A little part of me dies when I hear publishers say there’s no rush to make ebooks in Africa, ‘because the market isn’t ready’. I hear it often in one form or another, most recently in a piece by Tolu Ogunlesi titled “‘A book in every hand’: Digital book publishing in Africa”:
And then there’s a strategic caution at work. “I don’t want to do e-books for the sake of ebooks,” Bakare-Yusuf says, adding that it’s important to think well about digital strategy (pricing, “access” and marketing) especially in a developing market like Nigeria’s. It is important, she says, to ask and answer the question: “Why should [African consumers] buy an e-book and not a print copy.”
Bridget Impey, Publishing Director of South African house Jacana, shares a similar caution. She says the company is taking its time to create an effective content digitisation strategy. “It looks like we’ve got a long time,” she says. Jacana currently offers only pdf copies of its books for sale via the online store Kalahari. None are available yet in e-book compatible versions. [I assume this means reflowable versions, as in Kindle and iBooks—AA]
There’s good sense in being cautious. (I have huge respect for what Bridget and Jacana do, they’re remarkable and smart.) It is a shame when publishers pour resources into grand digital schemes before they fully understand what they’re getting into. However, this doesn’t mean you have to plan endlessly in the hope that someone else will create the market, while you look for a silver ebook bullet. (There isn’t one.)
And anyway, how do you wait till the market is ready before creating ebooks? The market can’t buy ebooks you’re not selling, so how will you know when it’s ready? You have to make the product first – at least one, so you can start learning how to do it. When a publisher says there’s no rush, they must mean they’ll let others take the lead. And that means letting your competitors get ahead on a steep and important learning curve.
Where can i buy a “while you were complaining, I built something” t-shirt?
— Hunter Walk (@hunterwalk) March 14, 2012
More importantly, there is another reason making ebooks is urgent: the lack of access to stories and information is an enormous crisis in Africa. It hamstrings lives and education, and threatens the sustainability of our craft as publishers. Digitisation is the single most important key to solving that crisis. I don’t believe there’s a single publisher in Africa who doesn’t want to be a part of the solution. So why wait?
If you’re a publisher, here’s a two-step challenge you can do in a morning:
- If you haven’t read an ebook before, that’s the first thing to do (you can’t sell ‘em if you haven’t tried ‘em). Start here: install Kindle for PC and go get yourself a free ebook. It’ll take you half an hour tops.
- If you have even one short story in MS Word that you can sell as an ebook, it’ll take you as little as an hour to publish it to Amazon Kindle. (Start here.)
Sure, it’s the tiniest of starts. But if you do this, you can actually say you’re part of the revolution of reading in Africa. And you’ll soon find that’s addictive, and that it gets easier.