Félix Atioune worked as Marketing Manager of ELP for eight years before joining Pearson, one of the biggest publishing groups in the world. Pearson owns the Financial Times, 50% of the Economist, 100% of Penguin, the DK range of publications, etc. Pearson is also known as one of the ‘world’s leading educational publishers’. “My job is to look for sales of all Pearson products in Mauritius”, Félix Atioune says. “We sell dictionaries, children’s books, fiction…”
Happy with the way sales are going locally, Atioune reveals that dictionaries account for the largest percentage share in his product portfolio. “In Mauritius, we love dictionaries. We are a nation of dictionary readers! We buy dictionaries as if we were buying cakes. In the early 1990s, dictionaries used to be sold in vegetable baskets at book exhibitions in big villages like Flacq and Triolet.”
Mauritius being a small market, Atioune is nevertheless pleased that ELP is his biggest customer. “ELP’s purchases of Pearson products exceed the combined purchases by all the other customers put together”. By ‘other customers’, he means Editions de l’Océan Indien (EOI), University Bookshop, Bookcourt, La Librairie Le Cygne, BM Bookcentre…
“Our prices are very competitive. We even beat Indian prices and we are able to do this thanks to the special relationship we maintain with the publishers”, Félix Atioune explains. “With us, one pound sterling (currently equivalent to around 46 rupees) is only worth between 20 to 25 rupees of the selling price for textbooks to the end user/customer. It is about 30 rupees for works of fiction.”
Atioune is not unduly concerned about the impact of the competition in such a small market like Mauritius. “Competition is good. It makes for a lively business. We never close the market to anyone, to any bookseller on any title. EOI started the price war, but now ELP is leading – in the last 10-15 years it has surpassed EOI and other booksellers and in this International Book Fair, it has invited a handful of local booksellers.” For Atioune, if EOI has not been able to keep the lead on prices, it is because of “politicians’ interference and the recruitment at the helm of political nominees and protégés who were not good administrators”.
But Atioune concedes that “Mauritian readers are not adventurous and selective enough. For example, we do not read for our intellectual advancement but rather read whatever is available and within our reach.” To help remedy this lacuna, he feels that we ought to have more and more events like the 6th International Book Fair, seminars, book launches, Round Tables with writers of good literature, forums, conferences and debates in literary cafés.
Halima Dahmich works for the Commercial Export Section of Sodis, part of the Gallimard Group in Paris. Gallimard is a century old company (1911-2011) which consists of several French publishers (Gallimard, Denoël, Mercure de France…), a number of wholesalers in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Québec…), two distribution networks in France and Canada and a number of bookshops in Paris, Strasbourg and Montreal.
In Mauritius, Sodis sells books published by Gallimard, Odile Jacob, Bayard Jeunesse, National Geographic and they tend to be children’s and teenagers’ books, travel guides, fiction. Its customers include ELP, Papyrus in Grand Baie, IPBD (the local distributor/retailer), La Librairie Le Trèfle, Bookcourt…
“With regard to books for the young, a lot more can be done”, Halima Dahmich says. “Parents here really have the urge to invest in the education of their children. However, the main obstacle is their limited purchasing power.”
If books from France generally are not among the cheapest on the Mauritian market, French publishers now face competition from other publishers elsewhere in the world, for example from Lebanese publishers, some of whom supply the local market. Dahmich agrees but then says that “our publications are unique. They are of a very high quality and are very popular with young readers worldwide”.
To promote books and encourage people to read more in Mauritius, Halima Dahmich is very much in agreement with Félix Atioune. More events about and around books could act as a catalyst in promoting reading. But she also adds that in future they (ie Sodis) may have to organise events which are more targeted, for example to the 5 to 15 year olds and so on. And also to host these events in places which are easier for people to get to and where potential readers are located, as at the University and in schools and colleges in Mauritius.
At the opening ceremony of the 6th International Book Fair, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, President of the Republic, deplored the fact that Mauritians do not read enough. Given the Government's ambition of having one graduate per family, SAJ said that he hoped Mauritians will avail themselves of all the educational opportunities which exist in Mauritius, which include books as well as free education.
On Saturday 28 May 2011, the former President of the Republic, Cassam Uteem, formally launched Jean-Claude de l'Estrac's book entitled 'L'An prochain a Diego Garcia' on behalf of the publishers.