South African college clocks 595% increase in digital library book checkouts in one month
OverDrive's Sora app for school libraries saw 5.5 million checkouts worldwide
With the introduction of Sora early last school year, St. John’s College in Houghton, South Africa, saw dramatic increases in checkouts — 595% in just one month. The following month saw an additional 111%.
This is a remarkable story that blows apart the faux narratives that smartphones are destroying the reading habit and that kids don’t read digitally.
Yes, of course kids love printed books, and long may they continue, but printed books have production and distribution costs as well as practical issues of accessibility (everything from fixed font sizes to weight) that digital can set aside.
And perhaps most importantly, as this report from OverDrive demonstrates, given the choice of quality digital children’s titles on their smartphones kids will eschew the pleasures of video, games and social media to read.
Here’s the numbers from OverDrive:
o 5.5M total Sora checkouts
o More than 600,000 users worldwide- and growing
o More than half of school checkouts from OverDrive were made in Sora, after just one school year
o As of April 2019, Sora users were spending almost twice as much time reading per month as they were in September 2018
New features on Sora include:
o Offline reading in the browser
o Deep linking to specific titles and curated collections
o Sora Activity to track student reading growth
Combining with the OverDrive Summer Reads programme to keep kids glued to books on their smartphones during the school holiday (TNPS post here), Sora has had spectacular results and testimonials.
This from Sarah Sansbury, Media and Educational Technology Instructor at Fulton County Schools in the state of Georgia, USA:
“After the adoption of Sora, our ebook circulation has exploded. My students love Sora. Its badges that create gamification with reading, its user-friendly interface and its overall eye-catching, colorful design — all are features that make reading online accessible and fun for my students. Additionally, when students request a particular title for our media center collection, I ask if they would prefer paper (which will take a week to receive and process) or an ebook (which they can get by the end of the day or by the next morning); many will enthusiastically chose a Sora ebook.
My teachers love Sora’s book assignment feature. When a visually impaired student needs an ebook copy (in which text and graphics can easily be enlarged), with a few clicks, the book is reserved for that student.
When students quickly finish the first book in a series and are wanting to read the second book, but there aren’t enough available in the classroom library, again, within a day, I am able to order and reserve books for students.
Overall, because of Sora, our students are reading more than ever!”
OverDrive reports that Oregon’s Bend-La Pine Schools trained ALL of the teachers in their district in Sora in the autumn. When comparing year over year, month over month, checkouts have increased. For example, in September 2018 students read 24% more books over September 2017, and in October 2018 26% over October 2017. From 2017 to 2018, they have seen an almost 30% increase in checkouts.
Or there’s the South Portland School Department in Massachusetts that saw a 200% increase after introducing Sora in September.
As yet OverDrive has only a limited presence across Africa, but what we see here is the potential digital can bring to African publishing across the continent, whether through OverDrive’s expansion on the continent or through other operatives.
But it all starts with a willingness to move beyond the paper-and-ink only model of the last century and embracing a hybrid print & digital model that gets publishers the best of both worlds.
That’s happening already across Africa of course, but slowly. If African publishing is to become a global force it needs to fully embrace the reality that, in Africa and around the world, consumers expect to have digital options. If African publishers cannot deliver, then these consumers will increasingly turn to publishers who are willing to meet their needs and desires.
And here’s the thing. Translation costs aside it’s just as easy for a publisher in Europe, the USA, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam or Papua New Guinea to launch and sell digital books in the African markets as it is for domestic players in Algeria, Mozambique, Benin or Malawi.
More and more publishers from outside Africa are doing just that, taking full advantage of the fact that, with digital, nearly all the classic obstacles to entering the market - of physical distribution and retail - still exist for print but no longer exist for digital.
Let me end this post with a reminder of some numbers.
All told there are over 492 million people online across Africa, and globally our potential audience is 4.3 billion. In all cases that’s growing fast. Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt all have more internet users than Spain. South Africa has more internet users than Canada. Nigeria is the seventh largest country on the planet by internet users, with more people online than any country in Europe.
As we start the third decade of the twenty-first century the question to be asking is not, “is it worth us digitising and developing a hybrid print and digital business?” but rather “how can we hope to remain competitive if we carry on with business model that ignores hundreds of millions of people for whom digital is a part of their daily lives?”
Welcome to issue #5 of Publish Africa – the digital advantage.
Mogadishu International Book Fair
Social media insights
It's a sad irony that , as the former President of Somalia says, "reading is the base for innovation and invention" yet many publishers are determinedly not innovative or inventive when it comes to getting books in front of readers.
Many are decrying social media as the enemy of reading and publishing, yet social media is often the driving force in book discovery and news about publishing events.
StoryWeaver offers 15,000 titles in 200 languages including many indigenous to Africa
Creative Commons Licences help create tomorrow's readers
Part of India’s Pratham Books, StoryWeaver is the largest of a number of open-source platforms dedicated to providing free content in multiple languages, including indigenous languages most publishers have no interest in, aimed at school and pre-school children.
This month StoryWeaver crossed 15,000 titles in over 200 languages, all offered free online.
The stories are invariably short and often the same story translated into numerous languages by volunteers around the globe and made freely available. Artists are encouraged to submit illustrations which can be mix-n-matched by authors to create new stories, and the result is a splendiferous array of creative content that transcends geographical, linguistic and political boundaries.
Taking one example from the stories, Little Painters is an English language Level 1 story that has attracted over 8,000 reads and has been translated into 47 other languages. It’s available in 66 versions including silent read and a read along audio version where the words light up as spoken by the narrator.
It’s a fantastic resource for educators and consumers alike, and of course while the stories can be printed off they are intended to be read (and listened to) on smartphones.
That will have some publishers running for the hills, but this is not just the twenty-first century. We’re months away from the third decade of the twenty-first century, and publishers stubbornly refusing to embrace digital as part of a hybrid print & digital model are not just missing out on new income streams but are inhibiting social development.
While StoryWeaver titles are free (and in fact under Creative Commons licences meaning they can be copied, re-written, translated and even used commercially), and there is much to be said for offering free content online to hook consumers who will go on to buy both print and digital books.
Small children reading and hearing these stories on smartphones will grow up without the anti-tech prejudices many adults carry forward and will treat digital reading as the most natural thing in the world.
See the next item for insights into what StoryWeaver is doing in Africa.
AfLIA working with StoryWeaver to strengthen cultural identity
Hyperlocal digital libraries in mother tongue languages
Nkem Osuigwe, director, Human Capacity Development & Training, AfLIA, wrote a post for StoryWeaver on how, “teams of librarians and communities from different parts of the African continent came together to work towards their goal of creating hyperlocal digital libraries for African children in their mother tongue languages.”
AfLIA (the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions supports the African Union 2063 Agenda’s commitment to building a strong cultural identity for Africans through mother tongue learning.
Explains Osuigwe (my emphasis),
“As children grow up all over Africa, the mother tongue is most largely the first language for communication and understanding of concepts. If they read books in local languages they will be familiar with many concepts in the language they are familiar with. This makes it easier when they encounter such or similar concepts in the official language either in schools or when they study independently. Most importantly, when children are given books written in their mother tongue, it assists in creating the perception of reading as a normal process because it is in a language that they speak and understand in everyday interactions. This has great potential of building strong reading culture across Africa."
All very well, you might say, but the costs of printing small numbers of books in local languages is prohibitive, and many that most need this content will never be able to access it because of costs or local availability issues."
Osuigwe has the answer to hand. Well, sort of. Digital.
“The high availability of smartphones and the growing internet penetration in Africa has made it imperative for African libraries to offer print books as well as ebooks. There are a few online platforms where libraries can easily access and use ebooks for children in local African languages. When I met Pratham Books’ Story Weaver online, I was curious. The creative commons platform has quite a number of colourfully illustrated and easy to understand children’s books that one can read online and store offline for future uses. The books though mainly written by authors from another continent have knowledge that African children need – building relationships, honesty, forgiveness, respect and love for other human beings, stories about nature (flowers, insects, weather/climate, human body, planets and geography) as well as books that promote arts and craft. The stories on the platform that amaze me most are those that have the capacity to build the curiosity of children about science, inventions, calculations and naturally occurring phenomena. The platform also has stories for children written by Africans."
Osuigwe believes actions speak louder than words.
“The StoryWeaver Team and I talked about translating the books into local African languages. It is estimated that Africa has between 1,500-2,000 languages. How do we do it? AfLIA got together a group of Master-Trainers. The training was done online. Network interruptions were much that day and our Team was made up of librarians from Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria listening and watching a StoryWeaver language editor from India share her screen! Practice on what we learned was done individually. There was a hiatus.
"The team from StoryWeaver wrote a nice letter to me after a couple of months and asked that AfLIA applies to be part of Story Weaver’s Freedom To Read 2019 campaign with training thrown in. Building the capacity of African librarians to provide 21st century information services is one of the core thrusts of AfLIA. That was done and we got in! Choosing an indigenous language from Africa was difficult. Also, AfLIA always strives to create a balance between the regions of the continent in whatever it does. However, we needed librarians from the different regions to commit to translate the books. Eventually we settled for Ewe, Fante, Hausa, Igbo, Isixhosa, Kikuyu, Luganda, Swahili and Yoruba languages and dialects. Librarians were trained in batches and individually online. Prompts and slides were also shared to guide the translation.
"The teams are spread across five African Countries – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.
AfLIA has drawn up plans to have a continent-wide reading promotion ‘Read Africa Read’ with the same book titles across the different countries. The translated books will quicken the process as we would be able to choose books from the 100 titles being translated. Individual libraries will use the books for their story hours. A librarian in Kenya National Library Services Millicent Mlanga plans to use the books to bring in the out-of-school children and adults who cannot read in English. She believes that the books will spur this group of people into learning how to read and write. According to her ‘these are new sets of books available with a click…,no budgets, approvals waiting, blah blah as kids thirst for new titles’. Already, the Ghana Library Authority has downloaded a book translated into Ewe in the e-readers in the Library and read it aloud to children on the World Read Aloud Day to children."
The example here, Manutosi Ni Butsuune Butaru, is a Level 2 story in Lumasaaba, a language of Uganda, but the story is already available in 13 other African languages:
Nozibele en die Drie Hare (Afrikaans - L2)
ኖዚቤሌና ሦስቱ ጸጉሮች (Amharic - L2)
Ãlíríkí Ꞌi Ãzíla Drịꞌị̃ bị ́ịNa Kî (Aringati - L2)
Nozibele and the three hairs (English - L2)
UNozibele namanwele amathathu (isiXhosa - L2)
UNozibele nezinwele ezintathu (isiZulu - L2)
Nozibele na Nywele Tatu (Kiswahili - L2)
Nakku N’Enviiri Essatu (Luganda - L2)
Candiru Pi Dri'biifi Na ‘Diyi Be (Lugbarati - L2)
Nanjoosi N’Efiiri Edatu (Lunyole - L2)
Prisca Nende Obushinga Butaru (Oluwanga - L2)
Nozibele Le Qobo Tse Tharo (Sesotho - L2)
Nozibele le meriri e meraro (Setswana - L2)
Says Nkem Osuigwe,
"Presently more than 200 books have been translated across the languages. We are still going on with the translations. French speaking West Africa librarians have asked that they be trained so that they can translate in Fulfude, Jula and Wolof. We are working on that. Some teams are slower than others but we will all certainly get to the goal of having digital libraries of children’s books in African local languages!"
Read the full post from Nkem Osuigwe here.
See examples of the StoryWeaver African Storybook Initiative here.
Botswana's Gaberone Book Festival is coming soon
Thanks to social media plenty of people will hear about it and turn out on the day
No matter how much publishers seek to blame social media for perceived low levels of reading, the reality is social media drives discovery and awareness of books and book fairs and festivals.
Some book fairs understand that.
Follow the Gaberone Book Festival on twitter: @GabsBookFest.
The event runs September 19-21.
From the Gaberone Book Festival website:
"Our main mission is to encourage and inspire people of all ages in Gaborone and beyond to read and share the transformative power of reading. Reading is an essential life skills needed at any point in one's life.
As such, we would like to create sustainable platforms that will bring together readers, authors, publishers and thinkers together. At the moment none of these platforms exists especially book nights or a book festival in Gaborone.
To address this sad reality, we have set in motion active plans to close this gap and curating the necessary literary platforms to celebrate, expose and help create demand for Botswana authors literary works."
South African Book Fair makes reading fun
Other book fairs might want to take notes
The 2019 South African Book Fair is also looming, and while some book fairs try to be as boring as possible, South Africa takes things a little less seriously, and, in the words of the Sunday Times, puts the fun back into reading, with an event that is,
“jam-packed with activities that combine fun with a deeply enriching experience, making it the perfect day out for families.”
Running September 6 to 8 in Johannesburg, the report tells us,
“experts in learning and teaching materials will be on hand to share their insights with parents, guardians and children on what books to read for learning and fun.
Among the many family highlights is Stories of Africa, a multi-lingual storytelling by activist and poet Gcina Mhlophe, whose traditional tales of Africa deepen our understanding of history and encourage children to read.
Also not to be missed is the acclaimed Dance of the Dung Beetles, which sees scientist Marcus Byrne and writer Helen Lunn bring to life the mysterious lives of the creatures through 3,000 years of history and mythology.”
And that’s not all.
“Free performances take place in the National Book Week Magic Tent. From toddlers to grandparents, all are welcome to join in a celebration of the affirmative power of books and reading that includes:
- An appearance by The Gruffalo and a multilingual reading of Julia Donaldson’s engaging story.
- Illustrator Toby Newsome entertaining the young ones with Gogo’s List, the acclaimed Ghanaian children’s book.
- isiZulu storyteller Zanele Ndlovu bringing ancient tales to life through uMakhwenyana accompanied by the strings of her indigenous musical instruments.
- Yes Yanga! coming to life through a spirited sharing by the much-adored Refiloe Moahloli of her latest children's book, in English, isiXhosa and isiZulu.
- Appearances by Funda Bala, our delightful National Book Week reading promotion mascot.
With plenty to eat and drink, easily accessible parking, public transport and more than 100 authors, poets, storytellers, creators and expert facilitators, the three-day event is not to be missed.
Is it any wonder that South Africa’s book market is a different world from most of Africa?
And in case you’re wondering how people will find out about the event, the SABF team understand the power of social media. Check out the South Africa Book Fair on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for fine examples of social media being used to build interest in books and book events, and visit the SABF website here.
The invisible and untapped global digital-first readership many publishers are oblivious to
Wattpad now has 80 million users each month
Several industry reports this past week carried the Wattpad press release announcing the Canadian company has added ten million new users this year, a 23% expansion taking its total user base to 80 million people spending 22 billion minutes each month on the site.
From the press release:
Wattpad, the global multi-platform entertainment company for original stories, today announced that the platform has surpassed 80 million monthly users – a 23 percent increase from 2018. The milestone is the latest in a year of incredible international growth for Wattpad, which includes the launch of Wattpad Books, the company’s first direct publishing division, multiple new deals with international studios and entertainment brands, and global rollouts for the company’s latest monetization initiatives, Wattpad Premium and Wattpad Paid Stories.
Before we move on to the bigger picture, a few more details from Wattpad to really flesh out this achievement:
Other highlights from the past year of expansion and unprecedented growth at Wattpad, include:
Plenty more details over at Wattpad HQ.
- Entertainment partnerships and development projects with eight major international studios and entertainment brands to bring Wattpad stories to screens around the world. This includes Mediaset in Italy, NL Film in the Netherlands, Lagardere Studios in France, Mediacorp in Singapore, the CBC in Canada, Huayi Bros in Korea, iflix in Indonesia, and Sony Pictures TV in the US. These deals joined Wattpad’s existing partnerships with eOne, SYFY, Bavaria Fiction, and AwesomenessTV.
- The launch of Wattpad Books, the company’s first direct publishing division that will bring Wattpad stories to bookshelves everywhere. Wattpad Books and Penguin Random House UK also announced a collaboration to bring Wattpad Books to readers in the UK.
- The launch of Bliss Books, a new YA publishing imprint in the Philippines. The imprint is the result of a partnership between Wattpad and Anvil Publishing.
- A major rebrand to showcase how Wattpad has grown into the most diverse community of storytellers on the planet.
- A new strategic partnership with India’s Times Bridge, the global investments and partnerships arm of The Times Group, to grow Wattpad’s presence in India and reach new users. Wattpad also hired its first Country Manager for India.
- The global rollout of Wattpad Paid Stories, the company’s exclusive paid content program, which allows users to directly reward writers by purchasing stories on Wattpad
- The global rollout of Wattpad Premium – Wattpad’s ad-free subscription tier which offers readers an uninterrupted reading experience
- The theatrical premiere of After, based on the best-selling novel and international Wattpad hit with a billion reads on the platform. The film opened at number one in 17 countries, is the top-grossing independent film of 2019. A sequel is currently in production.
- Light as a Feather, which Wattpad produces with AwesomenessTV and Grammnet, was greenlit for a second season, now streaming on Hulu. The story originated on Wattpad from writer Zoe Aarsen.
But let’s tackle the real story here, which is that Wattpad is not some decades old mainstream publishing operation owned by a big multinational corporation, nor a tech giant with revenue streams from other sectors to fund its publishing endeavours.
Wattpad is a digital-first mobile phone app targetting mostly readers not yet old enough to own a credit card, drawing an audience from parts of the world where conventional wisdom has it nobody reads.
And by doing so Wattpad is proof that a huge volume of digital reading (and writing) is happening in the dark digital shadows of the global publishing industry we all know, untracked by Nielsen and all the other industry stats-counters we rely on to tell us the health of global publishing and what people around the world are reading.
Even in the USA, which makes up the greater proportion of Wattpad’s global engagement, these numbers are not counted or considered when talking about the US publishing industry. These readers and writers may as well not exist so far as all but a handful of key publishing operatives are concerned.
To be clear these are not just the readers and authors we all know about but that the industry would prefer not to talk about and acknowledge only in hushed tones, like the self-publishing sector, where every month untold millions of dollars and reading hours are funneled away from mainstream publishing, largely through Amazon.
In this case these are readers and authors (some from the established self-publishing sector) that swim in an uncharted ocean, occasionally surfacing to be snapped up by a big trade publisher or film mogul or TV company, but mostly silent and unnoticed – except by millions upon millions of eager readers for whom Wattpad, not Amazon or Barnes & Noble, is their first stop for reading entertainment.
Among the many glories of Wattpad is that it is, political blockades excepted, accessible anywhere in the world, and that it is smartphone friendly in a way few other sites can match.
While there are dinosaurs like me out there that access Wattpad via a laptop, for pretty much everyone else Wattpad is a smartphone extension. So much so that some of the biggest Wattpad successes, like Anna Todd’s After, were originally actually typed out and loaded to Wattpad via a smartphone.
The problem for publishers around the world, though, is that many see smartphones as the enemy of reading, and are thus oblivious to the ever-growing digital-first generation of mobile-users.
That is, digital-first mobile users for whom reading a book on their phone is not a novelty but every bit as natural as, for those of us who have been around the block a few too many times, picking up a paper & ink book.
Perhaps more importantly now, in terms of the next decade, these next generation digital-first consumers are often
For these readers and authors, globally accessible user-friendly and smartphone-reliable Wattpad is by far the biggest but very far from the only alternative that tens of millions of people each month choose to sate their desire for digital content.
- in countries where printed books are unaffordable, or the choice too limited to be of interest
- in countries where regular ebook stores, if they exist at all, have even fewer titles available
- in countries where the aforementioned inaccessibility of desirable reading content means there is a culture of not reading or only reading to pass the test
There are many, many others that do not have Wattpad’s stature, numbers or newsworthiness but still account for many millions of global digital-reading consumers all but invisible to the mainstream global publishing industry.
As we say goodbye to the 2010s publisher more than ever need to be alert to the opportunities digital brings to reach vast new audiences that even ten years ago were simply not conceivable, let alone actionable.
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.
"For years, book lovers in Nigeria have always found it difficult to access latest books, we’ve had to stick with really old bookshops that do not stock popular fiction or even African fiction.
1. Online Stores to buy and sell books in Nigeria
But of late, there has been a steady increase in the number of online bookstores that have a lot of books that you’ll actually be interested in. we have highlighted some of the best to choose from."
Head over to Dignited to find out what they are.
2. This is the fourth of four posts looking back at the disappointing Zimbabwe International Book Fair.
Read the full fourth post here and find links to the first three for a full overview.
3. Finally, is Africa poised for serious e-commerce growth. Many think so. Anbd of course books will be a big part of that.
Read more here.
The next Publish Africa newsletter will be hitting your inboxes September 5.
Thanks for stopping by.