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Publish Africa #9 - June 28, 2020

Welcome to Publish Africa # 9

Back to a semblance of new normal


After the last bumper edition of Publish Africa to catch up on the quiet period during the early days of the pandemic, we're back into some semblance of a schedule now, and this issue brings you the latest news items from across the continent as well as some international stories that have ramifications for Africa's authors and publishers.

We open this issue with news that IPA Vice President Bodour Al Qasimi and APNET Chair Samuel Kolawole will be in conversation on YouTube on June 29 talking about the impact of Covid-19 on the continent's publishing scene.

That's followed by news about an IPA-Dubai Cares project to find remote learning solutions for Africa, which will need the close involvement of the continent's publishers.

We take a look at the Arabic audiobook subscription service Kitab Sawti, which saw a big boost in demand during the regional lockdowns. No reason to think that wasn't repeated across the other competing services in this field, and hopefully by the next issue of Publish Africa I'll have further news about how audio subscription is doing in the Arab markets and we'll also take a closer look at audiobooks in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the USA the digital audio market is now worth $1.1 billion and still growing, and that's one of our international stories today here in Publish Africa

And staying with international audiobooks we take a look at the exciting audiobook market in China and how Artificial Intelligence is being used to narrate audiobooks.

Other international perspectives include an extensive report from the US-based distributor PublishDrive, which looks at how global demand for English-language titles has grown during the pandemic; a look at Bookbeat's new data tool for publishers; and in Poland a video game has become part of the national school reading list.  

Closer to home, our Africa stories include Google's Loon project, about to launch in Mozambique.

We take a look at indigenous language teaching challenges in Uganda, the Korouma Awards in Cote d'Ivoire, news from Egypt where the Egyptian Publishers association i seeking government support, a new radio learning initiative in Ghana, and some top tips on how Africa's publishers can maximise the benefits of social media.

And we round off this edition with a look at how Netflix is to add 44 Arab movies to its video catalogue at a time when Saudi Arabia has just reported 4 million visitors to its recently opened cinemas, and that ties in with news that netg#flix Nigeria is adapting African literature for its global TV streaming network.

Just to add here that if Africa's publishers and other publishing stakeholders want to see their news included in the Publish Africa newsletters, or if you see an Africa publishing story you think would make a good item for Publish Africa or TNPS, be sure to add us to your press release mailing list or email me direct: 

Mark Williams -

African Publishing During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Bodour Al Qasimi and Samuel Kolawole on YouTube Monday June 29


1 PM CEST is the time. Monday June 29 the date. YouTube the place. Bodour Al Qasimi, Vice President of the International Publishers Association, and Samuel Kolawole, Chair of the African Publishers Network will be in conversation.

Insights into the state of African publishing and the Africa book market as a pandemic rages, from two legends on the international publishing circuit. More information here.

Expect an overview on the next edition of Publish Africa if you can't get to see it on YouTube.

IPA and Dubai Cares invites proposals for projects to digitise Africa’s education infrastructure

Pandemic and post-pandemic solutions wanted


The International Publishers Association ( IPA) is offering grants (funded by the UAE-based Dubai Cares operation Africa Publishing Innovation Fund (APIF) to projects which offer the promise of transforming remote-learning opportunities across the continent.

With much of the continent – and the world – under lockdown, with schools and colleges closed, the education of kids and teens has been hit particularly hard across Africa where, with few exceptions, the education sectors have little or no digitisation of teaching and the availability of teaching materials is sparse as publishers have been slow to embrace the digital advantage.

So this is a problem that involves but is not exclusively the domain of publishers. Little point providing digital materials for use in and outside of schools when there is no digital infrastructure to get that material in front of students in a meaningful way.

The exceptions – eKitabu in Kenya for example – are well ahead of the game and eKitabu leads the continent in digital learning provision. Whether eKitabu will pitch for APIF funding to develop its programme at a pan-African level remains to be seen, but the continent certainly needs more initiatives like this. 

Per the IPA-APIF project website, Africa-based entrepreneurs and innovators are invited to pitch an outline idea and if the idea excites the board then the pitchers will be invited to make a full proposal.

The winners will be chosen by the IPA Africa Publishing Innovation Committee, led by IPA Vice President Bodour Al Qasimi, with “senior publishing leaders” from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia and South Africa making the final decisions.

It’s worth noting that of those countries all are at national level English-language apart from Tunisia (French/Arabic). Tunisia has long led the way in digital education in North Africa. 

It’s not clear if these countries are solely representative of publisher involvement, or just a sample of a wider list.

The press release. explaining that the APIF is a four-year, USD 800,000 fund provided by Dubai Cares, a UAE-based global philanthropic organization, and administered by the IPA observes:

Distance learning in Africa faces multiple difficulties, notably poor internet coverage in rural areas, cost, and students’ lack of technical means and funds to follow courses. According to UNESCO, 89 percent of learners in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to a computer, 82 percent have no internet access, and around 56 million learners live outside mobile networks. These challenges create a worrying digital and remote learning gap.

Bodour Al Qasimi, said:

The immediate effects of lockdown are clear, but the risks of serious, longer-term harm to education are only beginning to be understood. Covid-19 has taught us that technology can protect people and enable life and learning to continue. But this technology is not accessible to everyone. We are looking for bright minds and clever solutions to overcome these challenges in Africa by bringing learners, teachers and educational materials closer at a safe distance.’

Dubai Cares CEO Tariq Al Gurg added:

The COVID-19 pandemic could be seen as a tipping point to digital transition in the publishing industry in Africa. This global health crisis also represents an opportunity for African publishers to put forward innovative solutions that will help them map strategies to overcome future challenges. We look forward to witnessing a high turnout among entrepreneurs and innovators in Africa along with their unique solutions and ideas in support of the publishing industry.

This new initiative forms the second round of bursaries under the MoU signed in 2019 between the IPA and Dubai Cares.

17th Ahmadou Kourouma Awards shortlist announced

Finalists will be announced at the 2020 Geneva Book Fair


Named for the Ivorian writer Ahmadou Kourouma who disappeared in 2003 the Kourouma Prize has since 2004 awarded francophone fiction authors of sub-Saharan African descent.

Last year, the website notes, the prize of CHF 5,000 went to  David Diop for Brother of Soul, published by Threshold and described as,

a poignant tale that lifts the veil on the too little-known history of the 200,000 African fighters sent on behalf of France to the front of the First World War where approximately 30,000 Senegalese riflemen died in the trenches.

The 2020 ceremony will take place during the Geneva Book Fair that will run in Switzerland October 28 through November 1.

The shortlisted titles and authors are:

•    Ah Sissi, il faut souffrir pour être française !, Jo Güstin
•    Boy Diola, Yancouba Diémé (Flammarion)
•    Des ombres et leurs échos…, Jussy Kiyindou (Présence Africaine)
•    Impossible de rester, Aminata Pagni (Présence Africaine)
•    La vertical du cri, Gaston-Paul Effa (Gallimard, continents noirs)
•    Les jours viennent et passent, Hemley Boum (Gallimard)
•    Les Veilleurs de Sangomar, Fatou Diome (Albin Michel)
•    Méchantes blessures, Abd Al Malik (Plon)
•    Next Level, Thomté Ryam (Au Diable Vauvert)
•    Perdus, Fantah Touré
•    Pourquoi tu danses quand tu marches, Abdourahman A.Waberi (JC Lattès)
•    Rouge impératrice, Léonora Miano (Grasset)
•    Tant d’errances, Mambi Magassouba (Ecrire l’Afrique)
•    Tous tes enfants dispersés, Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse (Autrement)
•    Tchapalo Tang, Fidèle Goulyzia (Editions Captiot)

Computer video game becomes part of Poland’s official school reading list 

Blurring the definition of books and reading


For the purists among us who think that a book isn’t a book unless it was written by hand with a quill pen, printed by hand between two inked rollers, bound with a calfskin cover, with print so small you have to squint to see it, this post is not for you.

For the purists who think an audiobook is not a book because you’re not holding it in your hands inches from your face, maybe you too should give this post amiss.

For the rest, you still might want to be sitting down for this. After all, it’s not every day a national government declares a computer video game is to be part of its national school reading curriculum.

But that’s exactly what has happened in Poland, where the computer game This War of Mine is now part of the school reading list. 


Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, as reported by Notes From Poland, told Polstat News:
Poland will be the first country in the world that puts its own computer game into the education ministry’s reading list.

Young people use games to imagine certain situations [in a way] no worse than reading books.

By incorporating games into the education system, we will expand our imagination and bring something new to the culture.

Grzegorz Miechowski, CEO of 11 Bit Studios, which produces the game, added,

Of course, games are already being used in education for teaching maths, chemistry, and developing cognitive abilities, but I don’t think we’ve ever encountered a game being officially included in the educational system on a national level as a school reading. I’m proud to say 11 bit studios’ work can add to the development of education and culture in our country. This can be a breakthrough moment for all artists creating games all around the world.

This War Of Mine was released in 2014 to widespread acclaim and reports suggest that, unlike most war-themed games, it focuses on the experience of civilians rather than those doing the fighting.

The reading list is aimed at students studying sociology, ethics, philosophy and history, and it should be noted that the definition of school here is also in a gray area. The video is 18-rated and as such only students aged 18 or over will be able to see it, at least on school premises.

Netflix Naija begins its adaptation of Africa's literature

But can publishers rise to the occasion?


When news broke on June 12 that Netflix Nigeria (Netflix Naija) was adapting some classic African literature for streaming television it was very much a watershed moment for the continent, and raised a couple of angles worth exploring here.

Let's start with the easiest one.

The announcement was made, among other places, on twitter, where it is a pinned tweet still. And of course across all social media.

That will be the same social media that many African publishing stakeholders regularly denounce as the enemy of the industry.

Not to get into too much detail, but all too often we see - still - spokesfolk for the continent's publishers complaining that social media and smartphones are tearing the industry apart, because if people are on social media, or even just have a smartphone in their hand, they are not reading.

The argument falls down on so many fronts, but perhaps most of all on this assumption that somehow books and social media are parallel worlds that never can meet.

So take a good look at those 6.3k likes and 3.3k retweets on the above twitter announcement - and this after just five days - note that this is people on social media - just one of many social media options - excited by this news.

As and when the adaptations are complete and are streamed - not just across Nigeria but around the world - millions will probably encounter these authors and their literary works for the first time and many will want to buy the book.

And that begs the question, are Africa's publishers ready to meet this demand?

Because while not for one second wanting to echo that classic faux pas when someone asked "Does Nigeria have bookstores?" we must with all honesty say the bookselling infrastructure in Nigeria and across the continent is far from adequate at the best of times, and publishers might want to think seriously about how not to a) disappoint fans and b) miss out on a lucrative opportunity on the horizon.

Let me offer one example to illustrate the point. This was TNPS as this year began.

Running the headline Someone forgot to tell Witcher fans about “Screen Fatigue” and the “Attention Economy”. Publisher struggles to keep up with “phenomenal” sales across print, ebook and audio, I wrote in TNPS:

This week comes news from Orbit, publisher of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series of translated-from-Polish books, that they’ve been negatively impacted by Netflix screening its adaptation of The Witcher on its streaming service.

Orbit didn’t have enough books printed to meet demand, and has had to dash off an extra half million copies. And that ls quite apart from the ebook and audiobook sales, all of which are said to be “phenomenal.”

Read more over at TNPS.

It's a similar story for pretty much any book that gets adapted for the big or small screen, but what makes it all the more exciting with the digital streaming service Netflix is that Netflix is available in all but four countries in the world, meaning the potential audience is quite phenomenal, and many will be encountering Africa's literature for the first time. 

Making sure these titles are available to meet that demand is some thing the rights-holders need to be thinking about now, and with a focus on digital because across most of Africa and around much of the world accessibility to print books can be challenging, and especially so across Africa where demand is likely to be especially high.

Digital can certainly help there, but even with digital the reality is that there is no book equivalent to Netflix, accessible all around the globe, and unlike Netflix, the book will not be as easily affordable.

Savvy publishers and rights holders have the opportunity to remedy both of these problems with a little forward planning and lateral thinking. Pan-African digital distribution may not be easy, but is possible, and with that in place publishers need to address the reality of territorial pricing.

Make these titles available digitally at locally affordable prices and publishers will encounter a massive new audience of booklovers that will go on to buy other titles by the author and other titles from the publishers' catalogue.

And while I'm addressing here the African titles singled out by Netflix Naija on this occasion, that holds for any title that may be being streamed globally by Netflix or any other service.

Digital video streaming is just one more example of the digital advantage for publishers.

Comic Con Africa 2020 will be online and aims to "break the internet"

Telkom VS Gaming to brings eSports League to the event

Africa’s biggest comics and gaming convention will be held online this year, running September 24-27, and in the words of the website,

Comic Con Africa aims to break the internet, bringing a virtual Con to fans in their own homes.

Comic Con Africa is organised by Reedpop, who totally mishandled the London Book Fair –

and New York Book Expo – 

as the pandemic ripped up the 2020 publishing calendar, but it seems they’ve learned their lesson, and there will be no ifs and buts about Comic Con Africa this year.

Which means the potential to reach a far bigger audience than the in-person event in South Africa could ever hope to match.

Earlier this year the inaugural Comic Con Cape Town was also a casualty of the pandemic.

Carol Weaving, managing director of Reed Exhibitions Africa, said in a press release that the online event would include,

live chats, Q&As, panel discussions, and the opportunity to virtually meet celebs, fan meet-ups, live draws, talks, gaming tournaments and streams, artist panels, Q&As, special exclusive exhibitor deals and more.

But one party to the Comic Con Africa event will have no problem adapting, and in fact Telkom VS Gaming is stepping up its game, partnering with the High School eSports League (HSEL) to bring the VS Gaming HSEL tournament finals to the virtual Comic Con Africa. High Schools are competing.

For Telkom VS Gaming, Wanda Mkhize said:

The pandemic has forced all aspects of the sports fraternity to relook their approach. Luckily for us, nothing much has changed; VS Gaming continued to host its online leagues through this time. With the postponement of Comic Con Africa the VS Gaming flagship Masters tournament will conclude and the revised structure will be shared with our community soon.

Like other comic cons the world over the remit of Comic Con Africa extends far beyond comics, encompassing animation, films and TV, sci-fi and fantasy and much more.

This year’s virtual event means Comic Con Africa can for the first time have pan-African and global reach, and that’s a big opportunity for authors and publishers across Africa and beyond to engage that might otherwise be unable to.

Ouida Books on Instagram Live

Social media is not the enemy of publishers. It's our best friend


Nigeria's Ouida Books stands out for its expertise in using social media. Below is a scene from twitter a few days ago driving traffic to another social media platform, Instagram, where the publisher used Instagram Live to engage with the reading public.

Follow Ouida Books on twitter: @OuidaBooks.

The more time publishers spend building audiences on social media, the more rewarding it becomes.

PublishDrive May 2020 Report

Monthly market insights from US-based aggregator PublishDrive


PublishDrive have issued their latest sales update showing us how the pandemic has impacted their operation. As a global digital books distributor this will be pertinent to publishers everywhere.

The May report by Kinga Jentetics opens:

Since the (Covid-19) outbreak, we’ve experienced a 20% growth rate in March and 23% in April. With the world opening back up, that rate has slightly flattened in May 2020. However, when looking at May 2020 book sales compared to May of last year, book sales have increased by 60% on PublishDrive.

Interestingly, the growth is significantly higher when compared to last year than last month. Another note: in 2019 we recorded a 0.8% growth rate. In 2020, the growth from just April to May was 6%!

PublishDrive adds that based on mid-month indicators they expect 50% YOY growth for June.

On genre impact, PublishDrive tell us:

In May 2020, popular genres included fiction, especially fantasy books, science fiction, thriller, and crime books. Interestingly, romance and erotica saw a slight decrease in April, but made it back to the top in May. Nonfiction self-help titles maintained solid performance as well, especially regarding education, family & relationships, computers, social science, health & fitness, and even body, mind, & spirit.

In May, we saw a shift in consumer behavior with the rise of educational content, sci fi, and thriller book categories.

Publish Africa note: As ever a reminder these are percentage comparisons, not actual sales volumes, so this chart is NOT telling us Music is outselling everything else and Romance is hardly selling at all, just that these are where the most growth was recorded.

With that in mind, the territorial reports from PublishDrive make for interesting reading:

Amazon’s bestselling books were in fantasy, romance, and thriller the most. There was also a significant increase in non-fiction like body, mind & spirit. Amazon’s traditional markets like the UK and US experienced growth. There was notable growth in South Africa, in Asia such as Japan, and in Latin America like Chile.

Publish Africa note: Amazon does not have Kindle stores in South Africa and Chile, so these sales will be happening through the Kindle US store.

Apple saw growth in romance and fantasy, and saw a significant boost in thriller. Non-fiction titles skyrocketed as well, especially business, historical, social science, health & fitness, and family & relationships. Latin America such as Brazil or Chile and Asia such as Japan had growth.

Publish Africa note: Japan and China are the only countries in Asia that have Apple Books availability, but Apple Books is available across much of Latin America.

Barnes & Noble saw growth in romance, thriller, erotica, and fantasy. Actually, most non-fiction genres were popular. (Note: Barnes & Noble only represents stores in the US.)

Bookmate saw growth in romance and erotica. Its non-fiction titles saw growth, like foreign language study and health & fitness. India, Russia, UK, and Latin America like Chile and Mexico saw the most growth in sales.

Dreame focuses on the US and Singapore market. Mystery, thriller, romance, sci fi, and fantasy had remarkable growth.

Google Play Books saw growth mostly in romance, science fiction, foreign language study, health & fitness, and body, mind & spirit. We saw these growth hikes in many countries, particularly: UK, US, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Russia, and South Africa.

With Kobo, we’ve seen an increase in both fiction and nonfiction. Thriller, literary, erotica, health & fitness, self-help, and body, mind & spirit all saw boosts. Most of this growth came from English speaking countries, plus Italy and the Philippines.

Odilo focused on the Spanish library markets, so it’s not surprising that their biggest growth came from Latin America, especially Chile and Colombia. Genres like computers, business, and education were popular.

Scribd did especially well with non-fiction titles like health & fitness, body, mind & spirit, and medical. It’s interesting to see literary fiction or nonfiction genres like poetry and literary criticism growing. Most of the sales came from India, South Africa, Turkey, and Latin American markets like Brazil, Chile and Mexico.

Publish Africa note: Scribd recently launched a dedicated operation in Mexico having picked up $58 million in new funding.



Next PublishDrive shows us how international sales have grown compared to our staple, the US market. Again, these are comparative percentages, not sales volumes.

The US market grew, but international book sales are growing exponentially.

Right now, English-language books are in global demand. Sales from the US grew by 11% in April, then another 4% in May.

When we look at its ratio from the overall sales, it shrunk from 35% in March to 32% in April, then stayed consistent at 31.6% in May. This shows the impact of rapid growth from international markets.

The next chart from PublishDrive shows “the top 20 bestselling countries and their growth rates from April to May 2020, compared to last year in the same period (May 2019).”

The US and UK are the top countries based on sales value, and sales are increasing month by month. Other countries also stand out: New Zealand, Belgium, Netherlands, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Russia, and South Africa. As countries reacted to COVID-19 with different lockdown periods and measurements, we’ve seen new markets for English-language content pop up. 

Publish Africa note: For more on the exciting English-language books market in countries where English is not the first language, refer to our numerous Publish Global and TNPS reports on Big Bad Wolf, which until the pandemic hit was regularly shipping literally million of English language books to countries as unlikely as Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Taiwan and many other places.


With the sub-header “Device-related retailers are seeing spikes in sales,” PublishDrive advise:

Book royalties come from different sources today, not just from selling one copy to a consumer. Typically, these sources can be categorized:

•    Retail: Major outlets that reach global readers with the usual one copy purchase business model. E.g. Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, and Kobo.
•    Subscription services: Usually applications or stores that provide unlimited access to books in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. E.g. Scribd, Bookmate, and Dreame.

   Digital library providers: Book borrowing for not just individuals, but institutions like public libraries, schools, universities, or corporate libraries. E.g. OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Mackin, and Odilo.
•    Regional stores: Outlets that cover a specific region that serves the local community. E.g. Tolino, Chinese stores, Hungarian outlets, and German network.

The next image shows us how different consumer points challenge the notion that Amazon is the only show in town.


As Kinga Jentetics says,

With book sales, many think of selling ONLY on Amazon. Although Amazon is great, there’s an entire mass of readers you can find elsewhere with other stores and business models.

58.48% of PublishDrive’s book sales come from retail (Amazon included). The other 41.52% comes from subscription business models (33.81%), libraries (2.43%), and regional stores (4.9%). Reader experience has shifted in the last couple of years.

Since March 2020, more people have been actively using subscription services. With the flattening period, retail sales growth started to dominate more than subscription or library services (which makes sense).
We’ve also seen trends in ratios according to different business models (see the chart below comparing the data to last year’s). Regional stores grew significantly by 136%, telling us that people looked to local stores for digital books first.



Compared to May 2019, the countries where subscription services seem to be catching up the most are: Australia, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, India, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, and the US. For example, Scribd just ran a promotional campaign where they extended its free trial period allowing more readers to join without any financial restrictions.

Retailers grew by 65% compared to last year and another 4% compared to April’s sales data. This is above the usual trend based on last year’s data. The growth was dominant in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Spain, US, and South Africa.
When looking at the biggest growth numbers behind some of the stores, we found that the biggest winners were stores with mobile/tablet device-related apps or subscription services/libraries focusing on international markets. See the chart below.

Amazon, Google, Bookmate, and Dreame are growing full speed ahead since April, hitting over 25% in May. Also, Barnes & Noble is catching up with its 11% monthly growth rate.

Publish Africa note: Many PublishDrive clients will be going to Nook direct, so we may be missing the full scale of Nook’s come-back. Earlier this month Barnes & Noble’s new CEO James Daunt said Nook was outperforming his expectations and he would be investing in the Nook operation, not shuttering it. Great news! Daunt also said he would re-open the Waterstones ebook store in the UK, but don’t hold your breath for that.


PublishDrive says,

Google is unique in the ebook market as their reading app and store are preinstalled on a large amount of devices worldwide. So whoever has an Android can access different types of books easily with their preinstalled apps. The outstanding growth is understandable during this period with the plethora of device type and usage out there.

Publish Africa note: While the Google Play app comes preinstalled on Android devices worldwide, it should be noted Google Play Books is only accessible in 75 countries/territories, not globally. In Africa, for example, Google Play Video, Music and Games are widely available but Google Play Books is only an option in Egypt and South Africa.

The next image shows the reality of Google Play Books reach, where the light blue areas means a limited service is available.

Read the full report from PublishDrive here.

National Library of South Africa Poetry Slam

Social media is our friend, not our enemy


This isn't an item about the National Library of South Africa Poetry Slam itself, but rather one more reminder of the power of social media.

This from twitter.

Follow the National Library of South Africa on twitter - @NLSA1 - where they already have almost 1,500 followers.

The physical NLSA is closed thanks to the pandemic, but it's kept active not just on twitter, but also on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Egypt govt. to support publishers during pandemic

EPA signs agreement with Min. Culture and GACP


Egypt’s Minister of Culture, Inas Abdel Dayem and Ahmed Awwad, Head of the General Authority for Cultural Palaces, have signed an agreement with Saeed Abdo of the Cairo-based Egyptian Publishers Association (EPA) to provide support for publishers hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Egypt Today reports that the EPA is asking publishers to provide the General Authority for Cultural Palaces’ library administrators with curated lists of titles that a Cultural Palaces committee will select titles from to be available across the country’s public libraries.

With 58,141 coronavirus cases as this post is written, Egypt is the second most infected country in Africa and sadly leads in fatalities, with 2,365 deaths.

This year the pandemic just missed the Cairo International Book Fair, which drew a croiwd of 3. 5 million, making it the biggest literary event in the world.

Sweden: Bookbeat's new data-sharing tool

A watershed moment for subscription publishing?


We’ve long known the attraction of digital subscription books to consumers. But the benefits for publishers have been more challenging to quantify.

By definition, subscription is a counterintuitive notion for publishers, whereby a publisher can sell a single ebook for $10 or a single audiobook for $20 or let consumers read / listen to an unlimited number of ebooks for a token monthly sum, often lower than what a single book would cost.

Discoverability, backlist availability and various other benefits helped win publishers over, but the biggest carrot in the subscription operator larder has until now being at best occasionally dangled in front of publishers.


When a print book is sold it leaves the store and after that is anybody’s guess. Did they read it? Stick it on a shelf, unloved and forgotten? Rip the pages out one by one for toilet paper?

Did they read part of it and give up? Did they devour it in one sitting? Did they make notes on the pages?

With print books publishers can have no idea. With digital books the vendor will know all that and more. But sharing that data with the publishers who could then use that data to improve their operation? No way.

Until now, that is.

Bookbeat Insights is what Bookbeat is calling the tool that, if let loose outside the Nordics, threatens to transform subscription from a sideshow for publishers to a key strategic operation.

The data, after all, is likely to apply just as much to the print version as to the digital version of the title.

As Boktugg notes, the Norway-based subscription service facilitator Beat, headed by Nathan Hull, has long been touting publisher data as a key selling point, and when Denmark’s Gyldendal announced its subscription service it also made the point that date flowing to publishers would be a key attraction.

Boktugg explained:

BookBeat’s collaborative publishers have long been able to track their books’ daily consumption in the “BookBeat for Publishers” portal. Now the portal also launches a customer insight module – “BookBeat Insights”. In it, publishers can initially see their book’s ratings as well as the “finish rate”, a measure that indicates the percentage that completed a book by everyone who started the book. BookBeat also shows the average across different genres for comparison.

“This is part of a long-term initiative with the ambition that BookBeat will become the book industry’s foremost insight engine and answer the question of what people are really reading and listening to digitally,” Bookbeat writes in a press release.

Bookbeat’s Director of Business Development, Jeanette Löfgren, said Insights would be available to Swedish publishers from this month, and would be rolled out across Bookbeat’s international operations in due course.

Bookbeat has no designs on Africa's book markets, but Bookbeat’s bigger rival Storytel is already operating across MENA, based in Dubai. 

A similar data-sharing move by Storytel, or indeed by the other digital books subscription services in the MENA region – Dahd, Booklava, Kitab Sawti – or YouScribe, which is making fast inroads into the continent, could make subscription a lot more appealing to Africa's publishers.

At which point its worth adding that Bookbeat is already operational in Finland, Germany and the UK, and just launching in Denmark.

Denmark has a population of 5.7 million, 5.6 million of whom are online. There are less than 6 million Danish speakers in the world.

Yet Bookbeat competes with Storytel, Nextory, Bookmate and Politken to get a share of the lucrative Danish digital books market.

Africa's publishers should be in no doubt about the potential of digital -  around 20 African countries have bigger online populations than Denmark - some massively more (Nigeria 126 million, Egypt 49 million. Kenya 46 million) - but it needs publishers to be willing to make more content available in order for the infrastructure to be expanded to make Africa's publishers' digital books viable across the region and globally.

Ghanaian writer wins World Environment Day competition

With a 2m 42s video animation of an acrostic poem



Rita Nana Adwoa Arthur's animation of an acrostic poem met the criteria of the World Environment Day compeition to educate, raise awareness and trigger behavioural change towards responsible use of marine and coastal resources

The digital art contest was open to residents of all coastal countries in West Africa - such as Benin, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

GMES and Africa is an Earth Observation programme of the African Union jointly established with the European Union, and designed to strengthen capacities in Africa for the optimal exploitation and utilisation of Earth Observation systems, data and technologies towards the continent’s sustainable development.

Arthur's video animation used the word 'Environment' to serve as,

an awareness piece that speaks to an array of environmental issues such as global warming and also emphasized the need for sustainable solutions such as recycling of plastics to reduce environmental pollution.

The competition, organised by the Regional Marine Centre at the University of Ghana under the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security & Africa (GMES & Africa) project had a total of 34 applications from 22 contestants in the region and was mediated by four judges; two anglophones from Ghana and two francophones from Senegal. 

See the winning video on Youtube.

Queenex Publishers make good use of twitter during lockdown

Social media is a publisher's best friend


Kenya's Queenex Publishers knows a thing or two about making social media work to its advantage.

Colourful image, easy-to-answer contests, and a fun style all come together to make Queenex a publisher worth studying to understand why social media is the industry'e best friend.

Above is how the tweet appears on twitter. Click on the image to see the bigger picture.

And this is the Queenex Publishers twitter profile, meaning anyone who sees the tweet can easily link to the Queenex website.

The Queenex website is bright and easy to navigate, offers lots of Value Added Services (free worksheet downloads, for example) and of curse links to other social media including Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

And of course you can buy books online.

Google Loon balloon-internet for Mozambique

The limits to our audience reach diminish by the day


Last month Google Loon, the project that aims to launch high-altitude balloons carrying internet relay equipment to bounce signals to and from the least accessible parts of the world, signed a deal with telco Vodafone Mozambique to float Loon balloons in the stratosphere 20km above the country.

What it means in effect is a floating network of cellphone towers over Mozambique offering 4G connectivity supporting Data, Voice, SMS and USSD and mobile financial services like M-Pesa.

A press release explained:
Using the Loon solution, Vodacom will expand mobile network access to Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces (of Mozamvbique), two regions that have proven hard to cover in the past due to the vast and logistically challenging geographical areas, together with low population density.
The service will be available to any Vodacom subscriber with a standard 4G-VoLTE enabled handset and SIM card. Users will not need to do anything special to connect to the service; they will connect just as they would to a normal cell tower.

Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub said:
Vodacom’s partnership with Loon is a perfect example of how technological innovation can connect the most rural communities in Africa. We are pleased to be part of this initiative in Mozambique, which is helping to bridge the digital divide. This is even more pertinent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, where more Mozambicans will now have access to healthcare information through our Loon partnership. We look forward to forging similar partnerships and projects across the continent, as we ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to accessing the global digital economy.
For Loon, CEO Alastair Westgarth said:
We’re extremely pleased to be partnering with Vodacom, one of Africa’s largest mobile network operators, to begin serving parts of Mozambique in the coming months. Vodacom has a big footprint in Southern Africa, and provides service to tens of millions of people across multiple countries every single day. We view this as the first step to a larger partnership that will allow us to serve more of those users throughout Africa.
The press release adds:
In the coming months, Loon and Vodacom will work together to continue installing terrestrial infrastructure, which will serve as the physical connection point for Loon’s balloons to Vodacom’s internet and core network. Loon will also begin flying balloons above Mozambique to learn the stratospheric wind patterns on which the balloons must navigate to remain above the service area. Network integration testing is ongoing in order to ensure that this innovative solution works as intended. Loon and Vodacom expect to begin providing service to users in the coming months. 

The balloons are launched from the USA and then navigated around the world to take up position as needed.
Check out this and this video on YouTube for a better idea of how it works.

While there are no instant rewards here for publishers, the long-term prospects are exciting, as every mobile device connected to the internet is a potential recipient of digital books, always assuming any publishers have bothered to make them available.
As a Portuguese-speaking nation Mozambique is a potential audience for both domestic and international publishers. Not least those in or targeting the Portuguese-speaking markets of Brazil and Portugal.
Mozambique’s 31 million population may be at only 21% internet penetration, but that’s still 6 million people – more than Denmark, Finland or New Zealand, all of which have vibrant digital book economies.
And across Africa, 2020 began with a total of 526 million people online.
That’s more people online in Africa than in the USA (312 million).
Or North America (345 million).
 Or South America (307 million).
Or the EU (397 million).
Whether you’re on the continent or outside it, Africa is too massive and exciting a potential digital book market to be ignoring or treating as an afterthought.

Uganda fails on its mother tongue teaching policy

Great idea, but no teacher training to back it up


When Uganda introduced a mother-tongue teaching programme back in 2008 it all seemed so simple. Most Ugandan children speak English as a second language they only hear at school, and that can make learning any other subject a challenge. So why not teach all subjects in the child's mother tongue?

Only, if you don't give teachers the training they need, there's every chance it will make things worse, not better. Teachers, after all, were taught to teach in English and while they may be fluent in a given local language that still means they have to translate as they go, because they have not been trained, or provided adequate work materials, in the indigenous languages the children use.

MENAFN reports,

This limited training affected the teaching of the learners' mother tongue and ultimately, the level of literacy acquisition, which is both slow and poor. For instance in 2016, Uwezo, an East African organisation that reviews learners' progress, found that pupils in Grade 3 and 7 had a competence rate of 25% when assessed in reading English and numeracy.

National exam data from 2017 where children in Grades 1 to 3 were assessed in English and local languages in government schools, showed that only 27% of the pupils could identify 4 out of 5 Acoli letters. Acoli is the dominant language spoken in Gulu and the language taught as the mother tongue and used as the language of teaching and learning.

Another international study used the Early Grade Reading Assessment tool to assess learners in northern Uganda. The results were even more discouraging. Between 90% and 91% of the learners in the north did not understand what they read in their mother tongues

Some teachers in our study said they preferred teaching in English because that's how they were taught. They argued that they didn't see much value in teaching the mother tongue while learners will be sitting English exams at the end of primary schooling.

It's a similar story across many countries in Africa. While some countries have made good progress in ensuring provision of adequate local-language teaching aids and teacher training, for most, like in Uganda, it was a great idea thrown out there with little support or follow-through.

Other challenges included the reality that many children begin primary level education with no prior educational support, meaning primary teachers are having to start from basics teaching the alphabet.

Children in rural areas face walks of up to 5km to get to school, leaving them too tired to learn efficiently, while this report suggests overcrowding at levels that make efficient learning almost impossible.

Classrooms at these schools tend to be overcrowded. At the three government schools we visited, Grade 1 and 3 classes had learners ranging from 70 and 190 in a single classroom. Many of the learners didn't have desks. Some classes didn't have desks at all.

When it was time for them to write, the chairs turned into desks while learners knelt and put their books on the chairs. In such circumstances, it's difficult for learners to grasp the skill of writing.

While government and NGOs are working to address these problems, we need to ask ourselves what more publishers can do to help in situations like these.

As much as our study highlighted difficult circumstances, there are various organisations that have joined hands with government to help learners in this area. The organisations doing work in Gulu District, for example, include Save the Children , Northern Uganda Basic Education and Hope is Education International , among others.

These organisations are involved in various activities such as teacher training, provision of teaching and reading materials and sensitising the community about the value of mother tongue education.

In addition, these organisations, like Save the Children, set up clubs in the community where children learn to document their traditional stories. Such stories are later edited and published and returned to learners.

Another programme , the African Storybook Project, is aimed at supporting multilingual literacy for young African children through the provision of open access digital stories in several African languages. By June 2019, the African Storybook website had over 1,000 storybooks in 182 languages with more than 5,000 translations.

Of course digital is only a solution where equipment is available and usable, but might publishers do more?

One thing to consider is that printed books are expensive to buy in sufficient numbers, and have a short shelf-life, soon needing replacing and often needing updating.

Digital books can be cheaper and easily updated but not much use if there is no local internet or no digital reading devices readily available.

But maybe there is more that can be done.

Flatscreen TVs nowadays are inexpensive and widely available. Many come ready-made to run off a 12V battery without an inverter, and flashdrive enabled.

Here in The Gambia I use flatscreen TVs in nursery schools for class teaching, with specially prepared teaching aids loaded onto a flashdrive.

While for copyright reasons I prepare my own teaching aids, it would be simple to scan books and images that could then be shown to large groups at a time.

Many publishers produce materials for online teaching and for use with interactive whiteboards, but here I’m talking about materials that do not, at point of use, require an internet connection, laptop or fancy equipment like interactive whiteboards, just a cheap TV and a flashdrive.

Using my experience here in The Gambia as an example, a typical primary text book will cost the equivalent of $5 USD.

For a class of thirty children we’re looking at spending $150. Repeat for Integrated Studies and Maths and we’re talking $450 to provide three books per child for one class.

That $450 could buy a decent sized (50”) flatscreen TV, two car batteries and a flashdrive. Two batteries so while one is being used the other can be taken away to be recharged. The one flashdrive could store the content of dozens of books along with other teaching aids, including video and sound.

No laptop needed at point of use as the flashdrives can be pre-loaded at a central point where internet facilities are available and then easily distributed to teachers and schools wherever needed.

Teaching aids can range from simple Word docs displayed, to interactive read-along stories where the words light up as the they are spoken on screen by an automated voice.

Mother tongue, national language or foreign language it makes no difference, and can make for a rewarding learning experience for teachers and pupils alike.

Not as a substitute for paper and ink books, but as an addition to and an alternative when the “real thing” is not readily available.

Publishers would need to explore the possibilities here, as this differs from standard ebook reading where sentences flow, and is much more like traditional print learning, only on a large screen that thirty children at a time can easily engage with.

Flatscreen technology has only recently became meaningfully affordable in Africa, so understandably publishers have had no reason  to explore this concept in the past decade.

But this could become a lucrative niche for publishers who might want to work hand in hand with NGOs and governments to provide the hardware – the flatscreen TV, flashdrive and (where mains electric is unreliable or unavailable) 12V batteries – that are all that is needed.

As and when lockdown restrictions end and schools re-open here in The Gambia I’ll share more examples and experiences of how this can work at a practical level for nursery schools and how it can be rewarding for publishers.

If your books are available worldwide, let people know!


Twitter in action


This example from the UK digital publisher Bookouture, that knows a thing or two about selling ebooks.

Great graphic, with a clear message that the ebook is available from four international stores with over 150 consumer points across more than 75 countries.

All it cost the publisher is the graphic design and a few minutes to put the message on twitter.

The same image can then be used re-sizing may be needed) for other social media like Facebook, Instagram, etc..

Social media is not the enemy of publishing. It's our best friend.

And it's free to use (with advertising options to reach even bigger, targetted audiences).

Not sure how to get a design made? Drop a line to us at TNPS.

Kitab Sawti sees subscribers double during regional lockdown


MENA's "leading Arabic audiobook producer and distributor"


With 31 million people online the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the second largest Arabic digital market after Egypt (49 million internet users), and as a nation of booklovers (the Riyadh International Book Fair pulled in 1 million visitors last year, while the Jeddah Book Fair typically attracts around half a million visitors) a natural choice for digital books operators to focus.

Ebooks have yet to gain a real hold in the kingdom, but audiobooks have performed well, thanks to home-grown players like Dahd, and regional operators like Kitab Sawti, which describes itself as,

the MENA leader in Arabic audiobook production and distribution (with) the biggest library of Arabic audiobooks in the world.

As the pandemic spread across the Middle East and North Africa region, with Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia among the worst hit, lockdowns began to hurt the bookselling industry in a region where booksellers are sparse, book fairs central to book sales, and online and digital book-buying opportunities few and far between.

But as elsewhere around the world, the few digital booksellers that were available soon found they were struggling to keep up with demand.

Kitab Sawti, founded in 2016 by Sebastian Bond & Anton Pollak, told TNPS:

The platform has seen unprecedented growth during the past few months as global and regional lockdowns started shifting consumer behavior. In the past 4 months, the number of installs and registered users on Kitab Sawti’s app has doubled, even more, the platform saw a 204% growth in total paid users, and a 6x growth of new paid consumers from January through to May 2020.

With supply-chains coming close to a halt in many countries the demand for digital products grew significantly.


Sebastian Bond said:

New habits have flourished during lockdowns across the Middle East, and we have seen that coincide precisely with the growth in the number of users on the app across markets.

As people shift to the new-normal we expect these new behavior patterns to persist as part of their routines. Audio content provides a resilient production cycle, even though affected by the pandemic, it’s faster and cost-efficient to adapt to new times.

Having raised $6M funding in 2019 from Bonnier Ventures, KAAF Investments –

Kitab Sawti has just announced,

a key partnership with Careem in Saudi Arabia that allows Careem riders to exchange points for subscriptions on the Kitab Sawti app.

Earlier this year Kitab Sawti partnered with Sharjah World Book capital making its library available to 5,000 readers, and,

launched a campaign with UNHCR to donate part of the revenues from annual subscriptions to support refugees in collaboration with influencers in Saudi and Kuwait.

That will come as no surprise to those familiar with Kitab Sawti’s origins offering audio to Arab refugees in Sweden.

Kitab Sawti quotes Deloitte as expecting the global audiobook market to grow 25% in 2020 to reach a value of $3.5 billion USD, with annual global consumption by a half billion consumers.

It is not clear how much of that $3.5 billion might be originating in the MENA markets, but with Kitab Sawti, Dahd, Booklava and Storytel among the key players regionally, and some 220 million people on line across the Arab markets, we can expect the MENA share to grow even as the cake gets bigger.

Ghana Learning Radio: Reading Programme


Radio learning for Ghanaian kids during lockdown

Ghana's 25,000 primary schools are closed as the pandemic ravages the country, but help has arrived in the form of an initiative by the US and Ghanaian governments to provide radio lessons for children in lockdown.

Ghana Learning Radio: Reading Program was launched June 15 by the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Stephanie S. Sullivan and Ghana’s Minister of Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh to provide,

provide distance learning instruction in English and the 11 official Ghanaian languages of instruction for Kindergarten Two through fourth grade students.

CNBC Africa reported:

Ghana Education Service (GES), in collaboration with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), will start broadcasting interactive and easy-to-follow reading lessons on June 15, 2020. The lessons are adapted from USAID-supported instructional materials validated by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Broadcasts will also include health and safety behavior-change messaging that focus on handwashing, social distancing, and child-protection as well as messages to parents and caregivers to encourage homework supervision, family health and hygiene, and the prevention of bullying, sexual assault, and early pregnancy.

All GBC radio stations will broadcast one-hour reading instruction sessions from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with repeat broadcasts of the lessons on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

Across the continent various similar initiatives have been tried, with mixed results, as education departments teamed with broadcasters and other service providers at short notice to keep a semblance of education going during lockdown periods.

But for many schools in many countries these initiatives will have value long after the pandemic is behind us, as they potentially enable schools in remote villages or where regular resources are woefully inadequate to maintain standards in normal times.

An opportunity for publishers to work closely to develop these initiatives and take them to new levels.


US audiobook market value up 16% to $1.2bn in 2019. Unit sales also up 16%


But how much does the delivery model hold back the format?


These latest figures about the US audiobook market - now estimated to be worth as much as the entire African book market across all formats - resulted in this op-ed over at TNPS:


Touting the fact that the US audiobook market had seen double-digit growth for the eighth successive year, the Audio Publishers Association, referencing a survey of 24 reporting companies, paints a rosy picture of the US audiobook scene without questioning whether it might be even more dynamic were publishers to be more open to opportunities.

Chris Lynch, co-chair of the APA’s research committee and president & publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, summed up the understandable excitement among mainstream publishers:

Eight straight years of double-digit revenue growth is simply phenomenal. Even more encouraging are the continued upward trends in consumer listening behavior—both in how many titles they listen to per year and in their finding more time in their day to listen.

The latter point declines to note the pandemic-induced lockdown which might be responsible for all this extra time consumers are finding to listen to audiobooks, and stands at odds with another common theme being touted by publishers: that audiobook consumption was down because fewer people were commuting to work.

Of such contradictory and confusing sentiments are publishing urban myths built.

Not that the rise and rise of audio is an urban myth, although we should remember that back in the day ebooks were regularly seeing triple-digit growth, until mainstream publishers reigned in their ebook engagement and deliberately raised prices to stifle demand, leaving an open goal for self-publishers to seize a hefty chunk of the market.

With audiobooks the self-published element, while growing, is still a small part of the scene, and as audiobooks generally are not seen to cannibalise print sales in the way ebooks supposedly do, audiobooks for now are the publishing world’s darling format.

Audible, Hachette Audio, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster were among the survey contributors, collectively reporting 60,303 new audio titles produced in 2019, up 18% on 2018. There was no breakdown of how Audible’s output compared to the Big 5’s in this figure.

A separate survey found US audiobook consumption by title up from 6.8 in 2019 to 8.1 in early 2020, with mystery and thriller leading the way, in stark contrast to “reading” books where romance heads the genre choice in the US.

Quality of narration (professional voice-artist vs author read-aloud) was deemed important to consumers.

More than 50% of audiobook fans said they were listening to more, making extra time.

Most significantly 43% of consumers queried said they preferred shorter length audio (1-3 hours). What isn’t clear from that response is whether that is related to the time needed to listen to a book or simply the fact that shorter length audiobooks tend to be considerable cheaper if buying as a unit.

What the report studiously avoided deliberating on was the issue of retail and subscription.

We’ve seen time and again how, where unlimited subscription is an option, consumers flood to the format.

But in the US only Scribd is a significant player in the unlimited consumption arena, and many publishers do not place all or even any of their catalogue with Scribd.

While Audible is of course the market leader, the Audible subscription model is for one title per month for a fixed price, and that simultaneously encourages and depresses engagement.

Put simply, if a consumer is paying $14.95 per month to get a choice of any one audiobook they are going to look at titles retailing at at least that value, ideally more, to increase the perceived value for money. That pushes sale towards the more expensive, longer-duration audiobooks, yet this latest survey suggest consumers prefer shorter titles.

Having spent that monthly sum for one audiobook, how many more audiobooks are they likely to buy? Especially in the pandemic and post-pandemic recession?

And all-importantly, how many authors and titles will they risk experimenting with?

The one-unity subscription model favours consumers sticking with safe choices. and depresses discoverability.

With the unlimited subscription model the consumer can try as many titles as they have time for, seek out new genres, new authors and narrators and new titles, knowing there is no risk.

For publishers the question is, how far are they willing to go down this route?

Many, it seems, are not willing. At least not at this time. But as the success of the unlimited model shows where it is given free reign, not only is this the consumers preferred model but publishers and authors can, by sheer volume of engagement, do well too.

As so often with publishing, it is a matter of “this is how things have always been and this is how they will stay.”

The rapid proliferation of audiobooks subscription services around the world suggest global demand that will quickly dwarf the US market so long as single-unit subscription remains the predominant model in North America.

That global demand of course also to be seen in the growing number of audiobook operators serving MENA and sub-Saharan Africa.

African and Arab publishers alike should be looking at the extraordinary possibilities audio - not just regular audiobooks but podcasts and other variants of the format - offer to reach new audiences both at home and abroad.

And especially so in countries where the oral tradition of storytelling prevails and low literacy means text-based books cannot reach their full potential.

TikTok owner ByteDance moves into the 560 million listener $1.1 bn China audiobook arena


With AI narrations


Stepping outside Africa again briefly, we next take a look at the phenomenal progress in the digital audiobook market in China.

From TNPS:

When it comes to AI-narrated audio the publishing industry has a relaxed, even complacent stance. It will never happen. And when it does (the industry loves to deny something is possible whilst simultaneously explaining why it is doomed to fail) it will be unsellable rubbish.

Enter, stage left, TikTok. Or rather, TikTok owner ByteDance which, not content with disrupting the social media video industry, launched into social media music earlier this year and now aims to set the audiobook world on fire.

The good or bad news, depending on where you sit, is that just as the TikTok music venture is for now only in India, the TikTok venture into audiobooks is for now only in China.

For reasons not totally clear ByteDance has chosen not to use the TikTok brand steamroller to flatten the opposition, but is keeping the identities separate. The India music launch goes by the name Resso, while the new audiobook operation is called Fanqie Chang Tin (番茄畅听), which translates as Tomato Unlimited Listening according to RadiiChina, which describes the app as:

a long-form audio platform with a library of audiobooks and audio dramas; interestingly though, much of the content is narrated not by humans, but by AI.

The app features a range of books — from fantasy novels to self-help guides — and users can select from “standard,” “emotional,” or “boutique” male or female AI narration.

The content – both AI and real – is produced by Fanqui Novels, owned by ByteDabnce.

The move comes hard on the heels of tech titan Tencent launching its own audiobook operation in April.

This after EnPeople reported iiMedia in January 2020 as valuing the China audiobook market at 8.2 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) with an expected 562 million audio consumers this year.

EnPeople reports that one of the leading Chinese audiobook players, Ximalaya FM (competing with Dragonfly FM and Lychee FM), ran a promotion event in December 2019 where consumers spent 828 million yuan ($116 million), blowing apart the widely held view that Chinese consumers expect free content online.

Ximalaya FM founder Yu Jianjun said:

More users are willing to pay for high-quality content, and content creators can also benefit.

Which brings us full circle to the 452,000 yuan ($64,000) question: Can ByteDance’s AI-narrated content hit the mark and produce narrated audio that warrants cold hard cash being handed over to listen to?

We can safely say in 2020 we haven’t reached that stage yet with AI narration in the European languages, but I can only speculate if maybe the Chinese language lends itself better to AI narration, or if China’s tech guys are ahead of the curve.

It’s clear TikTok parent company ByteDance thinks this is a runner, and publishers, producers and narrators alike should be watching this closely, Because one thing we all need to understand is that AI-produced content doesn’t have to be perfect to be commercially viable. Just good enough.

And this latest development in China suggests that point may not be too far off.

This isn’t a “Be afraid – Be very afraid” moment for the industry. Not yet, anyway. But it could be the first tremors in a seismic shift in how audiobooks are produced.

AI audiobooks on video, for example, may be the next big thing, with AI producing the content and then an AI-created author reading it aloud on video.

Quite why anyone would want to watch the author – even a real author, let alone a cyber-author – read a book is another question entirely.

But worth noting that China’s automated-content industry is expected to be valued at USD 14 million by 2026, according to 36Kr.

My thoughts: Is that all? I would expect the forecast to be much higher.

As I noted above,

AI-produced content doesn’t have to be perfect to be commercially viable. Just good enough.

I’m sure we can all point to mega-bucks authors whose books we regard as of laughable quality and that even the non-writers among us think they could have done better.

But the reality is if the reading and listening public just wanted Shakespeare there would be no publishing industry.

Trade publishing caters to a wide audience, many of whom want nothing more from a book than to be entertained and left feeling their money hadn’t been wasted.

If AI can deliver that then AI is ready to compete.

Be afraid. Be just a tiny bit afraid.

The Gaborone Book Festival on Instagram


Social media is a publisher's best friend

Okay, one more look at social media in action working for publishers, not against them. This time it's Botswana's Gaborone Book Festival.

This from twitter promoting an event on Instagram.

Follow the Gaborone Book Festival on twitter: @GabBookFest.

Check out the @GabBookFest twitter profile here.

Netflix globally releasing 44 Arabic films from MENA


Once again video shows the global potential of content as publishers dither


Netflix is releasing a catalogue of 44 Arabic films combining cinematic masterpieces with contemporary rising stars from the Arab world's entertainment industry, reports DigitalStudioME, including the works of notable directors like Youssef Chahine, Youssry Nasrallah, Nadine Labaki, Moustapha Akkad, Anne Marie Jacir, Laila Marrakchi. 

DigitalStudioME explains:

Netflix subscribers will have access to discover cinematic masterpieces that constitute an important part of the Arab world’s film heritage, bringing more Arabic films to the world and providing Arab talent and filmmakers with a platform to gain more fans globally.

The stories come from the UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Algeria and Sudan.

At which point, pause for thought, because everything here applies equally to publishers. To paraphrase: bring more Arabic literature to the world and provide Arab talent and publishers with a platform to gain more fans globally.

Nuha El Tayeb, Director, content acquisitions, MENAT at Netflix, said:

We want more people around the world to have access to great stories and have the chance to see their lives represented on screen.  We also believe that great stories come  from anywhere and can travel everywhere connecting with audiences far beyond their place or language of origin. We’re honored to share these classic and contemporary films with our members in the Arab world and globally.

Again, substitute book for film and we have sentiments that could and should be driving Arab publishing.

True, there's no directly comparable platform to Netflix in the literary world.

But with very little effort Arab publishers, whether in North Africa or the Middle East, could be making their backlist and frontlist available on a global scale, both in the original languages and in translation. 

That's the digital advantage, and why Netflix has become global phenomenon despite the ubiquity of satellite TV broadcasting.

The fact that so few publishers are digitising as this new decade begins is testament to the region's overall conservative approach to change in publishing. And while it is of course is the prerogative of every publisher to cling to a bygone era when ink on paper was the only format, the pandemic has surely made clear the advantage digital can bring.

Some MENA publishers are already well ahead of this particular curve.

The referenced Abu Dhabi International Book Fair was of course cancelled this year due to the pandemic -

 but that serves only to reinforce the sentiment.

Digital isn't just a global opportunity. It's a safety net.

In the pandemic and post-pandemic era the question publishers need to be asking is not "Why should we digitise?" but "Are the any good reasons why we shouldn't?"

Thanks for reading

The next edition of Publish Africa will be along soon


And so another edition of Publish Africa draws to a close, and it takes us within days of being halfway through 2020.

Per the sentiments of IPA Vtce President Bodour Al Qasimi, with every crisis comes an opportunity, and the Covid-19 pandemic, for all its horrors, has also seen innovation and progress take place, not least in the global publishing arena.

Some publishers and booksellers have fallen as the pandemic swarmed across the world, but most have at least survived and many have emerged stronger, mostly because of a long-term strategic perspective, or simply a pragmatic given the circumstances, pivoting to digital.

Not just ebooks and digital audio, but online print sales, shifting to POD (print on demand), D2C (direct-to-customer selling), remote working (work from home) and a host of other digitally-centred shifts in the way the publishing industry and its stakeholders conduct their business.

2020 has seen changes in global publishing the likes of which we could only have imagined as 2019 drew to a close, and while it has not always been pleasant, its fair to say, in Bodour's words, that with this crisis came an opportunity.

An opportunity to pause, review operations, and make strategic changes, not least digital pivoting, that will leave the industry changed forever.

The pandemic is far from over, and it could well get worse before it gets better.

But for those still on the fence about whether digital should be part of their future strategy, ask yourself this:

Had this pandemic happened even ten year earlier, say in 2010, or twenty years ago, back in the year 2000, what, in all honesty, would be left of the publishing industry today? It would have been decimated.

That's a sobering thought on which to end this edition of Publish Africa.

I've been Mark Williams, writing from The  Gambia, West Africa where, on behalf of the team at StreetLib that make TNPS and the B2B industry newsletters Publish MENA, Publish Africa and Publish Global possible, I say thanks for reading this, stay safe, and see you again in the next edition of Publish Africa.

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 © 2020 StreetLib, All rights reserved.

Publish Africa is brought to you by Mark Williams


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