Can Africa take the lead in taking advantage of e-books, as it has with the rapid expansion of mobile phones and innovations such as mobile banking applications? It is certainly too early to be sure. But there are some solid reasons to think this might be possible, more quickly than it seemed only a year or two ago.
The advantages are clear, if internet access and bandwidth is available. There are literally millions of books now available free at various sites on the web, and the number is still growing rapidly. And Amazon's Kindle store has some 750,000 titles, most available at prices well under their paper counterparts.
Of course, there are still academic publishing dinosaurs, such as Taylor & Francis or Palgrave Macmillan, who are carrying their predatory pricing policies into the e-book realm with prices approaching or exceeding $100 a book. And some commercial publishers are also raising e-book prices. But overall, the price curve continues to go down. Next year Google, which already provides millions of public domain books for free viewing and pdf download, will also be selling hundreds of thousands of low-cost downloadable e-books through Google Editions, starting in 2011.
You can check out the current selection of free books on Google by going to http://books.google.com, choosing advanced search, and limiting the selection to books with "full view." Enter "Africa", and limit the search to the 19th century only, for example, and you will find more than a million books, including many classics of the colonial period in Africa.
And the ease of access in Africa is also increasing rapidly, with new fiber-optic links, access through mobile phones, and increased competition among providers, although the pace is very uneven. With Amazon's recent expansion of Kindle to over 100 countries, including most African countries (see list at http://tinyurl.com/y8o692u), international Kindle usage is also increasing rapidly, although Amazon does not release detailed statistics.
Personally I still prefer the advantages of paper books for personal reading, and printing out selected pages from on-line files when I want to read more than a few pages. So I haven't yet invested in a Kindle (or asked for it as a gift!). But if I were traveling more frequently than I do, or living in a place with fewer bookstores and libraries, I would likely quickly change my mind, given the relative costs.
A Zimbabwean friend of AfricaFocus writes "I have used it in Zimbabwe and South Africa and it has worked very well for me. Average download time for a book is about a minute on a wifi connection. For use in Africa I think it is important to invest in a kindle with wifi capability(some are 3G only) because 3G is not as widely available as wifi. There are many wifi hotspots in Harare at restaurants, bars, etc and that is how I usually connect and download my books."
Kindle does ship to most African countries. But if you can't afford a Kindle, note that Kindle books can be downloaded and read (with a free application) on a PC or a Mac. And for those more at the cutting edge of change than I, and with better eyes, there are even Kindle apps for reading books on your Iphone, Blackberry, or other smartphone.
If you want a convenient way to make books available to friends in Africa who don't have access, note that just this month Amazon made it possible for you to give a Kindle book to anyone with an e-mail address and web access. They can read it on a PC or Mac even if they don't have a Kindle.
This issue of AfricaFocus contains links for sources of free books, as well as a sampling of Kindle e-books with Africa-related content.
If you do decide to get a Kindle this year for yourself, or as a gift, please do so through this link:
That way you will be supporting AfricaFocus, at no extra cost to you!
And finally, I would very much welcome feedback from those of you who are using Kindle or other e-book formats in Africa, reporting on your experiences, good or bad, or suggesting additional books available on Kindle that might be added to the list below. I may summarize or quote your comments in an update, so let me know whether you want your name used or not. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org -- Editor's Note
Some Useful Sources for E-Books and Related Information
Google Advanced Book Search
Preview of Google Editions E-Book Format
Free Books Available for Kindle
Kindle Apps for PC, Mac, Iphone, Blackberry & more
This group is experimenting with use of Kindles in school in Ghana, as well as collaborating with African publishers in making books available on Kindle.
Books from WorldReader Project
A Sampling of Africa-Related Books available on Kindle
[Note that some books may not be available in some countries because of limitations in the publisher's territorial copyrights.]
Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, Half of a Yellow Sun
Akpan, Uwem, Say You're One of Them.
Austen , Ralph A., Trans-Saharan Africa in World History
Beah, ishmael, A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier
Bloomfield, Steve, Africa United: Soccer, Passion, Politics, and the First World Cup in Africa
Brautigam, Deborah, The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa
Campbell , James T., Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005
Carlin, John, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation
Carney, Judith, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World
Diawara, Manthia, In Search of Africa
Disney, Jennifer Leigh, Women's Activism and Feminist Agency in Mozambique and Nicaragua
Dowden, Richard, Africa: Ordered States, Ordinary Miracles
Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Crime of the Congo
Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth
Ferguson, James, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order
Falola, Toyin, The History of Nigeria
Ibe, Adimchinma, Treachery in the Yard: A Nigerian Thriller
Kapuscinski, Ryszard, Another Day of Life
Kidder, Tracy, Strength in What Remains
Maathai, Wangari, The Challenge for Africa
Maier, Karl, This House Has Fallen
Malley, Robert, The Call From Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the Turn to Islam
Mamdani, Mahmood, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror
Mandela, Nelson, Conversations with Myself
Mandela, Nelson, Long Walk to Freedom
Meredith, Martin, The Fate of Africa
Meriwether, James H., Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961
Meyer, Deon, Dead Before Dying
Meyer, Deon, Thirteen Hours
Mgendi, Mlenge Fanuel, Ng'ombe wa Maskini (Hadithi za Uswahilini)
Minter, William, King Solomon's Mines Revisited
Moore, Carlos, Fela: This Bitch of a Life
Nolen, Stephanie. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa
Nwaubani, Adaobi Tricia, I Do Not Come to You by Chance
Peel, Michael, A Swamp Full of Dollars: Pipelines and Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier
Polakow-Suransky, Sasha, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa
Quartey, Kwei, Wife of the Gods
Radelet, Steven, Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way
Richmond, Simon, et al., Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland Country Guide
Robinson, David, Muslim Societies in African History
Rogers, Douglas. The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
Sirleaf, Ellen Johnson, This Child Will Be Great
Smillie, Ian , Blood on the Stone: Greed, Corruption and War in the Global Diamond Trade
Soyinka, Wole, You Must Set Forth at Dawn
Thompson, Leonard, A History of South Africa (3rd edition)
wa Thiong'o, Ngugi, Dreams in a Time of War
Wrong, Michela, Our Turn to Eat