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The rise and rise of e-reading

The printed book, despite predictions of demise, still rolls along. However, the challenge from the rising popularity of e-reading is real

Africans spent more than four million hours reading books on their mobile phones in 2018, a milestone that represents an increase of 32 per cent from the same period last year, a new study has revealed.

Dubbed, “Reading in the Mobile Era,” and conducted by Worldreader, the study reveals that 65 per cent of mobile readers in Africa are men while 35 per cent are women.

On average, women spent 207 minutes per month reading on their mobile phones during the three-month period of the study. Men, in contrast, read about 33 minutes per month. Women also tended to read more frequently and for longer periods at a time.

During the study period, men read three to four times a month for around 10 minutes each time, while women read around11 times per month for about 19 minutes each time. In terms of hours read per month, women performed 66 per cent of the total reading completed during the study period, despite the fact that they only constitute 23 per cent of the total readers.

Nine million new readers

This number has been increasing after Opera and Worldreader- a global non-profit organisation that provides free access to a library of digital books, signed a partnership in 2015.  Their technology compresses text and images to 10 per cent of their original size, reducing data consumption and allowing users to spend more time reading and downloading their favourite books when using Worldreader.

Nigeria, South Africa and Ivory Coast are leading other African countries with the highest mobile and online reading populations in 2018.According to the study, African mobile readers prefer reading books related to love and romance, especially those that come from local authors and publishers.

“We are very happy to contribute to literacy in Africa with our Opera Mini browser as we give mobile users access to Worldreader’s vast library,” said Jan Standal, Vice President Product Marketing and Communications at Opera. “Since we started this partnership we have added more than nine million new readers in Africa who now enjoy books from different genres such as romance, adventure and education, among others,” he added.

According to the latest report by Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GSMA), “The Mobile Economy sub-Saharan Africa 2018”, at the end of last year there were more than 444 million unique mobile subscribers and 250 million smartphone users. These numbers represent a big opportunity to bring reading to millions in the sub-Saharan region through technology.

Mobile penetration

“We know that mobile phone affordability and the convenience of owning one are two big reasons why we are seeing more and more people accessing our e-book collection through their mobile devices in Africa”, said Colin Mcelwee, co-founder at Worldreader. “Our partnership with Opera Mini is a perfect match, with Opera browser being the number one choice for mobile users across Africa”.

It was originally hypothesised that people read on mobile phones because they lacked access to paper books and stories. However, the survey results indicate that, overwhelmingly, convenience ranks as the primary reason people read on mobile devices. Popular secondary reasons include affordability, a preference over paper books and to a lesser extent, lack of access to books.

“Expanding the amount of local-language text accessible through mobile phones could enlarge readership worldwide and help address the global literacy crisis,” said Colin.

Of the 492 respondents who said they originally disliked reading on their mobile phones, one in every five became frequent, habitual or power readers on Worldreader Mobile. This data strongly indicates that people who do not like to read in general may eventually enjoy reading more and read more avidly after they start reading on their mobile phones.

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