This week, the “father of African literature’ Chinua Achebe died, leaving behind a legacy for Nigerian authors. Today I welcome another Nigerian author Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima to discuss the outlook for ebooks in Africa.
Ebook sales are stabilizing in the US and UK, but the rest of the world is out there waiting for our books!
Nigeria is one of the fastest growing emerging economies, and with the prevalence of cellphones in Africa it may become a fantastic new market in the next few years, even though there are still challenges right now.
Ebooks are outselling paperback and hardcover books in America and Europe, but not yet in Africa.
Today, Nigerian author and blogger Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima will tell you why the story is different in Africa.
Ebooks are not popular among writers and readers in my country Nigeria, and the rest of Africa, even though millions of people have been using email over the years and are now engaging in daily conversations on popular social network sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The majority of Africans are still living according to the standards of the last century, writing long hand and either paying for word processing or slowly doing so themselves on their desktops or laptops. The exception would be the African writers based in the U.S., UK and other developed societies who have to use the tools their peers are using in the 21st century. South Africa is ahead of Nigeria and other African countries in using smart phones and tablets but only got her first ebook store, Kalahari, in 2010, but the ebooks are overpriced for the rest of the continent.
Why is the penetration of ebooks challenging right now?
Generally, from South Africa to Nigeria, the two main challenges of ebooks are:
- low level of bandwidth and the low capacity of the data cables making the access to broadband expensive and unavailable to the majority of the populations.
But in spite of the low internet penetration in Africa, there is only one choice left for the majority who are still crawling and lagging behind, if we cannot beat them, we have to join them.
And that is why I give a thumbs up to David Risher who has launched Worldreader to take “1 million e-books to children in the largely English-speaking countries of Ghana, Uganda, and Kenya” and has raised a total of $1.5 million to fund his digital literature revolution in sub-Saharan Africa.
“David is pushing a fundamental conversation: How do you create a culture of reading in a place that hasn’t had one?” said Anne Marie Burgoyne, Managing Director of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation that supported Worldreader with $300,000 last September.
Is indie publishing the future?
David Vinjamuri, who teaches at New York University did a comprehensive analysis of the paradigm shift from traditional publishing to independent publishing in his article on “Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing”, published by Forbes on August 15, 2012.
And after reading the article, I agree with his conclusions that indeed the future of publishing is going to be ruled by indie publishing as writers have access to the tools of publishing themselves online regardless of the reactionary objections of traditional publishers and some authors of the mainstream publishing industry.
But as noted by David Vinjamuri, the emergence of ebooks has eliminated the shortcomings and pitfalls of traditional publishing such as having heaps of unsold copies of printed books in paperback and hard cover. Amazon.com reported selling more ebooks than physical books in the U.S. and U.K with many best selling authors of paperback and hardcover editions also releasing the ebook versions of their books on Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, because people are now reading more ebooks than physical books, because with their eReaders they can buy and save more books on a single handheld mobile device instead of looking for space for them in a luggage while traveling. The ebooks revolution has become so overwhelming that the New York Times Best-sellers List now includes Ebooks.
What about ebooks in Africa?
But we are still either crawling or lagging behind in Africa, because of various constraints of which the most glaring is poverty.
The cheering news that millions of people are now using mobile phones in Africa is exciting for mass literacy campaigns, but the masses are not reading as much as they are talking and many commentaries and debates lamented the poor reading culture among Nigerians and other Africans in Africa where nobody cares about the New York Times Reviews. Unsold or pirated copies of the so called best-sellers are hawked on the streets of Lagos and Accra for as low as $1 per copy before they get dumped as unsold goods.
Even though over 100 million people use mobile phones in Nigeria, only a fraction of them are smart phones or tablets with eReaders, because they are unaffordable to majority of the people who live below $2 per day.
Moreover, those who complain about the poor reading culture seem to forget that Nigerian literature is largely based on our oral culture before the advent of English Literature in the South around the 17th century and Arabic Literature in the North in the 15th century.
Are audiobooks the answer?
So, if the majority of Nigerians prefer talking to reading, they are only expressing themselves in their best medium of communication of our traditional oral culture. In fact, audio books may be more accepted and appreciated than printed books and ebooks and I am considering producing audio versions of my book that those who don’t have time to read can simply play and listen to my stories as I am already doing on blogs with audio plug-ins.
Among the few Nigerian authors using the latest tools of mass communication available on the internet, I have explored all the opportunities and possibilities available to my peers in America, England and other developed nations; using the applications of the social media come with many benefits of which the most important is social connection with your readers.
You can now interact with them on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and other social networks. As David Vinjamuri quoted Bidinotto, a former journalist:
Social media has been the great equalizer of advertising, promotion and marketing. This is essentially asymmetrical warfare. No customer going to Amazon knows what is traditionally published or independently published – and they don’t care. They’re interested in an experience that will educate or entertain them. Social Media allow the individual author to become a personality and establish real emotional bonds with his readers. I happen to really like my readers and I deal with them online all the time. By using social media to become a personality to my readers, I have not spent one nickel in paid advertising – and I haven’t had to.
Blogs, Facebook and Twitter have not made us bestsellers in Nigeria. Print and hand-selling still wins in the marketing game.
The most engaging platform for me is blogging which I started using since 2005 and I have become one of the most social media savvy Nigerian writers because of my applications of the most popular developments on the internet such as using reddit, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg, Technorati and pinging services, and also joining Blog Critics, Gather, Red Room, Shoovng, Yahoo Voices, Huffington Post, etc.
I have been able to reach millions of readers through these websites and that is more than enough success for any writer.
But only a few of my fellow Nigerian writers in Nigeria have followed suit but even for them, this online social presence hasn’t sold many books. One the most popular entertainment bloggers in Nigeria at the moment has a book out, but contrary to our expectations, the popularity of her gossip blog has not made her a bestselling author. Her only book has not even sold ~1, 000 copies in past two years. Her over 69, 000 followers on Twitter and over 5, 000 fans on Facebook have not bought her book!
So, that shows that her popularity in social media has not helped her to sell her book, because her thousands of fellow Nigerians are more interested in reading her gossips than reading her motivational book. Maybe a book of her hottest gossips may be more attractive to them.
I have thousands of people reading my blogs too, but only a fraction of them have bought my books. I sold more copies of my books by hawking them on the streets on Lagos and Bonny Island in the Niger Delta than on the internet. In fact I can sell 1, 000 copies of a book by hawking them from street to street and market to market than doing so as an ebook on the internet.
So, at the moment, majority of Nigerians would rather buy the hard copies of your book than download or read it as an ebook.
If you self publish, then do it well (lest you embarrass yourself)
I must confess that I was scared of self-publishing, because of the discrimination against the vanity press by traditional publishers and I learned that the New York Times editors snub self-published books. So, I preferred the treadmill of traditional publishing with all the rejection slips until got my first book “Children of Heaven” published traditionally in 1988.
I only became an indie author in 2006 when I used the Print On Demand (POD) self publishing company Lulu, but I paid for the professional book design from front cover to back cover to make sure that the book “Scarlet Tears of London”, my second collection of poems was well published.
So, POD self publishing can be as good as standard traditional publishing if the writer wants the same quality and respect given by traditional publishers. I advise every writer who wants to be self-published to make sure that the book is well written, well edited and well designed before publishing and releasing it to avoid the embarrassment of unnecessary grammatical and typographical errors and substandard printing.
Even though we are yet to have our own best selling success stories on ebooks in Africa, I am still motivated by the remarkable success stories of some self published authors like Amanda Hocking who wrote 17 teen supernatural suspense novels in her spare time and then self-published them until she hit the jackpot and signed a $2 million deal with St. Martins Press. John Locke sold over two million copies of his indie books before signing a limited deal with Simon & Schuster to get physical distribution for some of his novel. E.L. James wrote the precursor to “Fifty Shades of Grey” online as fan fiction and self-published it on her own website before Vintage acquired it. And she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people for 2012.
Do you have any questions about ebooks in Africa, or questions about Nigerian writing/authors specifically? Please do leave your comments below.
~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima, author of The Prophet Lied, Diary of the Memory Keeper, In the House of Dogs, Scarlet Tears of London, Children of Heaven and other books. Writing as Orikinla Osinachi on Amazon.
Presently, he works as a literary and media consultant in Lagos as well as also running his own companies as the Publisher/CEO of International Digital Post Network (IDPN) Limited, the largest Nigerian online news and information media network and the founder of the annual Eko International Film Festival and Screen Outdoor Open Air Cinema’s “One Village, One Cinema” Project to take cinemas to the urban and rural communities in Nigeria.
Top image: Bigstock Photo World Map