African publishers lag in shift to electronic books

Digital Content

Electronic readers are transforming the way people enjoy their books. However, there is very little African published content on the online stores. For a reader looking for a Kenyan book or literature published in Africa, one has to get the ink-and-paper version as few publishers have moved online.

A search for Kenyan published books on Amazon bares very few results. David Karanja, a Kenyan author published by Readwide Media, said he decided to try Amazon to reach a wider audience with his book. In October 2011, he made his book Barrack Obama: The Burden of his Kenyan Roots available on Amazon and Kindle so that it can be bought from the website.

He says so far, about 2,000 books are being sold through the website. “I need to advertise to sell more and I have plans to, soon,” he said. This is the second book he is distributing through Amazon with the first having been made available in February 2011. He is already looking at distributing children’s books through the website adding that “so far the online sales have been good in comparison to shelves.”

A recent partnership between Longhorn Publishers and World Reader is expected to increase local content available on Kindle.

The Kenyan publishing firm, which provides pupils with e-readers in a bid to promote a reading culture, will distribute 60 Kindles to five schools in the Rift Valley. The partnership, for seven years, will see students enjoy reading material from the e-readers. Longhorn provides content to World Reader which then provides the platform and the Kindle readers and also secures space for it through Amazon, the online book retailer, under the partnership.

The content is converted into a suitable format for Amazon and is downloadable into a Kindle reader. World Reader has teamed up with Amazon, which provides it with discounted pricing for the Kindle 3G and delivery support for the e-books.

Digital Divide Data, an American-based company with an office in Kenya, has been working with local publishers to convert their material to e-format.
Last month, the company launched a distribution arm that will see it supply converted books to online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Peter Mugo, Digital Divide Data’s sales executive in Kenya, says they help publishers convert their books to the desired format and with the new arm of the business can help distribution with companies such as Amazon and Kobo.

The cost of converting a book depends on the kind of book it is, if it has graphics among other things, says Mugo. For a moderate narrative price it costs about $0.35 (Sh30) per page, one with graphics can cost $0.65 (Sh56). However, the demand for e-books in Kenya is still seen as minimal.

Karanja says few Kenyans are currently shopping online for their books mainly due to a culture of not using credit cards. He is, however, confident that with Internet penetration, more Kenyans will start purchasing books online.