Entrepreneurial Portrait : Elliot AGYARE, Smartline Publishers - GhanaSubmitted by Admin on Wed, 10/26/2022 - 18:25
With over 1.5 million units sold, 350 titles published, a network of 120 secondary schools across the country, and displays on renowned e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Jumia, African Books Collective, etc. Smartline is well on its way to achieving its ambition of becoming a leading publishing house on the continent.
Founded by Elliot Agyare, in 1996, Smartline Publisher is a Ghanaian book publishing company that also offers other services including educational resource services and library consulting. It provides a variety of genres such as picture books, textbooks for junior high school, senior high school, and tertiary, biographies, fiction, and non-fiction.
A strong advocate for the publishing industry and literacy, Elliot Agyare is regarded as one of the most respected publishers in Ghana and on the African Continent. He has served twice as the President of the Ghana Book Publishers Association and is currently the President of the Commonwealth Book Publishers Association. He is also a board member of the University Press and Vice Chair of the board of the Ghana Book Trust. Since July 2022, his company, Smartline, is supported through the I&P Education to Employment program.
Can you tell us how you got into publishing? Why did you decide to start a publishing house?
I did my masters in the UK after my first degree in Ghana. And I was under the impression that I could come back home and teach with a master's degree, be a lecturer. But when I returned to Ghana around 1993, the rules had changed and my degree would not allow me to teach. So, I had to think of other possibilities, and I had a thing for graphic design, I used to design book covers, CD sleeves, and stuff like that. So that's how I started working with publishing companies. And in the meantime, the computer revolution started, Apple had just released the Macintosh LC with all those fanciful faces. And while I was in the UK, I learned about computers, so I started a desktop publishing unit, a revolution at the time! Several publishing companies needed my services. So, I founded Smartline Publishers in 1996. I basically entered the publishing industry accidentally, through the back doors but I immediately felt at home and I still do today.
What are the future projects for Smartline Publishers, and the issues of the partnership with I&P?
You know, in Ghana, the publishing industry is facing funding issues, the traditional financial actors such as banks are reluctant, they consider us unattractive and do not support the development of publishing. And yet, financial support is essential because our development is essential to the continent. This is why the support of I&P Education to Employment is a great opportunity. It gives us the capacity to carry out our projects, which have been on hold until now due to lack of means and support. For example, we are going to recruit 5 new employees and publish 24 new titles in the current year. We are also going to publish e-books thanks to the acquisition of adapted equipment and launch a large-scale survey to assess the reading level of young people and develop titles in line with their needs and interests.
"In Ghana, the publishing industry is facing funding issues, the traditional financial actors such as banks are reluctant, this is why the support of I&P Education to Employment is a great opportunity. It gives us the capacity to carry out our projects, which have been on hold until now due to lack of means and support."
What are your projects? What are your wishes for the next five years to come for Smartline?
In five years, I probably will be sitting back and looking at Smartline being the biggest, if not, one of the biggest publishing firms in Ghana or west Africa. Yes, I can see that happen (laughs).
After more than 2 decades building Smartline, you are a seasoned entrepreneur. Do you have pieces of advice for young African entrepreneurs?
I will say that passion, persistence and, creativity are the keywords when you start this journey. I mean, without the passion I have for publishing, I probably would've left to do something else, along the way. Because we've had some really, really good ups. And then we had some downs and during those low moments, I sometimes wondered what I was doing with it. But because I have such a great passion for it, I stay in the course and that’s where persistence matters. And once you are persistent, when you don’t give up, something happens. Also, I will say to use what you have at the moment. I think that sometimes there's a mind trap that says that a certain level of investment is required before moving on to what you want to do. Smartline beginnings were humble, we were using a dining table with two computers, for my wife, Joyce, and myself. It might sound cliché, but this is how it’s done: breaking the ceiling and thinking out of the box!