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Thursday July 25, 2019


There are now more than a half billion Africans online

Nigeria leapfrogs Japan as 6th largest country by internet users

Let’s start this edition of Publish Africa as we mean to go on, with a reminder that the purpose of this newsletter is not to talk about where African publishing is today, but where it could be if it embraced the digital opportunity.

The digital opportunity? Africa?  That may sound like a contradiction in terms, given internet penetration for the continent has yet to top 40%. But percentages can be deceptive.

At just 39.5% internet penetration Africa has 525 million people online. Two African nations, Nigeria and Egypt, make the Top 20 largest countries by internet users, and Nigeria has just grabbed 6th place from Japan. Japan has 118 million internet users and very little room to grow. Nigeria has 119 million (up from 111 million in December) and is only at the halfway mark in growth potential.

It won’t be this year, but in the not too distant future we can expect to see Nigeria bump Indonesia for fifth place and Brazil’s position at #4 must now be considered at risk as Nigerians continue to embrace the digital opportunity. You can find the full list of  internet user numbers in Africa here. But for now a few key examples:

Egypt comes in with 49 million people online.

Kenya is not far behind, with 43 million people online. That's more than Spain!

South Africa now has 32 million online. Morocco 22 million, Algeria 21 million.

Sudan at 13 million. Mali at 12 million.

Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana now competing with 11 million each. That's more, each, than Sweden, the home of Storytel.

Zimbabwe at 8.3 million, Zambia at 7.2 million, and  a surge in Rwanda, now closing in on 6 million people online.

Why are these small countries relevant? Consider this: Statista puts a 2019 valuation for the New Zealand ebook market at $39 million. New Zealand has an online population of just 4.1 million.

That's the digital advantage on offer to Africa's publishing sector.

Yet incredibly, publishers both on the continent and beyond are still busily looking the other way as this huge potential market becomes ever more accessible.

A half billion people online, pretty much all using smartphones that could be holding ebooks and audiobooks. But as I comment over at TNPS this week,

"...While there are notable and honourable exceptions, most publishers outside the continent are not giving this huge market opportunity a second thought, while African publishers themselves are, again with honourable exceptions, treating the internet and smartphones as the enemy of books and reading. Clinging on to a bygone era publishing model when ink and paper was the only option, instead of embracing a hybrid print and digital future."

A hybrid print and digital future? In other parts of the world publishers are already reaping the benefits. Let's take a closer look.

Welcome to issue #3 of Publish Africa – the digital advantage.

The US audiobook market alone now valued at close to the entire African book market

US audio sector now worth almost $1 billion as African publishing clings to the twentieth century model

Okay, so let's start this edition of Publish Africa as we mean to go on, with a reminder that the purpose of this newsletter is not to talk about where African publishing is today, but where it could be if it embraced the digital opportunity.

So how does $940 million sound? Because that's the latest valuation of the US audiobook market, as per the Audio Publishers Association annual report released this past week. Read the full report here.

2018 unit sales are up 27.3% on the 2017 numbers, while revenue grew 24.5%, to total the aforementioned $940 million.

That figure, just shy of $1 billion, is also just shy of the $1 billion valuation put on the entire African book market.

The announcement marks seven years of continuous double-digit growth in the US audiobook sector. And 91.4% of that revenue came not from twentieth century audio on CDs but from digital downloads, mostly via smartphones.

That's all very well, you’ll argue. But the USA is a big country of 327 million people. 312 million of them online.

True, but Africa is a big continent of 1.3 billion people. And as we've just explored in the item above, 525 million of them are on line. Bear that in mind as we waltz through today’s newsletter.

But now, let’s get back to those US audiobook sales.

The report tells us that 50 percent of Americans age 12 and older have listened to an audiobook, up from 44 percent in 2018.

Most excitingly 56 percent of audiobook listeners say that they are making “new” time to listen to audiobooks, therefore consuming more books.

Over half of the audiobook lovers also listen to podcasts. Make a mental note of that for a related item later in a bear-future newsletter.

Here just to state what may be obvious to some, but to far too many is still abundantly unclear.

Many emerging market publishers and publishing stakeholders love to rant against smartphones and the internet as if they are somehow responsible for a perceived decline in reading.

Yet as these newsletters have shown, smartphones and the internet are opening up new vistas for forward-thinking publishers willing to throw off the shackles of a bygone age when ink on paper was the only publishing model, and embrace a hybrid print and digital future that gets the best of both worlds.

A major US education publisher goes digital first, phasing our print textbooks

You can't put the digital genie back in the bottle

We stay in North America for news that Pearson, one of the world’s largest education publishing companies, is to phase out printed textbooks in its core US market in response to increasing demand for digital.

All future releases for its 1,500 active US textbook titles will, in Pearson’s words, be “digital first.”

US college students already access over 10 million digital courses and e-books each year from Pearson, and the company currently derives 62% of its revenue from digital or digitally enabled products and services.

Pearson CEO John Fallon said, “Our digital first model lowers prices for students and, over time, increases our revenues. By providing better value to students, they have less reason to turn to the secondary market. This will create a more predictable, visible revenue stream with a better quality of earnings that enables us to serve the needs of learners and customers more effectively.”

Read more over at TNPS.

Making more money by charging less? That’s the beauty of digital. By removing the production and distribution costs associated with printed books the product can be sold cheaper for a better margin. But the benefits go beyond that.

Students able to buy cheap digital versions will be less inclined to buy textbooks second-hand. Digital books will be updated yearly rather than every three years, giving a superior learning experience for digital patrons.

Digital books for education is not totally unknown in Africa, of course, and Kenya’s eKitabu leads the way.

But mostly Africa is way behind the curve with digital educational publishing as with all other publishing sectors.

At a time when there are 525 million Africans online that’s little short of criminal.

Brazil's FLIP reminds us African publishing has some ready-made export markets

The Portuguese-speaking nations have a combined online population of 175 million.

Next to South America, where the world’s biggest Portuguese-language book market can be found in Brazil.

At the 17th Flip (Brazil’s Paraty International Literary Festival) in Rio de Janeiro Mozambique literature was a central theme this year.

The Commission for the Promotion of Portuguese Language Content (CPCLP), an arm of the Brazilian Book Chamber, seeks to engage Portuguese-language publishers worldwide.

As the support organisation Brazilian Publishers explained, quoting one speaker, author Mbate Pedro, “The big challenge for the Commission for the Promotion of Portuguese Language Content (CPCLP) is book circulation. Books from the outskirts of the town don’t get to the downtown area, and those from the downtown area don’t get the outskirts of the town."
A familiar story, right? The challenges of the emerging markets are not that different from one continent to the next. Infrastructure and distribution problems, exacerbated by the high costs of paper and printing, mean books are not an easy product to sell, even in our own country, let alone in foreign markets.

Yet there are 250 million Portuguese speakers in the world. Mozambique authors and publishers using the legacy language could be finding new audiences not just in other Portuguese-speaking African nations but also around the world. Not least in Brazil and, of course, Portugal.

Yes, the geographical boundaries are formidable, but nowhere near as a formidable when we consider our digital options. The Portuguese -speaking nations have a combined online population of around 175 million.

Portuguese-language publishers in Africa can reach the Brazil and Portugal book markets with a click of a mouse, and with some thoughtful use of social media could build a lucrative audience.

And of course the same goes for Portuguese-language titles translated into other languages.

Digital provides a simple to use and inexpensive to participate in route to a lucrative global export market. And while this newsletter is not intended as a StreetLib promotional tool it would be remiss of me not to point out that global digital distribution is at the heart of what we do, and we do have dedicated publishing portals for every country in Africa.

We are also committed to building a Pan-African retail and digital library network to make sure that, in the next decade, books can flow between African countries as easily as they can now flow between continents.

People aren't just reading books on their smartphones. They are writing books on them too


Smartphones are not publishing's enemy. And they could be publishing's best friends.

“How To Write A Book On Your Phone & Get 1 Billion Readers & A Movie Deal” - that was the headline recently over at Refinery29.

The report by Elena Nicolaou took a look at the Wattpad sensation Anna Todd, who in 2015, aged 23, wrote an entire book on her iPhone.

Yes, while many African and global publishing stakeholders are decrying smartphones as harbingers of doom, leading young people away from literature, the reality is that not only are millions reading on their smartphones but they are also writing on them.

Todd began writing chapters on her iPhone “during life’s ‘in-between’ moments — grocery store lines, the lull before her son’s soccer game started” and uploaded them to the free-reading smartphone-based platform Wattpad.

Nicolaou’s report goes on, “The Wattpad version accumulated over a billion views, and the eventual Simon & Schuster print version sold millions of copies. Earlier this year, After’s tumultuous love affair finally hit theaters (and) opened at number one in 17 countries and is the top-grossing indie movie of 2019 to date. A sequel has been announced.

In 2019 Wattpad is attracting 70 million users a month, pretty much every one via a smartphone.

Read the OP to find more success stories from Wattpad. Here I’ll end with this final quote from Nicolaou’s piece:

“In comparison, writing a book on Wattpad is incredibly simple — and social. Create an account and hit publish. Like Wattpad’s other 4 million monthly writers, Ronin and Ansell write the books they want to read, and throw them to the popularity gauntlet chapter-by-chapter, without much editing. About half of all Wattpad’s users write directly from phones, and 90% of Wattpad interaction is through the app. There are no gatekeepers to say no, or to use the euphemism “taking a risk” to publish books about underrepresented groups.

There are no numbers for how many African authors and readers are using Wattpad, but safe to assume there are many. That’s authors who could be writing for and being published by African publishers, and that are certainly being read by African readers, even as most African publishers look the other way.

It’s almost 2020. Wake up and smell the coffee. Digital and smartphones are not the enemy of publishing. And with a little forethought they could be our best friends. 

Digital-first publishing goes from strength to strength

Sometimes it can pay to go digital-first and print later

Acquired by the French publisher Hachette in 2017, Bookouture is a digital first publishing house making waves as it continues to enjoy “rapid growth”, often storming the ebook charts and bringing welcome new revenue to Hachette.
Hachette is one of the “Big 5” global trade publishers. so we’re not talking some obscure micropress dabbling with digital because it cannot compete in the traditional publishing arena.
Digital first may seem a bizarre concept in Africa, where many publishers seem to be determined to have nothing to do with new technology, but in fact digital first imprints and digital first and digital–only imprints and publishing houses are everywhere.
The idea is simple. Digital first publishing means avoiding many of the costs of getting a book out there. With zero investment in paper and ink and making deals with bookstores a publisher can launch a book digitally, at home or around the world, and test the markets.
Many books will bring in serious revenue in their own right as ebooks, but of course once the interest is proven the book can then be launched in print to reach the many readers who have not yet embraced ebooks.
It’s a win-win for publishers and for self-publishing authors who can get books in front of a global audience with next to no capital outlay.

Still not convinced?

At the start of July HarperCollins launched a new digital-first division, One More Chapter, to combine the existing HarperImpulse, Killer Reads and Avon digital-first divisions.

For HarperCollins, another Big 5 global trade publisher, Kimberley Young said the digital imprint had a "rapidly expanding the team", adding, “With the digital market in constant change, uniting our current imprints under one brand and one division means we will take the very best of what we offer – market leading digital knowledge with the commercial expertise of a big brand publisher – and make it even better. Being at the heart of HarperCollins, One More Chapter will bring our authors closer to their readers than ever.”

The imprint’s Editorial Director Charlotte Ledger said, “The last five years of digital publishing have been exciting and fast moving; HarperCollins have always been at the forefront of that change and we will continue to be. One More Chapter is a huge part of our strategic growth plans and I truly believe our successes in the past have come from our incredibly talented and passionate author base. This new global platform will enhance their creativity and storytelling on a new scale.”

Digital first helps publishers explore new and emerging markets, and you can be sure the Big 5 players are watching the emerging African book market, along with the wider global book market, with keen interest.

I’ll end here by noting that, at StreetLib we are committed to creating a truly engaged, truly inclusive global book market. We are talking with and working with publishers on and beyond the continent, and offer a uniquely global and rapidly expanding digital distribution network that can help publishers, wherever they are, reach a global audience.

Africa's book export market is the entire world, not just the US. A look at a new Egypt-China initiative

Translations needn't be just into English and French

There’s wonderful site called ArabLit, run by M. Lynx Qualey, that as the title might suggest covers Arabic Literature, including, of course, North Africa.

The site recently ran a post asking, “Can you translate an entire novel from Chinese to Arabic in the next three months?”

The report went on,

"Egypt’s National Center for Translation (NCT) and the Chinese Culture Center in Cairo announced last week that they were expecting a number of emerging translators — at least ten — to do just that with Shi Yifeng‘s novel, The Disappearance of a Girl Named Chen Jianfang. Yifeng, born in Beijing in 1979, is a prolific writer and works as an editor at Dangdai magazine. 

Read more over at the OP here.

The mention on this newsletter, of course, is not to promote the competition but as a reminder that the global book market is just that – global.

Many Africa publishers if they think about the markets beyond their own borders, look to the USA and UK, and and perhaps France, but the African legacy languages - English, French, Portuguese and Arabic – themselves open up an exciting market opportunity beyond the continent, and translations into other languages make the global book markets an even more exciting prospect.

And that's before we even think about translations of African indigenous language titles into other indigenous languages.

As explored in previous items, digital makes reaching these new markets an easy and inexpensive option, but of course a hybrid print and digital approach can bring even more rewards.

China's rural digital reading revolution shows Africa the possibilities ahead

Chinese farmers love their digital books

A report from the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication earlier this month revealed 68.2 percent of China’s rural farmers are reading digitally, thanks to the availability of digital books across the country.

From 2007 to 2018, China built 587,000 "rural libraries" to bridge the information gap between rural and urban residents, with more than 1.1 billion books in the network.

But – and here publishers insisting smartphones are the devil’s spawn may want to look away – a survey in east China's Jiangsu Province shows mobile phones have surpassed TVs as the main information source and entertainment carrier for farmers.

While many African publishers are insisting “it’s print or nothing”, in the full knowledge that print simply cannot reach vast tracts of the continent so nothing it will be, China’s publishers and libraries take a more holistic, forward-looking approach.

Xinhuanet reported,

In recent years, some provinces have focused on digitizing rural libraries, using means such as mobile applications and online libraries. For example, central China's Henan Province has provided 100,000 digital books, 2,000 audiobooks, 3,000 periodicals and 500,000 minute-video resources.

Statistics show 125,000 rural libraries have been digitized, accounting for 21 percent of all rural libraries in China.”

With 829 million people online it’s no surprise China’s government and publishers are taking digital reading seriously.

But here’s a thought – by 2030 Africa is likely to hit 800 million internet users too. Maybe sooner. We’re already at 525 million, remember.

And yes, sure, China has 1.4 billion people. But here’s a follow-up thought to end this item on:

Africa has 1.32 billion people, is just behind India (1.36 billion) and will likely surpass both India and China early in the next decade.

The global book market is not just bigger than you think. It's getting bigger by the day.

Brazil's BIG offers big lessons for African publishers

Africa is sitting on a goldmine of untapped content

Brazil’s BIG Festival happened at end June.
That will be the São Paulo BIG Festival, the biggest independent games festival in Latin America?
Games? What’s that got to do with publishing, you may be asking. Isn’t this another distraction from the pleasures of reading?

Well, as reported over at TNPS, £participating Brazilian publishers, led by Brazil’s international trade promotion project Brazilian Publishers, enjoyed a holistic overview of how book publishing is part of a much wider infotainment industry (looking at) the intersectoral opportunities books and games bring to the table.”

In a discussion titled “Transmedia Content: New Paths for Books”, speakers from video, games, audio and other media looked at how the publishing industry intersects and can draw value from a holistic overview and engagement, and of course digital was at the centre of the debate.

From the TNPS post:
Guilherme (for Brazilian Publishers) explained how content related to Brazilian Folklore had high demand and low supply, and he also addressed the challenges involved in it. “Meeting the needs of all digital platforms in a customized way is a hard work, but it pays off regarding audience.

Ubook’s Viviane Maurey talked about a current challenge: to show to the publishing market how a book service subscription is more appealing to readers today. The reason is simple: the sale of individual books is no longer as popular as it used to be. She also explained that a differential of such transmedia system is to be able to provide readers with a 360-degree experience: “A person has the option of starting by listening to the audiobook then finishing the same title by reading the e-book; we give readers alternatives, different media that provide different experiences, what is very rich.”

For Fernanda Dantas, the event was a great opportunity to promote the creative economy among sectors and to consolidate the Brazilian industry overseas:

“In BIG we could show that the publishing market is more involved with other areas than we usually think. It is important to us seeing such fusion of sectors, so that we can foster the Brazilian economy even more”.

Sentiments, of course, that apply every bit as much to Africa as to Brazil.

Africa has an incredibly rich, diverse and exciting culture, and as we see with the success of African authors abroad, and as we see with the interest in Africa thanks to films like Black Panther, or animated films like Kumba, this is an untapped goldmine that African publishers should look to exploit.

From TNPS:

In the mature markets the relationship between books and other media is at least well understood, if still under-explored and under-exploited.

But in many emerging markets a more holistic approach to publishing, stepping back to see the intersectoral opportunities rather than obsessively focusing on ink & paper and complaining people are reading less, could help rapidly expand not just publishers’ revenue streams and catalogues, but also their relevance to society.”

Let’s make the 2020s the decade African publishing becomes not just a global player, but a global powerhouse.

Netflix lost some US subscribers this quarter, but it's still a beacon for African publishers

We close with a look at Africa's digital potential, courtesy of Netflix

Netflix hit some turbulence this month as it emerged 123,000 US subscribers had jumped ship when the company pushed its prices too high.

Some publishers may think that's cause for rejoicing. It's a common theme on the publishing circuit that Netflix and other video streaming services are drawing consumers away from books. I'll address that nonsensical idea another time.

Here to take a quick look at the global reach Netflix has.

Netflix began life in 1997 selling and renting film on DVD. That quickly became just rental, followed a decade later by streaming, and then content creation.

Today Netflix streams video to all but four countries in the world.

The lesson here is simple. If Netflix, with all the heavy duty demands of internet connections able to handle streamed video, can reach all these countries, then how much easier for publishing which is delivering lightweight (in bandwidth terms) books and audio?

And best of all? While Netflix is four countries short of a world picnic, publishers with a hybrid print and digital model can reach the entire world.

That's the digital advantage.

Further reading

It's the end of this newsletter, but here's some essential reading to keep you up to speed with African publishing until next time.

1. The best books by African writers in 2019 so far...  Well, that’s the claim of African Arguments, which asserts,

“From evocative prose to moving memoirs and hilarious satire, we bring you some of Africa’s best reads from the first half of 2019.”

From Angola to Zambia, there are some great choices here. These are the titles and authors. Go to the OP for further details.

Manchester Happened – by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

The Blessed Girl – by Angela Makholwa

Thirteen Months of Sunrise – by Rania Mamoun

House of Stone – by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

My Sister the Serial Killer – by Onyinkan Braithwaite

The Old Drift – by Namwali Serpell

Transparent City – by Ondjaki

The Dragonfly Sea – by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Travellers – by Helon Habila

German Calendar, No December – by Sylvia Ofili

Be(com)ing Nigerian – by Elnathan John

A Strangers Pose – by Emmanuel Iduma

The Wife’s Tale – by Aida Edemariam

New Daughters of Africa – edited by Margaret Busby 

2. Three African authors, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Bernardine Evaristo, Chigozie Obioma, make the Booker Prize 2019 longlist.

The James Murua Literature Blog has the details here.

3. Staying with James Murua and details are out for the 2019 Mogadishu Book fair in Somalia.

4. The Nigerian Copyright Commission is clamping down on copyright offences.
Read more over at Nigeria’s The Guardian.


5. In the USA, OverDrive’s digital Sora app continues to keep kids reading.

Check out this post titled, 4 reasons why Sora helps public libraries and schools work better together 

6. And finally a heart-warming story of Morocco’s donation of books to the Mosul University Library in Iraq, that had been destroyed by Islamic extremists.

The next Publish Africa newsletter will be hitting your inboxes August 8.
 Thanks for stopping by.

Publish Africa is a bi-weekly review of the Pan-African publishing scene across all formats, but with an unashamed tilt towards the digital opportunity unfolding.

Copyright © 2019 StreetLib, All rights reserved.

Publish Africa is brought to you by Mark Williams


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