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Africa: E-Books Poised to Take Off
Nov 22, 2010 (101122)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Can Africa take the lead in taking advantage of e-books, as it has
with the rapid expansion of mobile phones and innovations such as
mobile banking applications? It is certainly too early to be sure.
But there are some solid reasons to think this might be possible,
more quickly than it seemed only a year or two ago.
The advantages are clear, if internet access and bandwidth is
available. There are literally millions of books now available free
at various sites on the web, and the number is still growing
rapidly. And Amazon's Kindle store has some 750,000 titles, most
available at prices well under their paper counterparts.
Of course, there are still academic publishing dinosaurs, such as
Taylor & Francis or Palgrave Macmillan, who are carrying their
predatory pricing policies into the e-book realm with prices
approaching or exceeding $100 a book. And some commercial
publishers are also raising e-book prices. But overall, the price
curve continues to go down. Next year Google, which already
provides millions of public domain books for free viewing and pdf
download, will also be selling hundreds of thousands of low-cost
downloadable e-books through Google Editions, starting in 2011.
You can check out the current selection of free books on Google by
going to http://books.google.com, choosing advanced search, and
limiting the selection to books with "full view." Enter "Africa",
and limit the search to the 19th century only, for example, and you
will find more than a million books, including many classics of the
colonial period in Africa.
And the ease of access in Africa is also increasing rapidly, with
new fiber-optic links, access through mobile phones, and increased
competition among providers, although the pace is very uneven. With
Amazon's recent expansion of Kindle to over 100 countries,
including most African countries (see list at http://tinyurl.com/y8o692u), international Kindle usage is also
increasing rapidly, although Amazon does not release
Personally I still prefer the advantages of paper books for
personal reading, and printing out selected pages from on-line
files when I want to read more than a few pages. So I haven't yet
invested in a Kindle (or asked for it as a gift!). But if I were
traveling more frequently than I do, or living in a place with
fewer bookstores and libraries, I would likely quickly change my
mind, given the relative costs.
A Zimbabwean friend of AfricaFocus writes "I have used it in
Zimbabwe and South Africa and it has worked very well for me.
Average download time for a book is about a minute on a wifi
connection. For use in Africa I think it is important to invest in
a kindle with wifi capability(some are 3G only) because 3G is not
as widely available as wifi. There are many wifi hotspots in Harare
at restaurants, bars, etc and that is how I usually connect and
download my books."
Kindle does ship to most African countries. But if you can't afford
a Kindle, note that Kindle books can be downloaded and read (with
a free application) on a PC or a Mac. And for those more at the
cutting edge of change than I, and with better eyes, there are even
Kindle apps for reading books on your iPhone, Blackberry, or other
If you want a convenient way to make books available to friends in
Africa who don't have access, note that just this month Amazon made
it possible for you to give a Kindle book to anyone with an e-mail
address and web access. They can read it on a PC or Mac even if
they don't have a Kindle.
This issue of AfricaFocus contains links for sources of free
books, as well as a sampling of Kindle e-books with Africa-related
If you do decide to get a Kindle this year for yourself, or as a
gift, please do so through this link:
That way you will be supporting AfricaFocus, at no extra cost to
And finally, I would very much welcome feedback from those of you
who are using Kindle or other e-book formats in Africa, reporting
on your experiences, good or bad, or suggesting additional books
available on Kindle that might be added to the list below. I may
summarize or quote your comments in an update, so let me know
whether you want your name used or not. Write to me at
(1) I was a teacher in Lesotho for two years and if this technology could
be cheap enough to distribute to children in high schools and primary
schools it would be extraordinarily helpful. My students shared one
textbook or reader between four or five students, and I was at a "well
I had my Nook with me recently in Ghana and, as long as you can get to
a power source to charge once a week or so, it was great. ...
Ultimately, once all the pieces are in place this has the potential to
be a very useful tool because no infrastructure is needed to support
it (except the occasional access to electricity- which is becoming
more and more feasible every day in Africa). - Amy Bowes
(2) Thanks for a great op-ed in the recent issue which I read online
via a book group on LinkedIn and AllAfrica.com.
I am a Nigerian Author and Publisher based in the US and published
my first book titled A Heart to Mend on Kindle so it was interesting reading
your opinion on the trend. The book has sold several copies with two being reported
as sold in Africa. I also have a kindle myself and will be travelling to Nigeria
this December with it. I will update you on the performance when I can. I also want to
request that you update your list with my book [see below].
- Myne Whitman,
(3) Thanks for this very interesting post and for the interesting list of Africana.
Having recently purchased a kindle I think there are enormous implications for
use in Africa, by schools in particular. For example, there is huge scope for
educational publishers to make kindle & other ebook readers editions of school
curriculum texts available, which schools or departments of education could
get multi-user licences or some such for, and once the pupils have been supplied
with kindles then off they go, to a vastly improved learning experience and
hopefully also a life-long love for reading, for as there are as you say millions
of free downloads available. And perhaps that would also encourage more
publishing in indigenous African languages.
- Caroline, Johannesburg
(4) Thank you for beginning this essential discussion of using digital devices for reading.
I have done quite a bit of work with rural teachers in several African countries,
as well as with other educators, and have been thinking very seriously about the use of
e-readers for basic literacy, especially for children first learning to read,
whether in a creche, pre-school or school.
At present I am talking with as many of my colleagues as I can to tease out what
teachers of these children most need to get literacy going in African villages
[and elsewhere as it applies]. I will spend some time from Jan thru May of this
coming year visiting more of these educators and getting their ideas, and then
I plan to write my findings into a sort of concept paper, hopefully helpful to
those who wish to develop appropriate teaching technology in this area.
Your email lists books and groups which are not really addressing the early
literacy needs of children. For starters, all reading materials for young children
must be in their home language or you are essentially asking a child to learn to
attach to text using a language s/he doesn't even know and sounds s/he doesn't make.
So far I have found almost nothing appropriate for young children learning to read. The problem here is that
unless large numbers of children become functionally literate, they then go through the motions of school
nce they hit the language of instruction in their country, and they never become competent readers or
writers, never provide a market for books, which never sustains publishers to provide the books
they needed as young children to become readers in the first place. - - Judith K. Baker, Education Consultant and Activist,
firstname.lastname@example.org, Member, Organising Committee of the 6th Annual Pan African Reading for All Conference, Tanzania 2009
(5) I enjoyed your piece: Africa: E-Books Poised to Take Off. I head up a
project called m4Lit (mobile phones for literacy): we published short
stories (and Shakespeare plays) in South Africa and Kenya for teens to
read and comment on via their phones. In just over a year the project
has achieved impressive uptake: over 60000 full reads of the stories,
over 30000 reader comments and over 10000 competition entries. I
believe that for the foreseeable future the mobile phone is the Kindle
- Steve Vosloo, Fellow, 21st Century Learning,
The Shuttleworth Foundation
(6) I was delighted to read your article, Africa: E-Books Poised to Take
Off, on allAfrica.com.
The e-book industry in Africa is ripe for expansion and I'm sure the
next few years will be very interesting. I am doing my Masters degree
on this subject at the University of Pretoria, and am currently
circulating an online survey to e-book users in South Africa/Africa. I
would be very grateful if you could help me out by completing this
survey, sending it to some of your contacts who might be interested,
or distributing it in some other way you see fit.
This is the link to the survey:
- Susan Gaigher
(7) I am an avid reader who moved back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after a long stint in England.
i have a Kindle (a gift from my wife 3 months ago) and after a couple of weeks of getting used to it
i have found it nearly as good as paper book! i take it everywhere and jump between books as my mood
changes. i love the fact i can get the latest books instantly from Amazon as books are hard to
come by here. the e-ink is excellent for reading and the battery life is incredibly long. Unfortunately
my 3 year old boy dropped it last week and now half the screen is blank! That never happened with my
paper books! Alas a problem with plastic and glass... I have ordered a new one as i have decided it is
absolutely perfect to my African environment.
- Saifudin, Addis Ababa
Some Useful Sources for E-Books and Related Information
Google Advanced Book Search
Preview of Google Editions E-Book Format
Free Books Available for Kindle
Kindle Apps for PC, Mac, Iphone, Blackberry & more
This group is experimenting with use of Kindles in school in Ghana,
as well as collaborating with African publishers in making books
available on Kindle.
Books from WorldReader Project
A Sampling of Africa-Related Books available on Kindle
[Note that some books may not be available in some countries
because of limitations in the publisher's territorial
Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, Half of a Yellow Sun
Akpan, Uwem, Say You're One of Them.
Austen , Ralph A., Trans-Saharan Africa in World History
Beah, ishmael, A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier
Bloomfield, Steve, Africa United: Soccer, Passion, Politics, and
the First World Cup in Africa
Brautigam, Deborah, The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in
Campbell , James T., Middle Passages: African American Journeys
to Africa, 1787-2005
Carlin, John, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That
Made a Nation
Carney, Judith, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical
Legacy in the Atlantic World
Diawara, Manthia, In Search of Africa
Disney, Jennifer Leigh, Women's Activism and Feminist Agency in
Mozambique and Nicaragua
Dowden, Richard, Africa: Ordered States, Ordinary Miracles
Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Crime of the Congo
Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of
Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth
Ferguson, James, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World
Falola, Toyin, The History of Nigeria
Ibe, Adimchinma, Treachery in the Yard: A Nigerian Thriller
Kapuscinski, Ryszard, Another Day of Life
Kidder, Tracy, Strength in What Remains
Maathai, Wangari, The Challenge for Africa
Maier, Karl, This House Has Fallen
Malley, Robert, The Call From Algeria: Third Worldism,
Revolution, and the Turn to Islam
Mamdani, Mahmood, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and
the War on Terror
Mandela, Nelson, Conversations with Myself
Mandela, Nelson, Long Walk to Freedom
Meredith, Martin, The Fate of Africa
Meriwether, James H., Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans
and Africa, 1935-1961
Meyer, Deon, Dead Before Dying
Meyer, Deon, Thirteen Hours
Mgendi, Mlenge Fanuel, Ng'ombe wa Maskini (Hadithi za Uswahilini)
Minter, William, King Solomon's Mines Revisited
Moore, Carlos, Fela: This Bitch of a Life
Nolen, Stephanie. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa
Nwaubani, Adaobi Tricia, I Do Not Come to You by Chance
Peel, Michael, A Swamp Full of Dollars: Pipelines and
Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier
Polakow-Suransky, Sasha, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret
Relationship with Apartheid South Africa
Quartey, Kwei, Wife of the Gods
Radelet, Steven, Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading
Richmond, Simon, et al., Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho &
Swaziland Country Guide
Robinson, David, Muslim Societies in African History
Rogers, Douglas. The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
Sirleaf, Ellen Johnson, This Child Will Be Great
Smillie, Ian , Blood on the Stone: Greed, Corruption and War in
the Global Diamond Trade
Soyinka, Wole, You Must Set Forth at Dawn
Thompson, Leonard, A History of South Africa (3rd edition)
wa Thiong'o, Ngugi, Dreams in a Time of War
Whitman, Myne, A Heart to Mend
Wrong, Michela, Our Turn to Eat
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