Digital Reading | January 25, 2019

Working with Publishers to Build Lasting Change


Reading on a Phone

Reduced production costs, shortened timelines and access to new markets are among some of the drivers to digital publishing captured in a recent survey with publishers in Sub-Saharan Africa. At Worldreader, we work with over 400 publishers worldwide and after 8 years of publisher capacity-building, we were eager to better understand the impact of digital on the book market in three of our primary target countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2018, we interviewed over 60 publishers, both partners, and unaffiliated, to consolidate insights on the state of digital publishing in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Our Model

Since 2010, Worldreader has paid over $2 Million dollars to publishers in Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Jordan for their content. What sets Worldreader apart from many reading organizations in the international development space is our commitment to supporting local publishers. We realized early on, after some trial and error, that the success of any reading program relies on the strength and self-reliance of the local book supply chain. Ever since, Worldreader has worked closely with local publishers and authors to build this supply chain and support their capacity-building as both business and learning partners.

Through early collaborations with these publishers, we built a model for lasting change designed to support the local economy. We provide incremental revenue to local publishers in each geography, based on the distribution of their books, while continuing to reduce costs for our end user through competitive pricing for tablet-based books and free content on our mobile phone apps. This revenue model was a departure from the development standard at the time, which was to commission content and rely on project funds for distribution and dissemination. This new digital publishing model provided a longer shelf-life because of the commercial benefits to the local book supply chain. Since that time Worldreader has created a library of over 35,000 titles through partnerships with 425 publishers globally, including 162 African publishers. We have digitized several thousand book titles and further supported a number of our publishing partners to build digital into their business plans. A number of these publishers have started to successfully produce and sell digital copies of their books commercially.

Survey Findings

Available on Worldreader’s Learnings Page, the results of the study outline themes that exist across all three markets, like reduced production costs and shortened timelines through digital. Digital is making it cheaper and easier to create and produce content. While large educational publishers maintain a stronghold on the market, economies of scale for production of physical books make it prohibitive for smaller trade publishers to enter the market. However, some of these smaller publishers are beginning to embrace digital to strip away the need for minimal print runs, they are leveraging digital to diversify the types of books brought to market.

Future of Digital Publishing

Publishers across the board are embracing the opportunity for digital books. All respondents identified extended reach to wider audiences as not only the greatest value-add but also the greatest challenge. Through the three surveyed markets we are able to identify where there is a need among publishers in the region for further support to successfully embrace digital, and where opportunities exist to leverage digital publishing to build more robust and varied publishing ecosystems across the continent.

We encourage you to read the report and consider donating to help Worldreader build capacity among more of our publishing partners in 2019 as we work to build an ecosystem for reading around the globe.