Yesterday’s TEDxAIMS was incredible. AIMS is the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, an institution that provides full one-year, live-in scholarships to post-grad sciences students from around Africa, and leads the inspiring Next Einstein Initiative. I spoke about my experiences trying to build fancy-tech products in South Africa, and my belief that for as long as we think “technology spreads quickly”, we’ll be working on the wrong problems.
Update 19 Feb 2013: I’ve now added the video. The text of the talk is below.
I’m thrilled to be heading to New York for this year’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference. I’ll be presenting along with Michael Smith of Worldreader in a session called “Disruptive Innovations In Emerging Markets: Mxit, Siyavula, Paperight and Worldreader“.
Here is an excerpt from my notes for the talk.
I think the real challenge for publishing is to appeal to new markets of young people in places where there are no bookstores or libraries or electronics stores or affordable Internet data. The size of the markets we’ve been selling to for the last hundred years are a drop in the ocean compared to this audience. Most are in developing countries.
We have to introduce completely new value propositions for these markets. A value proposition means: what do you get for how much money and in what way?
Clayton Christensen explained in The Innovator’s Dilemma fifteen years ago why it’s extremely difficult for established companies to create new value propositions. Often, the only way to do it is through acquisition or by spinning out entirely independent business units that can experiment freely and fail with confidence.
So the most promising innovations are most likely going to come from small players, who are able to grow in emerging markets with low margins.
No market needs a new value proposition more than the poor in developing countries, like the forty million people in South Africa who’ve likely never bought a book, but who all have a mobile phone and limited access to data. There is today simply no compelling reason for them to buy a printed book or an ebook given current prices and processes.
Three South African platforms in particular are tackling low literacy and book-purchasing rates in this market by changing the traditional publishing value proposition:
1. The first is a family of projects publishing stories on mobile phone app Mxit;
2. the second integrates textbooks with online media optimised for phones; and
3. the third is my own project, helping the ubiquitous photocopy shop legally print books out anywhere.
It was a huge honour to be invited to speak at The Owl Club in Cape Town on 20 November 2012. The Owl Club gathers together every month a hundred of the wisest, friendliest, most distinguished men of Cape Town for an evening of smart conversation, music, and guest speaking. This talk was titled ‘Books for Africa’.
I’m sure none of us can imagine growing up without books. And I don’t think it’s overreaching to say that without reading books, whether that’s fiction, biography, history, business, psychology or art, it is almost impossible to be a self-sufficient, clear-thinking, competitive member of society.
And yet the terrifying reality is that bookshops and libraries are vanishingly rare in most of Africa.
And when they do exist, they’re tiny and badly stocked.
So, if the stakes are so high, why do we have this problem? Continue reading
Back in July, I got to speak at TEDxCapeTown. It was a fantastic event, thanks to the tireless work of its amazing organising team. Here’s my talk. (It’s online only now because it was held back while the TED Talent Search was on.) I posted the text of the talk here a while ago.
The more I talk to people in education and publishing about what we’re doing at Paperight, the more I hear fascinating stories. My uncle David Attwell is an academic, teacher and writer who has worked and travelled around the world. He tells me:
The most innovative bookstore owner I ever met ran an operation from a garage in Rabat, Morocco. He would order books on appro by the BIG NAMES in criticism and theory, from all the global English and French publishers, then send them back having photocopied them. Then, the genius move, he would RENT his photocopies to students, for less than a dollar a week in most cases. (There was no way the students in Morocco could ever afford books published by the likes of Routledge.) I found some of the most informed students I’ve ever met, in Rabat, who used this service. Paperight would sort all this out.
This is exactly the kind of entrepreneur I referred to broadly in a TED Talent Search talk recently. Another favourite is this image and story snippet from Travlr on Flickr, who got a photocopied New York Times on his doorstep in Djibouti every morning. Where reading matter is inaccessible, because of cost or geography, people will make a plan, one way or another, to get it anyway. It’s time to help them do that easily and legally.