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Why digital publishers are targeting Africa

Africa , 09 Sep 2013

Why digital publishers are targeting Africa

This is a warning for publishers. Think digital or else be swept to oblivion by the undercurrent.

The quick adoption of mobile technology in Africa has not only realised new opportunities in telecommunication but in how content is delivered.

In particular, book publishing in Africa is an expensive exercise: a luxury that many Africans may not be able to afford.

Publishers, therefore, have to think of new ways of getting the written word out.

In Kenya, more young people are gaining access to feature phones and even smartphones, spending hours on these gadgets. Rather than seeing technology as a disrupter of book publishing, perhaps a new shift in thinking needs to be applied to use technology to help this industry in Africa.

Will Clurman, the chief executive officer of eKitabu, a digital book publishers could not agree more (Kitabu is the Swahili word for “Book”).

eKitabu gives readers options to purchase and read local and international books on their phones, tablets and computers.

“Smartphones and even tablets are becoming common in Africa, especially in cities. But people need content. It’s stories that give our lives meaning, sometimes understanding. Ebooks are a well-evolved form of content that readers, authors and publishers know how to handle,” Clurman said.

“And we know that although the gadget’s needed, content is that without which there’s nothing of meaning. Especially in education: content—local content—is vital. Educational research shows gadgets alone may yield ‘computer literacy,’ but without content all you get is facility with the device. That’s why we’re working to catalyze the content ecosystem here,” he added.

eKitabu was established in 2012 by Digital Divide Data, a technology firm that does digitisation of documents. The company now looks to serve more African countries after having great success in Kenya and five other African countries.

eKitabu has been able to sell over 300,000 Kenyan and international books through their platform and they hope to sell thousands more in the coming years.

“We’re especially honored to have partnerships with leading Kenyan educational publishers, for example: Kenya Literature Bureau, Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, Longhorn, Moran, LawAfrica as well as innovative smaller ones such as Mountain Top, WordAlive and Jacaranda Designs,” Clurman tells ITWeb Africa.

BiNu, an application store for feature phones, has also recorded similar success on the continent with over 500,000 subscribers on the Worldreader platform. Through the Worldreader application, thousand of feature phone users in Africa have access hundreds of digital novels that can be accessed through the BiNu platform.

“These data points tell us that what’s taken maybe 10 or 15 years in North America and Europe may take only two or three here. What we do now helps accelerate and shape the future,” Clurman adds.

Worldreader has a wide array of programmes aimed to enhance e-learning in general. The company has been piloting the use of ereaders in Kenyan schools, including the use of the Kindle.

An evaluation of the project in Kilgoris, a district in Kenya in August this year, revealed better results for students who used the Kindle. In their report, the organisation said that the gadgets helped students read anytime, anywhere, even during their breaks.

The clear intention by several African governments to embrace digital learning is also quickly pointing to this wind of change for the publishing industry. Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa have initiated different digital approaches to take learning online.

Clurman says that 75% of all books published in Africa are educational content. So digital publishing revolution has to begin from the education sector before it spreads to other sectors.

And the opportunity is immense.

“A colleague from Intel pointed out to me: in many African countries e-commerce is ‘retail, not retail replacement’. For us it means this: today even print books have a hard time reaching readers—and potential readers—in large parts of Africa. The first time many children growing up now experience a book it will be on a mobile device because the reach that mobile devices and networks deliver,” Clurman narrates.

Currently, smartphone users can download the Kindle app from the Android store and Apple stores, and quickly read books right from their phones. This means even the Kindle as a gadget might not even be used by many African readers.

And the likes of eKitabu is looking to enhance its awareness of eBooks in Africa via the likes of competitions. The company has arranged an essay competition dubbed “How Can Technology Improve My Learning?” This essay competition has been sponsored by Intel, Samsung and a leading Kenyan book store.

“We’re also launching an interactive content prize to identify and encourage interactive developers—in particular educational content developers—to generate new materials for digital learning. The best innovations often come from interacting with users in their environment, and our outreach is designed to engage them,” Clurman revealed.

Getting back to the basics by helping our children learn using ebooks could spur on the publishing industry in Kenya and the rest of Africa.

When they finish school, reading books for pleasure will not be a foreign idea, regardless of the technology.

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