Local Books for Local Folks
by Mike Sundermeyer
Our pilot study (called “iRead”) in Ghana public schools starts in the fall, and one of the keys to its success will be to get engaging reading material into the hands of the students. Moving from paper to digital means that literally the world’s library of books are available to choose from, but which books will be interesting and appropriate for these particular children? Last week I met with EPP Book Services, the largest book distributor in Ghana, to look for answers.
The last time Colin and Zev were in Ghana, they met with John Nkrumah, the Sales Director at EPP. John very generously offered to supply 100 of EPP’s books for our iRead pilot study. This is good news, because virtually all existing digitized books are written by western authors (very few of which are intended for this particular audience), and exactly zero are available from Ghanaian authors. So we knew it would be critical to find good local content and get it digitized.
On Tuesday, I went to EPP’s headquarters (pictured at left) behind the Trade Fair Center in Accra, and brought along Alex Sulzberger, a local entrepreneur and owner of his own ISP, who has volunteered to help Worldreader with the digitization. We were hoping to learn more about the publishing business in Ghana, and to get our hands on the first 10 books to start readying them for the trial.
John welcomed us and reiterated his commitment to contribute 100 books to the iRead study. It turns out that EPP hasn’t yet digitized any of their books for e-readers, but they are interested in being the first in Ghana to give it a try. We showed him how the Kindle reader also works on the iPhone, the iPad, and the Android phones, so he really got the idea that distributing his books digitally will give him reach. And his eyes got big when we shared with him the recently published statistic that Amazon sells 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardbacks, indicating that digital is rapidly overtaking paper.
John then introduced us to two of his staff: Daniel Buabeng and Wendy Wordie, who told us more about EPP, and helped us pick out the first set of books for the pilot study.
EPP Book Services got its start reselling western textbooks to Tertiary (University) students in the 90’s, and they have since expanded to sell fiction books, most of which are from publishers in the UK and the US. Since western textbooks and fiction are too expensive for the Ghana market, they buy overstocks and previous editions to keep the prices down. They have more than 15 retail bookstores in Ghana and many in several neighboring countries.
EPP also acts as their own publisher, commissioning local authors to write textbooks and fiction. In fact, they have published English, Social Studies, and IT textbooks that are used in Ghana public Junior High Schools (JHS).
The books that EPP publishes are created digitally – using Corel and Quark – and sent as PDF files to be printed in India. The physical books are then shipped to their warehouse in Accra (shown on right), where the books are unpacked, repackaged, and shipped to their retail stores and to schools.
Since the books already begin their lives as digital files, converting them to e-reader format(s) should be relatively straightforward. A typical children’s fiction book sells for around 2.50 Ghana Cedi’s (about $1.75), and the printing is expensive, so they don’t tend to stock many of these. They typically sell only several hundred copies of each, but distributing digitally should allow them to reach more customers. Daniel mentioned that the rights for digital distribution are included in copyright law in Ghana, so the DRM issue may not be as challenging as we anticipated, but we’ll need to do more investigation.
After learning about EPP’s business, we picked the first set of books for the iRead pilot. We chose a number of fiction books for JHS and SHS level readers. The first book, My Brother the Footballer, received a National Book Award for the Children’s category. We also chose several textbooks which are already used by students at the JHS level.
Alex is now working to get the digital master copies of these books from EPP, and convert them to Kindle format. Once this is completed, it will be a fantastic first milestone in getting great local content for the pilot, and we are grateful to John at EPP and to Alex for helping make this project a success!