eBooks launched in Kenya


Image: By BiztechAfrica
eBooks launched in Kenya

By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya

An international business process outsourcing company has launched an electronic books service that is set to revolutionise publishing in the Kenya. Digital Divide Data (DDD), a social enterprise BPO with a subsidiary in Kenya, will offer the ebooks service through the eKitabu.com online portal and free Android application.

An ebook is a digital version of a traditional print book, although new technologies enable publishers to add audio, video and interactive features into them. 

eKitabu requires a data connection to purchase, download and open an ebook for the first time. Once downloaded, the ebooks can be read offline on a PC, laptop or tablet device. Ekitabu offers paid-for and free ebooks, as well as audio books.

eKitabu Chief Executive Matthew Utterback said the portal offers over 250,000 titles in different categories across subjects such as fiction, romance, religion, education and engineering, among others.

Breaking the payment barrier

It has also broken the e-commerce barrier of payment in Africa by enabling purchase of ebooks using mobile money transfer service M-Pesa as well as credit cards. He said the payment options would be graduated to include other mobile operators.

“eKitabu lets you access ebooks from international and Kenyan publishers, buy them using M-Pesa or credit card and, most importantly, read them. You can read ebooks purchased on eKitabu on any Android phone or tablet device, and any computer – all with free software,” he said ahead of the Nairobi International Book Fair, to be held between September 26 and 30 this year at the Sarit Centre, Nairobi.

To celebrate the launch, the first 1,000 visitors to eKitabu’s stand at the book fair will receive a coupon for a free ebook, he said.

Electronic publishing presents a new growth opportunity for Kenyan publishers, who have shied away from ebooks over concerns of digital copyright infringements and security.

Addressing copyright concerns

Amolo Ngw’eno, the managing director of DDD Kenya, said eKitabu has integrated a secure system that locks out piracy and which has been approved by major publishers word-wide. Using this technology has enabled eKitabu to secure rights to sell ebooks from American and British publishers in Kenya and throughout Africa.

In the US, Amazon.com pioneered consumer ebooks with the launch of its Kindle eReader device in 2007. Even with the launch of the iPad in 2010, Amazon still retains its dominant position in the US ebook market. Internationally, however, the market is much more open. New technologies enable anyone with a smart phone to purchase and read ebooks.  The critical last mile, said Utterback, is to provide localised payment mechanisms, training for new ebook users, and to partner with local publishers to provide relevant content.

“The average Kenyan is currently locked out of purchasing ebooks from the world’s major online retailers due to sales territory and payment restrictions,” said Ngw’eno. “eKitabu is securing the rights to sell ebooks in Kenya and East Africa from major international publishers.

Highlighting local literature

He said eKitabu gives publishers a platform on which to sell ebooks locally and internationally, and for Kenyan consumers and students to buy and read local and international titles. “We saw the problems as connected,” said Utterback, who is also DDD's Vice President for New Ventures. “Without great books available, consumers wouldn’t be attracted to ebooks; without consumers attracted to ebooks, publishers wouldn’t be interested in making their books available.  Therefore, we’ve solved both problems at once – opening up a huge catalog of books, and giving publishers an easy way to add their books to our catalog.”

Utterback said eKitabu provides a full range of digital publishing and ebook services for publishers. Beyond retailing their ebooks on eKitabu, Digital Divide Data provides a complete service to help produce ebooks and monetise content through international distribution on Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble’s ebook stores.

In the US, EU and Asia, the ebook market is growing rapidly.  After years of declining sales, US publishers are now seeing revenue growth, largely attributed to ebooks, according to the American Publishers’ Association. The overall ebooks growth rate in the US stands at 49% percent, but hit 475% in young adult and children’s books.

Utterback says the market for ebooks in Kenya is still just being created. However, he added, eKitabu can point to some early success and is encouraged by the rapid adoption of smart phones and tablets.

In June this, eKitabu supported Kwani Trust, a Kenyan literary publisher, to launch the first Kenyan ebook – Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place.

"Kwani was a perfect partner for us to launch with," said Ngw’eno of DDD Kenya. "They have an open vision of the digital, mobile future of reading and culture in Africa.”

eKitabu also has partnered with Text Book Centre to power ebook kiosks in their retail shops as well as Text Book Centre’s online ebook store.  The first kiosk is up and running at Text Book Centre’s shop in Nairobi’s Sarit Centre, and the kiosks will come to more of their shops soon.


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