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Thursday July 11, 2019


Say hello to Africa's youngest authors

Two seven year olds hold the title.

Let’s start this edition of Publish Africa on a light note, with the publication of a children’s book titled The Princess and the Witch.

What’s remarkable about this is that the author, Hafeezat Ademurewa Adegoke, at just seven years old, is the youngest published author in Nigeria and the second youngest on the continent after South Africa’s Michelle Nkamankeng, who was also seven when her book Waiting for the Waves was published.

Nigeria’s Vanguard reports that the book, “of about 30 pages, beautifully arranged into 6 chapters with pictures and lessons, was spurred by the encouragement she got from her teachers at school and siblings at home.”

The young author told reporters, “I wanted everyone especially my peers to feel comfortable with the book. I don’t want them to be addicted to watching cartoons alone. That’s why I wrote the beautiful story book so that they can find something else to do apart from watching TV.” 

A sentiment that will strike a chord with many African publishers if we simply substitute smartphone for TV.

But as we’ll see in items further down this newsletter, publishers still seeing the smartphone as an enemy of publishing really need to take a reality check.

Here though, just a thought on the story behind the story here.

It’s not clear if Hafeezat Ademurewa Adegoke was published by a regular publisher with a regular publishing contract, or was self-published (with parental assistance and finance) but it seems likely the latter.

It would be a truly remarkable story if a seven year old had convinced a publisher to invest in them.

Vanity publishing is widely frowned upon in the mature publishing markets. Less so in emerging markets like Africa.

In the mature markets vanity publishing has largely given way to self-publishing, which is generally ebook and POD focused, and can reap rich rewards for those able to do it well.

It’s an excellent way for mainstream publishers to discover talented authors and bring them on board to benefit from the local knowledge and experience a publishing house can offer.

A dystopian short story wins the 2019 Caine Prize

Lesley Nneka Arimah delivers stunning dystopian future

Nigerian-American author Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 20th edition of the Caine Prize for African Writing with a stunning post-apocalyptic short story, Skinned.

The Caine Prize, launched in 2000, has a $10,000 award and is Arimah’s third time shortlisted, and first time to win. Arimah has also won the Commonwealth Short Story prize (2015), so is no stranger to the African writing awards circuit.

The Cain Prize, awarded in London, has the aim of encouraging and highlighting the richness and diversity of African writing, but is only open only to submissions in English, so perhaps missing as much richness and diversity from the continent as it discovers.

Speaking to her fellow shortlisted authors Arimah said,

Your stories have added to the profile of African literature, adding the many voices that we need to illuminate who we are.

When I think of what literature can do, and I think of the ways that literature has changed minds and opened imaginations, I want to say that we African writers must centre the African gaze. We must centre the Nigerian gaze, the Cameroonian gaze, the Ethiopian gaze, the Kenyan gaze. We need to be writing to and for each other, and we also need to play.

And what I mean by play is that when one knows a thing inside and out, say cooking, the chefs who do fusion cooking do so because they know both cuisines that they are using intimately.

I think of experimentation as the sign of expertise. And I think it’s important we continue as we have started, as we have been, as we are doing always, that we continue to play within the bounds of our literatures. And I emphasise “each other” because, yes, we must centre the African gaze.

For another time, perhaps is a debate to be had about what African literature is, when so many of the big-name African authors actually write in the USA or Europe and have a background and life experience beyond the continent.

But here to celebrate the story that won the Caine Prize for 2019. You can read Skinned in full here, and it will be time well-spent. All the more so for those familiar with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Skinned is a dystopian African story for our times.

Audio and ebooks on smartphones deliver stunning results in Europe #1

Smartphones are not the enemy.

I reported here last issue on Bookbeat's expansion into 24 markets. Bookbeat is the audiobook and ebook arm of the Swedish publisher Bonnier.

It's far too soon to report on Bookbeat's new markets, but we do have an update on Bookbeat's existing markets, with the Q2 financial results being reported, and revenues from April-June 2019 are up 126% on the same period in 2018.

Bookbeat now has 200,000 subscribers - double that of a year ago. Read more over at TNPS.

Just to be clear about this, for the benefit of publishers who are busily telling themselves that smartphones are destroying the reading culture, Bonnier is a publisher that sells regular print books that make up a far bigger part of the company's revenue than the Bookbeat arm.

But Bookbeat is just digital books. And we're talking here 200,000 people paying Bookbeat a monthly subscription of $15,80 ($20 for a family plan) to read ebooks and listen to audiobooks on their smartphones.


And yes, that is over $3 million a month on revenue just from digital books on smartphones from its three focus markets.

Most of that revenue derives from home country Sweden - online population 9.6 million, fewer than Senegal or Ghana - and its second country Finland with an online population of 5.2 million - comparable to Mozambique and fewer than Zambia or Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon or Angola.

Many African countries have online populations far higher.

  • Ethiopia has 16 million people online.
  • Uganda has 19 million people online.
  • Algeria has 21 million people online.
  • Morocco has 22 million people online.
  • Tanzania has 23 million people online.
  • South Africa has 31 million people online.
  • Kenya has 43 million people online.
  • Egypt has 49 million people online.
  • Nigeria has 111 million people online.

The very latest statistics show there are just shy of a half billion Africans online. 492,762,185 to be exact. 

With a handful of exceptions they are connecting to the internet via smartphones.

Smartphones that they could be reading and listening to digital books on, if only the books were available.

South Africa is one of the few African nations where digital books are being taken seriously.

This from Statista on the South African ebook market.

  • Revenue in the eBooks segment amounts to US$14m in 2019.
  • Revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2019-2023) of 5.5%, resulting in a market volume of US$18m by 2023.
  • User penetration is 7.9% in 2019 and is expected to hit 8.7% by 2023

Some South African publishers, at least, understand the digital advantage.

How about you?

Brazil's 17th FLIP – Using digital to turn people into readers


Some emerging markets understand the digital advantage.

While publishers in much of the world are determined to pretend digital is a threat to their livelihood and will blindly condemn smartphones, the internet and anything on a screen as a harbinger of doom, other publishers take a more positive and sensible view of digital.

Take those at the 17th FLIP in Brazil this week.

FLIP? That will be, in English from the Portuguese initials, the International Literary Festival of Paraty, and on July 12th there’s an afternoon of positive discussion about the digital advantage in Brazil.

Bibliomundi, Bookwire. Kobo, Storytel are among those represented at a series of discussions, which have the themes (as best translation Google can come up with) of:

“formats that cross borders: how to use digital content to turn people into readers."

"Innovating to teach: technology in education"

"Technology of reading: the book and the reader in this cyber space”

"Trends in Brazil and the World: Audiobooks, Podcasts and Content Channels" 

Flip 2019 has lots more than that happening, but I’ve singled out the Digital Afternoon discussion to make the point that digital is not just, if you’ll excuse the crude terminology, a “First World” thing.

Digital is transforming book markets across the globe, and publishers everywhere are waking up to the digital advantage a hybrid print & digital business model can bring.

Read more about the FLIP event here.

But for now, take a look at this Statista graph showing the growth of the Brazilian ebook market.

From Statista's Brazil ebook market report:

  • Revenue in the eBooks segment amounts to US$129m in 2019.
  • Revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2019-2023) of 11.6%, resulting in a market volume of US$200m by 2023.
  • User penetration is 11.9% in 2019 and is expected to hit 13.4% by 2023.

To be fair, Brazil has the significant advantage that the big North American ebook players like Amazon, Apple et al operate in Brazil.

But the reason they are there at all is because Brazil's publishers offer enough digital content to make it worthwhile. Retailers cannot sell what is not available.

Google announces Equiano - a new submarine cable to connect western Africa with Europe

Expect a massive surge in internet activity on the continent in the 2020s.

Submarine cables are what drive the global growth of the internet. The whole world is connected in a way unimaginable as this century started, thanks to a network of submarine cables that link continents, countries and even remote islands.

I’m able to write this from The Gambia, West Africa, on a (relatively) high-speed internet connection thanks to the ACE (Africa-Europe Cable) that links France with the west coast of Africa.

Before the ACE cable landed in The Gambia the internet here was tortuous to the point of often unusable.

Early next decade a second cable – Google’s Equiano - will link the west coast of Africa to Europe, all the way down to South Africa.

Once complete, Equiano will start in western Europe and run along the West Coast of Africa, between Portugal and South Africa, with branching units along the way that can be used to extend connectivity to additional African countries. The first branch is expected to land in Nigeria.

The Equiano cable will reportedly have 20 times the network capacity of the current ACE cable.


In fact the Google cable is named, rather fittingly given the nature of this newsletter, after Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian-born writer and abolitionist who was enslaved as a boy.

The first stage of the Equiano cable, linking Portugal and South Africa, is expected to go live in 2021, after which the branch lines to the continent will begin.

Africa’s online population already expected to reach 800,000 by 2030, could increase rapidly once the new cable brings new capacity and opportunity.

Publishers should be thinking now about the opportunities the 2020s will bring.

Smartphone-delivered audio and ebooks stunning results in Europe #2

Storytel's Q2 results demonstrate the digital advantage most African publishers are missing out on.

It's not just Bookbeat doing well with digital books. Rival Storytel is doing better still. Details over at TNPS.

Here just to consider a few pertinent highlights.

Like Bookbeat, Storytel delivers digital books to consumers via smartphones. Storytel's print arm is run separately, so to be clear everything that follows is about digital books on smartphones.

In its Q2 results Storytel announced it now has 887,500 subscribers in Q2, an increase of 53,200 on Q1.

In money terms? You might want to be sitting down for this.

Q2 revenue of SEK 320 million ($33.9 million) beat a SEK 313 million forecast, putting annual growth at 37%.

And while Storytel is now in 17 markets, much of this growth in subscribers and revenue is coming from Sweden, Norway and Finland.

"The average number of paying subscribers in Q2 2019 in the Nordic region amounted to 669,200 (9,200 ahead of forecast and at 26% growth), with SEK 276 million (6 million ahead of forecast)."

At which point we should note that Sweden, Norway and Finland together have just 20 million people online - about the same as Uganda, half that of Kenya and a fifth of Nigeria's online population.

Need I say more?

Russia's ebook giant LitRes expands in Poland. Smartphone-delivered audio and ebooks stunning results in Europe #3

Yes, ebooks and digital audio are everywhere. Well, almost. 

Let me start this item on a poignant note. This year Nigeria leapfrogged Russia in the internet users chart. As you read this Nigeria has more people online than Russia, which means Nigeria has more people online than any country In Europe. By end 2019 Nigeria is expected to leapfrog Japan and become the 6th largest country in the world by online population.

But let's stick with Russia, with fewer internet users than Nigeria. 

The biggest ebook player in Russia is LitRes, with 66% market share. It operates in Russia, Estonia and Poland, and has just expanded its Poland operation. Read more here.

The Polish ebook market alone was worth $24 million in 2017.
In Russia the LitRes ebook subscription service saw 85% growth last year, while LitRes overall saw revenues rise 48%. 

LitRes has a catalogue of over 1 million digital books in 35 languages.

From Statista:

  • Revenue in the Russia eBooks segment amounts to US$173m in 2019.
  • Revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2019-2023) of 5.7%, resulting in a market volume of US$216m by 2023.
  • User penetration is 16.2% in 2019 and is expected to hit 18.4% by 2023.

At which point bear in mind we're talking perhaps 15% of the overall Russian book market, which is still 85% print dominated.

I'll end this post with a clip from a TNPS post from February 2018

"A new study shows Russia’s younger school students pipped their counterparts in Singapore and Hong Kong to take number one slot in reading skills, thanks to “new educational standards for primary school, as well as a positive parental example and the spread of electronic gadgets.”

That's the digital advantage Russia has over African publishers.

It's time to take digital seriously.

Festival Poetas D'Alma

A look at Mozambique's flourishing poetry scene.

This month (25-27) will see the CCMA - Mozambican-German Cultural Center, Goethe-Zentrum Maputo and the Poetas D'Alma Collective hold the inaugural edition of POETAS D'ALMA (International Festival of Poetry and Performative Arts) in Maputo, Mozambique.

The event will mark 15 years of the Night of Poetry program, "one of the most important and influential performative arts events in the country and the region," according to the Goethe-Maputo website.

The three day event has attracted artists from 18 countries - Germany, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mozambique, Enswatini (Swaziland for those of us from outside the continent), UK, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Reunion Island, Chile, Italy, Kenya, Angola, Taiwan, USA and Madagascar.

"The diverse program of the International Festival of Poetry and Performative Arts includes the presentation of the artists by country, among poetry shows, music, exhibitions, after parties and other forms of artistic intervention on stage, space for interaction between artists and the public, book fair, disc and crafts and also workshops in the academy and community."

As an aside, as one of a handful of Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa Mozambique has a shared cultural exchange opportunity with Brazil, mentioned in an item above.

With around 250 million Portuguese speakers around the world there is, thanks to digital, an exciting opportunity to reach markets beyond the continent that with the print-only model are largely inaccessible.

That's the digital advantage.

African book fairs this July


There's never a dull moment in the African literary calendar.

The 3rd Kismayo Book Fair in Somalia has just wound up. Read a little about it over at TNPS.

July is a busy time for book fairs in Somalia, with the Hargeysa International Book Fair and the Garowe International Book Fair both happening this month.

Not to mention the Abuja Literary Festival, starting today, July 11, in Nigeria, and also in Nigeria the Nivi Osundare International Poetry Festival will be taking place July 15-17.

There' also the Zimbabwe International Book Fair scheduled for July 29.

James Murua's must-read African literature blog has more details.

We also have the Nigerian Library Association Conference happening July 28 through August 2.

Further reading

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

1,   Writers Project of Ghana has announced the opening of submissions to the Abena Korantemaa Oral History Prize, an annual award for Oral History by emerging African writers and storytellers resident in Ghana. This prize was established by the family of Abena Korantemaa, and is sponsored by MAKEDA PR and Sankofa Girl.

The first part of the competition opens from 14th June 2019 and ends on 26th July, 2019.

Contestants are requested to prepare an audio recording of a piece of oral history narrated by an African woman resident in Ghana. The woman must be at least 65 years old.

The contestant can however be of any age.

Prizes will be awarded in October 2019. The first prize is GhC 2,500.00.

Read more here.

2.   It's another literary prize. Or rather, a scholarship. The Miles Morland Foundation 2019 Morland Writing Scholarships for African writers  is offering £18,000 GBP in scholarship awards

Application Deadline: Monday 30thSeptember 2019.

3.   The IPA Regional Seminar in Nairobi may be over, but there's still plenty to read about.

Publishing Perspectives has a piece entitled. ‘Women at the Forefront’: Three Interviews From PublisHer at Nairobi which is essential reading.

Porter Anderson writes, " The PublisHer program now has a Twitter handle: @PublisHerEvents and we’ve had a chance to be in touch with Bakare-Yusef, Mahlape, and Jallow, finding a range of insights as a result. As Jallow puts it, 'I think women are the ones who are going to transform the publishing industry in Africa.' "

Read more here.

4.   Over at Vanguard Nigeria's prestigious University Press celebrated 70 years of publishing, and marked the occasion with a call for more governmental support for the publishing industry. 

Read more here

5   Finally, for those who insist that smartphones are destroying the reading culture, check out this piece about publishers in Pakistan, where negativity about technology destroying the reading culture is fast becoming a national pastime. 

One blinkered commentator called for the internet and new technology to be banned, lamenting, "A number of reasons could be held responsible for declining of book reading culture amongst the youth and topping the all was found the internet technology."

Before you laugh, remember many African publishing stakeholders believe that too.

It's a funny old world.

The next Publish Africa newsletter will be hitting your inboxes July 25. Thanks for stopping by.

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

Copyright © 2019 StreetLib, All rights reserved.

Publish Africa is brought to you by Mark Williams


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