The Ghana Publishing Company Limited (GPCL) has recently been trending ostensibly because of election related issues on gazetting of results.

Suffice it to say, while the company has a long publishing tradition dating, the early post-independence era, the recent news flash has obviously created a renewed attention for which many Ghanaians including myself might be wondering, what really goes on in there apart from gazetting?

If you are part of the older generation who lived through the early best part of the publishing years in Ghana, you may be trying to reminiscent some of the popular textbooks published by the company for our educational system.

However, if you are of the youthful generation emersed in the digital revolution of the 21st century, I suspect, you may be wondering and scratching your head to find out what exactly there is to know about the so-called GPCL.

This is because, if it was not for the recent news flash regarding gazetting of election results, it appears the company has become a mere shadow of its past glory and is ever hardly visible in the publishing landscape, in its true scholarly sense.  

Indeed,  following the recent news flash, I decided to make a search at the company’s website for the first time, “ghanapublishing.com”(accessed, 28th December 2020). 

Unfortunately,  information provided on the website read: “This site is under maintenance. Please check back soon.”

I did however find some visibility on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and also on www.ghanayello.com. 

On ghanayello.com, it is stated that the GPCL exists to print and publish very high-quality books and stationery for educational institutions, government departments, and the general public at competitive prices.

I searched for its vision and mission statements online and found nothing. I was also expecting to see in particular further information of scholarly materials published and listed in archives, marketing strategies for new editions, and availability, but found nothing.

Due to the fact that its official website is currently under going maintenance, it stands to reason to offer the company some benefit of the doubt for the limited update.

Luckily though, searching online from some other sources (e.g. www.AbeBooks.com), I came across books published by some eminent scholars such as Archbishop Emeritus Peter Kwasi Sarpong on religion and culture attributed to the company; some of these books I believe were used for the General Certificate Advanced Level General Paper during my secondary school days (see, for instance, Ghana in Retrospect, Some Aspect of Ghanaian Culture).   

As far as I can recall, the Ghana Publishing Corporation as it was known then was visibly involved in scholarly publications in the strict sense of promoting knowledge in the academic sense.

Why there are no records of such publications online is worth interrogating given the cloud under which it operates as a relatively well-resourced state-owned enterprise.

In fact, its Facebook account indicates that exactly a year ago on 28th November 2019, it inaugurated a new production unit which in the company’s own words, is to help upscale “excellence in printing and publishing.”

 The limited information on their current engagements in academic and scholarly publications a year on may therefore be deemed as not good enough.

Nevertheless, GPCL has the potential to be the benchmark of exceptional academic publishing in the country. Subsequently, from an academic perspective, I have launched on the company’s recent “celebrity status” to reflect on what really a publishing house is, and the role it can play in meeting expectations in a fast-growing knowledge economy of the 21st century, especially as there appears to be some established confusion in the current proliferated digital Ghanaian space regarding what constitutes a publishing house in the strict academic sense and that of a printing press.

According to Adam Ellis, CEO of Steuben Press Blog (2018), on face value, publishing houses and printing presses do indeed share some commonality but they are also in the professional sense distinct in some unique ways. Publishers focus on owning intellectual property right, provide professional editorial services and undertake marketing and promotions of verifiable and authentic materials. Alternatively, a printing press exist mainly to print and bind books. 

In essence, in the schema of the publishing cycle, the printing press only comes in when a manuscript is ready for printing and binding. Once that is ended, the printers’ job also principally comes to an end.  

The publisher on the other hand is involved from the concept and initiation phase of the manuscript and would work to own copyrights and also provide future production and marketing services in the publishing cycle.

What then is the stake of being an academic publisher? Here, Schiff (2017) writing in an article titled, “The importance of facts and the role of academic publishers in today’s world, states: “An academic publisher’s role is to promote proper validation of scientific findings by supporting editors in the peer-review process, certifying findings by publishing them in journals, and ensuring the distribution and archiving of these results with multiple partners and in particular academic libraries”.

Thus, be it as it may, if the Ghana Publishing Company is an academic publisher which I presume it should be, then as stated in the words of Schiff, it has an obligation to help build, protect and conserve the sanctity and integrity of scientific knowledge in the country.

However,  per its own description as documented in write-ups I have come across, it suggests to me that it is more interested in focusing on gazetting and printing of government documents, hardly emphasizing on becoming a key academic publisher.

In the past, GPCL demonstrated great potential to compete with global giants in producing scholarly manuscripts locally and beyond.  One would therefore have expected intense upscale of activities in this digital age of massive knowledge transformation to position itself as an epitome of excellence in academic publishing locally and on the continent.

However, it appears that it has rather drawn back into working largely as a printing press and not as a scholarly publisher.

In this respect, if one is to for example compare their recent activities to leading giants such as Macmillan, Taylor and Francis, Emerald, Blackwell, Elsevier, Springer just to mention a few, the contrast is seemingly very wide indeed.  

The question to be asked is, why is Ghana Publishing Company (GPCL) for instance not involved in journal publications? Why is it not initiating and publishing scientific textbooks on emerging issues and research? Why is it not building scholarly database and metrics like other leading publishing giants ?  

In my view, beyond the gazetting and printing of government documents, there is so much that the company can offer in the current academic and digital space. For instance, according to the education statistics and analysis (2018) published by the Ministry of Education, there are currently over 140 tertiary institutions in this country.

Academic staff in these institutions are all earnestly looking for credible sources to publish their research findings. However, due to lack of home-grown credible publishing sources, many have turned to alternative but sometimes gullible sources and have fallen victims to so called predatory journals.

As a subtle way out, many Ghanaian academic institutions are now resorting to creating in-house journals which some arguably have been described as unethical by some scholars because of the perceived potential for conflict of interest. GPCL possesses the leverage that should propel it to become the independent face that can offer the requisite landscape of academic publishing services in its true scholarly sense, if it is to properly position and align itself into the rapidly expanding Ghanaian academic environment.

Presently there are many organizations claiming to be publishers in this country. However, a critical view of their activities suggests that, many are in the technical sense operating as printing presses. 

The digital age has led to a proliferation of many entities also claiming the title, publishers. There is however the need to distinguish between printers, who are erroneously operating as publishers, and publishing aimed at securing academic integrity.

Among others, I think the GPCL should be directing its energy and resources towards developing and securing exceptional standards for academic publishing and reporting in the country.  

By Professor Divine Ahadzie

Head, Centre for Settlements Studies, KNUST and Regional Editor for Africa, Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation, published by Emerald Publishing Company, UK.