, selling pirated books which is not good for book trade. Because every worker deserves his or her just reward. If you spend your energies and nights working on a particular content, you should be able to reap the success of your labour not others. I think those selling used books and those selling original books are of advantage to people who are interested in books.
One of my best quotes, which I saw outside an arch-shaped store called ‘The Other Shop’ that I walked past in Belgium, reads, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. That’s because inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read” – Groucho Marx. That stuck with me. And its’ true. A book is man’s best friend because depending on where you are, if you fall in love with books, and you are in the darkest of dungeons, as long as there’s light for you to read, and it’s a good book, the book will keep you company.
I think it’s important that we invest in ensuring that bookstores are found all across our country, cities, towns and communities because you can never tell what gems people can find in these spaces that can inspire change, change in our lives or society, or inspire children. So long as a child has access to a library, we can never predict what effect it will have in the life of that child.
What are the inherent opportunities in the bookstore business?
I won’t lie to you. The book business is not oil and gas. It is not the kind of business you expect to make ‘a killing’ and then drive a G-wagon. Most bookstores are barely getting by. I have about a staff of 22 people, and every month I have to worry about things like “it’s the last week of the month, I need to pay my staff” the interesting thing is that it’s the audience out there, the market out there that needs to make the call to. You will be surprised at the kinds of things people read in Nigeria. Some of the widely read books in the country are religious materials. I imagine it’s because we are religious people. There is still a market other than religious books as we have people who run religious bookstores; there are those who read fictions, paranormal fiction, horrors etc. You can find your niche and become the go-to guy for access to such works, or the guy who reviews such works; or the guy who handles finance in a book space. I think the bookstore manager is in charge of the amount books a store buys. As long as one is in the field, or in anything literary, there are opportunities for them to become book editors and proofreaders. As the market grows, we will find opening for people who studied English and literary studies, that way they won’t all have to go into telecoms or banking industry. I look forward to the time when Roving Heights, our partners and other bookstores grow to the scale where we pay people in the hundreds. And a time, where a child will enter a bookstore and say, “I hope to be a bookseller one day,” without the parents yelling at her to pray to become a footballer. And a time people are financially satisfied and proud to work in a bookstore. Not that it will be like working in oil and gas but are well paid working in a bookstore. A time where children would anticipate the holidays because it’s a time for them to visit bookstores and read.
How does one start? How can Nigerians position themselves to take advantage of these opportunities?
The first thing is to read. Be a reader. It takes a reader to sell a book or to thrive in a book environment. It is one of those jobs that of you don’t love it you find it boring. You see bookstores where the guys behind the counter are not interested in what they are doing because they are not readers. The difference is clear when you visit stores where the bookseller reads. They are excited and alert. The latter talks to you about the books and recommends books based on your preference.
That’s the fundamental difference between working in the bookstore and working else. You don’t need to love phones to be able to sell but you need to love books in order to sell them. You can develop some skills at how to be a better seller, or marketer. Those are things I think people can acquire skills in, but fundamentally, you need to be a reader.