Frequently Asked Questions
What is Worldreader?
Worldreader is about books, reading and literacy. We are a US, Europe and Africa-based nonprofit organization transforming the lives of people in the developing world. Our mission is to unlock the potential of millions of people through the use of digital books in places where access to reading materials is very limited. We operate in the United States as a not-for-profit public charity under IRC Sec. 501(c)(3). In Spain, we are organized as a not-for-profit Fundación under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. In Ghana, we operate as a not-for-profit organization recognized by the Department of Social Welfare.
What is Worldreader Mobile?
Worldreader Mobile is a book reading application that allows millions of people in the developing world to have access to books they need and want to read on a device they already own: their mobile phone.
In order to further expands its mission, Worldreader has partnered with biNu, an App developer based in Sydney. biNu’s patented technology delivers a smartphone like experience to low end feature phones— enabling millions of people in low income countries access to Facebook, Twitter, Local News, Google—and, now, Worldreader Mobile.
To give you an idea of the enormous scope and potential: feature phones are the largest segment of the global mobile market, with over 60% of the global mobile market share with over 5 billion mobile subscribers. In 2013 there were on average 335,000 active readers each month on Worldreader Mobile, who collectively completed 657,475 books and stories. Our readers are primarily from Africa (top countries include Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan, Zimbabwe) and Asia (top market India).
Why use digital books instead of paper books?
Digital books have several advantages over printed books, especially for the developing world where millions of children and families struggle to get even subsistence access to reading materials.
Primarily, it’s less expensive to publish and distribute e-books than paper books. Widespread mobile phone connectivity, the declining cost of hardware devices and increasingly affordable digital content has made e-book delivery a viable low-cost solution for many developing regions. The cost of shipping e-books is nearly zero, even to very remote areas, compared to the cost to load a shipping container and send it by boat.
Handheld devices, such as e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and mass market mobile phones using 2G networks, provide almost immediate access to hundreds of thousands of books and are easy to connect to existing mobile and Wi-Fi networks. Since e-readers can store thousands of books, they eliminate the need for physical storage and give children, parents and schools access to a much wider selection books than what may be physically available in their communities.
Similarly, mass market mobile phones, which are widely available and commonly used in the developing world, allow us to reach hundreds of thousands of people via devices they already carry in their pockets. Beyond these benefits, some e-readers have added features such as text-to-speech for new readers, the vision-impaired or children whose parents cannot read or whose native language is not the language of instruction. Built-in dictionaries and access to Wikipedia can also be very helpful.
Finally, digital distribution enables the publication of much more local content, including newspapers, magazines, flyers and newsletters, health and voting information and other material that can help empower communities.
Which devices do you use?
Worldreader is device agnostic. We frequently evaluate different technologies and choose devices best suited for the environments where they will be used. Today, our two main technology platforms mobile phones and e-readers.
Mobile phones, namely feature phones, allow us to reach a broader population and scale our mission globally. Feature phones are widely available and very commonly used everywhere in the developing world. Through a partnership with biNu, we deliver free storybooks, textbooks, international classics, locally-published books, award-winning short stories and health information to hundreds of thousands of people on devices they already own.
E-readers are our preferred devices for classroom and library programs. Our research and experience shows that because e-readers are easy to use and are single-function reading tools, teachers consider them to be less distracting than computers or tablets, which have many other uses and capabilities that may or may not be appropriate in a school setting.
How do you operate in the field?
Our goal is to bring books everywhere using e-readers and mobile phones.
For our e-reader initiatives, our initial focus has been on sub-Saharan Africa, a place where we believe we can have the most near-term impact. We deploy several operating models to increase access to books in this region, and currently have programs in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe with an eye on expanding rapidly to neighboring countries.
In some cases, like iREAD in Ghana, Worldreader is the sponsoring organization and we pilot large-scale e-reader programs. With the support of organizations, such as USAID, and local ministries of education, we measure and evaluate students’ reading improvements and share what we learn with our partners.
Another model we use is called Worldreader Programs. We partner with other organizations to create small-scale e-reader programs in schools or libraries. These programs are often directly sponsored by organizations that operate their own schools or libraries and want to introduce new technology and reading tools to their classrooms or communities. Other times, Worldreader has been able to pair up donors with schools that match our criteria.
On the mobile phone side, Worldreader Mobile allows us to rapid scale and increase access to books globally. Through a partnership with biNU, we are able to deliver books to anyone with a feature phone anywhere in the developing world from Nigeria to India to Mexico. Mass market 2G phones are ubiquitous in the developing world, and for many people, they are the only way to connect to the Internet. By leveraging a device people already carry in their pocket and know how to use, we can expand literacy worldwide and encourage reading among a broader population.
What are some of the main challenges you face?
Spearheading the widespread adoption of digital books in the developing world comes with some challenges.
Although prices are declining quickly, e-readers still remain relatively expensive for many potential users. Getting e-readers into the hands of children and families that need them the most is logistically complicated, as is providing community training and support.
Local governments and school administrators must sign-off on education-related technology and content deployments, and receiving their full support takes time. Much of the world’s teaching materials are not yet available in e-book formats or in local languages used in regional school districts. Also, reliable electricity sources and mobile phone networks are not always a given.
In short, the opportunity to provide books for all is great, but so are the challenges. This is at the heart of what Worldreader hopes to address.
How much will the e-readers cost developing communities?
The price of today’s best e-readers is less than $200, with some versions selling for under $100 – far less than what they were selling for only a few years ago. While we expect prices to continue to fall rapidly, the cost, at least in the near-term, remains prohibitive for most of the developing world. Our donors and partners help subsidize the gap between the cost of the e-readers and the price parents and local governments are willing to pay.
In addition to the device cost, the cost of a protective case and a reading light must be considered. Worldreader’s partners provide these accessories as part of the program.
How much do e-books cost?
The books we load onto e-readers and mobile phones are available to students, teachers and families for free. Thanks to partnering authors, publishers and other corporate sponsors, the cost for Worldreader to deliver an e-book to a child in Africa is .50 cents. Additionally, Worldreader works with over a hundred publishers around the world, digitizing their books and making them available to the world. These digital editions sell for approximately the same price as the paper versions, averaging around $3.50 per title. We are working with publishers and other partners to make content more affordable in the developing markets.
What languages are supported?
We envision a world in which digital books are available in all the world’s languages. Since most e-books are currently published in English, our initial projects have targeted English-speaking countries including Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. However, we work closely with African publishers to digitize books and material in English and local languages used in the communities we serve. For instance, our work in Africa includes digitizing books in Kiswahili, Twi, Yoruba and many more! Our research has proved that students and families learn better with content in their native language. We also think that local language content is critical to help create an ecosystem of local digitization of books and other content.
Does Worldreader provide Kindles to individuals for personal use?
No, we do not provide e-readers on an individual basis. Worldreader identifies and partners with organizations, schools and governments in order to have a bigger impact across a larger community. Individuals can directly purchase e-readers for their personal use from international device manufacturers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and many others.
A Worldreader Program may be appropriate if you sponsor a school in the developing world and want to implement an e-reader program.
Are the e-books on the e-reader platform the same as those on Worldreader Mobile?
We have 3,919 free books and counting on our Worldreader Mobile platform and the books, health information and English-learning materials are geared at young adult readers; in our e-reader programs we tend to target new readers and elementary school students. While some international classics, local storybooks or textbooks may be the same for e-readers and phones, we work with authors and publishers to distribute age-appropriate content to each platform.
Who is biNu and what do they do?
biNu, an Australian-based company, improves people’s mobile Internet experience, especially on mass-market mobile phones. It provides super-fast, low-cost, easy access to Internet-based apps and services.
The biNu mobile app is used by nearly two million people globally and features more than 100 channels, including news, weather and messaging. It also includes a book-reading feature via Worldreader Mobile.
The platform compresses mobile data so any phone can have smartphone-like speed, even on lower bandwidth 2G networks, which accounts for 62.7 percent of mobile phone subscriptions in Africa today.
With biNu’s help, Worldreader Mobile has reached more than 300,000 active readers a month in 2013 in Africa and Asia and has the potential to reach millions more.
What’s the difference between a feature phone and a smartphone?
As technology improves this line keep blurring. However, generally speaking, feature phones, sometimes referred to as mass-market phones, are mobile phones typically offered with low- to mid-range prices. They have various features including voice calling, text messaging and Internet network connectivity capabilities, but they often lack features and application programming interfaces (APIs) found in newer, more expensive top-of-line phones called smartphones. Feature phones, like ones made by Nokia, are commonplace throughout the developing world. In Africa, three out of four people own a feature phone.
Why is Worldreader working in Africa rather than in the U.S. or Europe?
Our primary focus is on the developing world where access to books is the most limited and where we can have the greatest near-term impact. As the World Bank notes, only 1 in 19 African countries has anything close to adequate book provision in schools. Over time, we hope to expand our work throughout the world.
Do remote schools have electricity and wireless access?
Mobile phones have paved the way for electricity even in remote locations, and telecommunications networks in the developing world are often on par with, or have leapfrogged, network standards compared to more developed zones. In Ghana, for instance, mobile phone penetration is above 80%. Additionally, e-readers consume relatively little power; a one-hour charge typically lasts two weeks or more. In some areas, we need to provide additional help. In the case of one of our first pilots in Ghana, the school did not have reliable power, so we partnered with other organizations to help fund a solar cell and satellite Internet access.
Who decides which books are loaded onto the e-readers?
We provide schools, communities and partners with a list of textbooks and storybooks available in our program. Based on their interests and needs, they choose which books they want loaded onto the e-readers. They also have access to hundreds of thousands of books for purchase, although many may be priced too high to be of significant local interest.
Which e-reader is Worldreader using?
For us, Amazon’s Kindle is currently the best e-reader on the market for our needs, thanks to its ease of use, its access to over one million books, its robust publishing platform which we use to publish many of our books, and its access to a broad mobile-phone network.. We continually evaluate e-readers and other devices based on their suitability to our evolving needs.
In addition, Worldreader has partnered with biNu to provide a mobile-phone app for reading books on low-end phones.
Will the e-readers break, and who fixes them?
Yes, sometimes e-readers break, and Worldreader is exploring various repair options.
To help reduce breakage rates, we partner with businesses that provide general support, protective covers and other related accessories, and charging and download stations. We send feedback to the e-reader manufacturers and suggest ways to improve the ruggedness of their readers. We are also experimenting with some local repairs ourselves.
Won’t theft be a problem?
So far, it hasn’t been. Our projects include significant community involvement as part of our risk management strategy. Especially in tightly-knit villages, very little goes on without the knowledge of community elders. When an entire community values education and decides to bring e-readers to their children, we have found that the risk of theft diminishes. We continue to monitor issues surrounding theft in all our projects. Medium-term, we expect e-readers will improve their capabilities to be remotely disabled under certain circumstances (as might be the case if an e-reader is taken out of its local wireless area), and will be working with manufacturers to help implement these kinds of systems.
Is Worldreader a charity or a for-profit company?
We are a registered non-profit organization that believes in the power of market forces to do good in the world. Like any nonprofit, we raise funds to help achieve our goals. In our case, donors’ funds goes towards subsidizing the cost of e-readers and content, and provides logistics, training and administrative support. At the same time, we are firm believers that market forces can help achieve a sustained, long-term impact. For that reason, we intend to: sell (rather than give away) e-readers at a discounted rate; work with local and international publishers to create low-cost (but not necessarily free) digital content, and create self-sustaining business ecosystems to support our efforts.
Is my donation deductible for US tax purposes?
Yes. We operate in the United States as a not-for-profit public charity under IRC Sec. 501(c)(3). Our tax-exempt status became effective March 23, 2010, our date of incorporation. For U.K. donors, Worldreader is a charity registered in the United Kingdom (1158030). In Spain, we are organized as a not-for-profit Fundación under the auspices of the Ministry of Education (fiscal ID: G65520744). In Ghana, we operate as a not-for-profit organization recognized by the Department of Social Welfare (TIN: C0002554135). Click here for more information, or here to make a donation.
How can I find out more?
To contact us directly, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I donate my Kindle to Worldreader?
Thank you for your interest in donating a Kindle to Worldreader! We appreciate your generosity. At this time however, we are unable to accept Kindle donations due to certain specifics of our operations.
We invite you however, to donate your Kindle to a wonderful US-based organization called Iserotope. Your donated Kindles will be used in classrooms in the Bay Area of California. Learn more about Iserotope here and tell them Worldreader referred you.