These free e-books are changing reading habits in Africa
By Nancy Brown
In July, Lidudumalingani was announced as the 2016 winner of the Caine Prize, a prestigious award promoting and fostering new writers out of Africa. Lidudumalingani is from a small village in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa and his winning story, ‘Memories We Lost’, is set in a fictional village similar to the one he grew up in. This award winning story captures the unconditional bond between sisters and the unique ways such a bond can be challenged when faced with hardship.
Meanwhile, some months ago, Dorothy Dyer, a high school teacher in South Africa was perplexed by the lack of engagement around reading from her students. Could her students read? Yes. Did they choose to read? No. Surely Dyer’s students knew how important reading was and the benefits it would bring them. So why were the students not reading?
The students weren’t connecting with the stories. The books available to Dyer and her students were not representative of lives outside a certain demographic. The students were unable to see themselves in the story, unable to understand the relationships, heartaches, celebrations portrayed because they looked vastly different from their own.
So Dyer decided to do something about it. She started publishing books with a hook, written by and for teenagers living in South Africa’s townships. The Harmony High series is perhaps the best example of that hook.The series paints the success and struggles of young students growing up in these communities. One of these books, Broken Promises, a top book on our app throughout the summer, follows Ntombi, a teenage girl juggling adult responsibilities and childhood dreams. Left caring for her younger sister, Ntombi is losing her chance at competing in the coveted ‘Teen Voice’ competition.
These books, better known as Cover2Cover books, were made available on Worldreader’s reading application in July this year. And the result has been noteworthy.
Let’s begin by taking a look at where we saw the highest traffic of readers between May and July on our reading app. It’s important to draw distinction between users and readers. By Worldreader standards, users are people who visit our reading app once. Readers are users who click through three screens and beyond in a book. This summer the countries with the highest number of readers were: South Africa (112,398), Ethiopia (105,649) and Nigeria (104,549).
Of course it is hard to be certain, but the addition of Cover2Cover’s books to our library and the increase in readers in South Africa is a correlation that’s hard to miss.
But it’s not just in South Africa where these books are gaining hold.
In July, Cover2Cover’s Broken Promises had 11,189 readers. While the top number of readers were in South Africa, readers in Nigeria were not far behind. In July, a total of 200,894 pages of Broken Promises were read in Nigeria. The stories of Harmony High are not just appealing to the tastes of South Africa’s townships, but readers in Nigeria who perhaps also identify with the struggles and triumphs of someone like Ntombi.
6,828 kilometers lie between South Africa and Nigeria’s capital cities. Shipping costs alone make a books’s journey difficult. Worldreader’s reading app is changing that. It only takes a low cost mobile phone and mobile data to access books like Broken Promises. Readers in Nigeria are reading about the lives of youth in South Africa, likely closing gaps in assumptions. Hopefully, data on the uptake of these books may encourage other publishing markets to create more localized literature, like Cover2Cover.
In one of the many interviews that ensued after the Caine Prize announcement, Lidudumalingani discusses the first book he ever read. It was a book in Xhosa titled Hunger Breeds Evil. Lidudumalingani says, “much of my school reading was populated with foreign novels, plays and poetry. Mzwanele Lamati revealed to me a universe that had always been within grasp yet hidden behind the colonial reading material taught at school.”
Worldreader, in partnership with publishers and authors, is creating a world where readers no longer have to grasp for a book, but can dive right in, connecting with characters both similar and different, reaffirming and challenging ideas through diverse narratives.
Learn more about how you can become a supporting Worldreader Author or Publisher.