Beyond Books


Publishers have long bemoaned Africa’s lack of a “book culture,” but some hope that the widespread use of smartphones and the Internet could help change this. (BBC)

Use our resources to understand how one explorer is using mobile technology to help Africa’s educators and entrepreneurs help themselves.

In this video, teachers explain how e-readers are helping their students—and the entire community.

Discussion Ideas

  • Why is the publishing industry excited about the idea of e-publishing (on smartphone and e-reader platforms) in Africa?
    • Sheer numbers! African readership is an emerging market. Although internet penetration in Africa is still rather low (about 13% of Africans have internet access), it is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. The BBC article uses Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, as a case study. According to the article, more than 25% of Nigeria’s 170 million residents are now online. That’s an enormous, largely unexplored market for publishers. “The proliferation of smartphones across Africa, combined with the inevitable burst into e-commerce, means that we would be foolish to ignore what is about to happen with publishing in Africa,” said Jeremy Weate, of Abuja-based Cassava Republic, publisher of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.
    • E-publishing offers creative, as well as profitable, opportunities for African writers and publishers. According to the BBC article, “With the digital revolution improving literacy and reading levels among thousands of young Africans, self-publishing offers real opportunity for new stories to be brought to life.”
  • Read the central section of the BBC article, “Cultural Imperialism,” then read through our article on Ken Banks’ organization, FrontlineSMS. How do businesses such as FrontlineSMS or Worldreader (mentioned in the article and profiled in the video above) address issues of “cultural imperialism” in the e-publishing industry?
    • With FrontlineSMS (which mostly relies on text-based mobile technology), the uses are entirely up to users in the developing world, not producers in the West. FrontlineSMS users have applied the technology to monitor elections, track wildlife, run a health-care network, and assist victims of domestic violence.
    • E-publishing in Africa is not solely a case of Western publishers finding a new audience for Western literature. In fact, most of the businesses mentioned in the BBC article are African, publishing Africa-based literature for an African audience.
    • The teachers interviewed in the video above go out of their way to say literature on e-readers is available in their local language. This allows more people in the community to read without the huge obstacle of having to learn English or another European language.

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