Monday, March 18, 2013

A different kind of digital for Africa

I was asked to contribute to a cool French digital/music/lifestyle mag recently about my opinion on the future of African digital children's publishing, as part of a Digital Africa publication within the mag. I'm never really sure I'm the best person to contribute on such broad topics but it was fun to write a short piece on some of the organisations whose work I so admire:

More Africans have access to mobile phones than to water. This puts the mobile phone at the heart of the African digital publishing revolution. Despite the exponential increase in the number of Africans now online thanks to mobile technology, there is little content created by Africans, few applications developed in Africa and even less online material available in indigenous languages. However, a new generation of African digital natives demands new local content and many organisations are taking it upon themselves to produce, publish and distribute the content they crave.

Whilst writing, I realised that all the 'digital innovators' I was pimping, are either non-profits or social entrepreneurships. Is that because corporate African trade publishers are unwilling or unable to innovate (due to cost structures, or a perceived lack of funds, or a global slowdown in publishing)? Or is it that civil society has seen a gap and taken it?

Or maybe it is just a selection bias on my part: I'm only writing about what I know and I don't know enough about what publishers have in the works? I honestly have no idea but for future readers and writers, I hope that trade publishers, especially in sub-Saharan Africa start looking at what Paperight and FunDza and ReadeaBookSA have done and start realising that they can reach new audiences through new media - they just need to work out how to make money from that. Not an easy or quick win but certainly something worth figuring out to reach the vast untapped market for whom traditional books are just to expensive and their cellphones already represent the way they interact, discover, read, is well worth the effort.

I'm really interested in reading the other African perspectives on the possibilities of digital publishing. I'm told that the publication will be available for download in English and French soon so look out for it.

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