Ghana International Book Fair 2019 - exploring the digital opportunity
- 11.7 million people online
- 39% internet penetration
By StreetLib.com and TheNewPublishingStandard.com
Ghana International Book Fair 2019
- exploring the digital opportunity -
11.7 million people online
39% internet penetration
The Global Book Market was worth
$143 billion in 2016.
The good news?
71% of that was outside the USA.
Rest of the World 71%
Global Book Market 2016 (1)
The bad news?
Less than 1% of that was Africa.
Global Book Market 2016 (2)
Rest of the World
It's not that a $1 billion Africa book market is unimpressive.
But it's less than 1% of the global book market, despite
Africa having around 20% of the world's population.
The good news is, both the global book market and the Africa book
market are growing fast.
Let's take a closer look.
Predicting book market growth is not an exact science, so while we
cannot take these forecasts as gospel, we can take them as indicative.
Most of the growth will be happening outside the USA. China and India
will account for much of it, as will the rest of the world.
But digital will be the main driver of that growth.
So where does that leave Africa?
Africa's book market could grow by 50% if we carry on as we are.
But it's 2019, not 2009.
Carrying on as we are while the rest of the
global publishing industry embraces digital
and leaves us behind is not an option.
Africa's children deserve better.
Ghana's children deserve better.
Here's what might happen if the African publishing industry
actively embraced the digital opportunity.
Imagine an Africa book market worth $5 billion.
To understand why such growth is possible with digital we need first
to understand why the Africa book market is so under-developed
For brevity, and to distinguish it from the digital opportunity, I'll refer
to the current model as the analogue model.
It's not strictly scientific but will help keep the two models clear in our
The "analogue publishing model" is the one we all
know and love.
Beautiful printed books on paper.
We all love printed books! Don't see this as an anti-print diatribe!
But... Printed books are expensive to produce,
expensive to distribute, and expensive to store.
And if that's true of mature, wealthy book markets like the USA, how much more so in
Why is the Africa book market so under-developed?
History is partly to blame.
Colonialism and the post-colonial legacy, of course.
And many missed opportunities since.
But we can't rewrite history, so let's move on.
Africa is massive.
Africa is as big as the USA,
China, India, Japan and all of
It's such a vast continent that it's no wonder it's not been possible to
develop a pan-African publishing industry.
The cold reality is that it's easier for a publisher in Kenya or Benin to sell a
book in the USA or France than it is to sell the same book in neighbouring
Tanzania or Togo. Or even to different parts of the same country.
But we can't change the size of Africa, so let's move on.
Low literacy levels across the African continent have held back the
publishing industry, of course. Low literacy equals low book sales.
More books in schools will encourage children to read.
But many schools only have text books.
Very few children have books at home.
Many people who can read do not do so.
Books are expensive and the few books that are available do not
But people would read more if:
a) they were offered free books to get them started and hook them on reading
b) they were offered a better choice of books
c) they were offered affordable books
d) they were offered books in the language they speak at home
e) they were offered comics and graphic novels
f) they were offered books they could listen to
Under the analogue publishing model none of those are
viable options at scale across Africa.
But all those options are viable across Africa
with the digital model.
Digital changes everything.
Digital changes everything?
That's a bold statement. But true.
While African publishers have (mostly) been looking the other
way, publishers in the rest of the world have been
enjoying the benefits of digital books for over a decade.
Statista reports that in 2017 in the USA the trade ebook market
alone saw 266 million sales and was worth $1.02 billion -
equivalent to the entire African book market. (6)
Statista's 2019 forecast for the entire US ebook market is a valuation
of $5.487 billion. (7)
Digital library supplier Rakuten OverDrive delivers ebooks and digital audiobooks to
consumers in the US and globally.
In 2018 OverDrive handled 277 million digital book downloads. That's 750,000
185 million ebooks and 88 million audiobooks were borrowed from OverDrive
libraries in 2018. (8)
Tiny Singapore - population 5.6 million - was among
65 libraries worldwide that saw
over 1 million digital book downloads.
In Canada - population 33 million - over
5.6 million digital books were borrowed from the
Toronto library in 2018.
In 2019 Storytel operates in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland,
Iceland, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, India,
United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Italy, Mexico, Bulgaria,
Singapore, Germany and Colombia.
It will launch in Brazil, South Korea and likely Thailand this year.
Storytel has over 1 million subscribers. (9)
Storytel is a digital audiobook and ebook
subscription service based in Sweden.
In China ebooks and online literature is big business.
In 2017 the Chinese media giant Tencent spun off its ebook arm
China Literature in an IPO worth $1 billion - equivalent to the entire
African book market. (10)
There are countless more examples, but let's address
the BIG problem with all this.
We're talking about Africa.
There's hardly anyone online here!
Internet penetration is less than 40%!
Here's why: This is the 2018 map of submarine internet cables
connecting Africa with the world.
And that's before this new Equiano cable -
- goes live in the early 2020s.
Nana Gyan Apenteng, President of the Ghana Writers
Association, famously said in 2018,
"Of course, we would all claim that we are reading on our phones
but that is largely untrue…unless reading WhatsApp messages can
be described as reading."
Yet in the rest of the world readers are lapping up digital books
alongside WhatsApp messages and, yes, alongside print books.
China Literature understands the potential of Africa and has
partnered with smartphone-maker Transsion.
Transsion said: “The circulation of digital reading in Africa is still in its
early days and presents huge opportunities. We have noticed increasing
demand for online reading content from our African mobile users."
Okay, now to look at some real numbers to put
Africa's potential in perspective.
Statista predicts the New Zealand ebook market will be
worth $37 million in 2019. (12)
New Zealand's online population?
4.2 million. (13)
All these African nations have more people
online than New Zealand. (14)
Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Sudan (14) all have more people
online than Sweden (15), the home of Storytel.
11.7 million 12.5 million 9.7 million 13.7 million
Statista predicts the Netherlands ebook market will be worth
$94 million in 2019. (16)
The Netherlands has 16.4 million people online. (15)
Algeria and Ethiopia both have more. (14)
Statista predicts the Australia ebook market will be worth
$89 million in 2019. (17)
Australia has 21.7 million people online.(13)
Here's how Morocco and Uganda compare. (14)
Statista predicts the Canada ebook market will be worth
$521 million in 2019. (18)
Canada has 33.2 million people online. (19)
South Africa is now ahead of Canada with 33.6 million people online.
South Africa is only at 56.2% internet penetration. (14)
Statista predicts the Spain ebook market will be worth
$135 million in 2019. (20)
Spain has 42.9 million people online. (15)
43.3 million (14)
43.6 million (14)
Statista predicts the Italy ebook market will be worth
$128 million in 2019. (21)
Italy has 54.8 million people online. (15)
49.2 million. (14)
Statista ebook market value predictions for 2019
France $533 m
60.4 million online
Germany $294 m
72.3 million online
UK $820 m
63 million online (15)
Nigeria has more people online than
France, Germany, the UK or Russia!
Nigeria has 119 million people online.
Nigeria is the 6th largest country in the world
by internet users.
And it's still only at 59.5% internet penetration. (25)
Now let's take a step back and see the bigger picture.
In the Year 2000 there were just
4.5 million Africans online.
Today there are 525 million. (14)
Over half a billion Africans are online!!!
Now let's put that 525 million Africans online in context.
And Africa is still only at 39.5% internet penetration.
Which means there's still plenty of room to grow.
The question is, by how much?
Internet take-up is closely correlated to smartphone use.
(And smartphones are great for ebooks and digital audiobooks!)
Here's how Africa's smartphone future looks.
Taking smartphone growth, improved telecom infrastructure and
falling internet prices together it's reasonable to predict the
growth (10,000% between the year 2000-2018) will not stop
Given the close correlation of smartphone growth to date it's
reasonable to assume that by 2025 we could be looking at 800
million Africans online. (28)
In this brief overview I've had to leave out much more than I've been
able to include.
No mention here of Amazon's ebook subscription service Kindle
Unlimited, or Scribd (which earlier this year topped 1 million
subscribers) or 24Symbols or Legimi or....
I touched on Storytel but didn't mention other audiobook services like
Audible, Ubook, Booklava, Kitab Sawti, and Ghana's very own
AkooBooks. There are countless more.
Nor is digital limited to text and audio.
Digital comics are big business around the world.
Then there's cookery books, photography...
And there are countless new digital variants emerging that give
publishers more reach,
more revenue and more possibilities.
It's not an either / or debate. Printed books and comics and their
digital counterparts can comfortably co-exist.
And best of all, digital is language agnostic. Digital books, comics
and audio can be created in all Africa's myriad and beautiful
languages, and distributed to eager readers in huge cities,
suburban townships and, just as easily, in the remotest villages.
No minimum print runs. No expensive printing. No costly
distribution to a handful of bookstores. No remainders.
Just easy and virtually free potential reach to the
525 million Africans online today
(800 million by 2025).
And globally to more than 4.3 billion
potential customers (over 7 billion by 2025)
who are going online daily around the world.
Digital is an opportunity not just for publishers but for a raft
of industries that revolve around publishing.
From content creators to librarians to educationalists to the
creative industries like film and television. Just look at the way
books are driving TV and film production globally.
Digital publishing will not just benefit publishers, but will
power the African economy.
That is the African
And that is the Ghana
A reminder: Statista forecasts the New Zealand ebook
market will be worth $37 million in 2019. (12)
New Zealand's online population? 4.2 million. (13)
With 11.7 million internet users Ghana
has almost three times the online population
of New Zealand.
A reminder: Sweden the home of digital audiobook
company Storytel, has just 9.7 million people online.
Yet is has 400,000 subscribers in Sweden and over one
With 11.7 million internet users Ghana
already has two million more people online than
Sweden, and is only at 39% internet penetration.
Imagine where Ama Dadson's AkooBooks Audio
might be in ten years time if Ghana's and Africa's
publishers were to embrace the digital opportunity.
It's not an either/or choice.
A hybrid print and digital model is the preferred option
for most publishers, letting them
enjoy the best of both worlds.
Check out our bi-weekly newsletter Publish Africa to see
how publishers around the world are benefitting.
Can we help?
Based in Italy, StreetLib is a global digital content aggregator
and publishing facilitator working with publishers
large and small around the world.
We can help you get started with digital or help you expand
your existing digital reach.
Visit our website or email us to explore the possibilities.
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