5 July 2012

Nigeria: Can E-Books Replace Paper Books?

Up to 43 per cent of Nigerians would prefer to read electronic books (e-books), a Daily Trust online poll shows, though the larger percentage still prefer to read a "normal" book.

The poll asked which kind of books readers preferred, between print books and e-books. A little more than 57 per cent of the 1,579 visitors who participated in the poll chose normal books, leaving 43 per cent who preferred e-books.

The figure shows some awareness about the latest book technology sweeping through the world of publishing.

Data from 250 publishers around the world show sales of consumer e-books increase by 366 per cent last year, according to the Publishers Association.

Last year alone, e-book sales became equivalent to 6 per cent of consumer physical book sales by value, it highlighted in its report.

"The beauty of e-books is that they are so versatile, you can read on your phone, computer or several brands of e-readers. You can also send them digitally to any part of the world," says Myne Whitman, author of Heart to Mend and Rekindled. Both works of the Nigerian writer based in Seattle, USA, have been stocked on major online ebook retail stores.

"Currently, almost 50,000 copies of all my ebooks combined has been downloaded. That is five times more than the paperback copies," she told Daily Trust.

"Most of the fan mail I have received have been from those who read the e-versions of my books, maybe because these people spend more time on the internet."

The admission is telling for several reasons. Zubairu Atta, a consultant on book strategy and member of Abuja Literary Society estimates awareness may reach 60% of Nigeria - and "is still catching on particularly because the concept of payment is still an issue."

"A lot of people are still not very conversant with using their ATM card and those who have credit cards are not sure about it."

The basic infrastructure needed for an e-book market to take off is still flagging, and Atta says the "Nigerian market is before creation --i t hasn't been born properly."

Novelist Netty Ejike says many people she has come across know little or nothing about ebooks.

"That is not alarming. To be interested in ebooks means you have your own personal computer, or at least you have one you can have instant access to," says the author of Obsession, His Sin, Stormy Affair, An Impious Proposal.

"Talking about e-book readers is going a bit too far," she adds. Highend stores in Abuja stock the latest models of tablet computers and phones, but none has an e-reader on offer.

It doesn't mean Nigerians don't use e-books. Recent research has found a growing number of undergraduate and postgraduate students read e-books.

Publishers offer academic textbook in digital formats in addition to hardcopy. And it is quite easy to download digital copies of textbooks in computing, engineering and statistics than wait to pick up one in the post. The problem is paying for it.

A survey of e-book use at the University of Ibadan in which 750 people participated found no respondent paid for their electronic textbooks. They got them as free downloads from websites offering free e-books or borrowed from friends who in turn got the e-books as free downloads.

Online stores selling normal books in Nigeria depend on banks to get their money. Not many buyers would want to run for a bank teller to buy a N400 novel. An online credit system is desired but must overcome scepticism that dogs anything digital in Nigeria.

Atta reads e-books but, "buying them online is too cumbersome," he says. He points to elaborate scams in which download pages freeze up and links to download e-books automatically disappear once payment is confirmed in online transaction.

Those who have read e-books love the feel of technology but it is just "not the same satisfaction," he says, admitting he is old fashioned.

"Despite that, I have a lot of experience reading both e-books and paper copies. I find more satisfaction and trust in reading paper copies, because it is in my hand."

E-books require power to a computer or laptop and electricity remains serious problems, not to mention internet access to download them. Additionally, there are the children to consider.

"I am very scared of having them read e-books on computers. Before you know it sometimes they stray onto the internet and get things that destroy their attention. If you take them, give them a paper book for an hour a day, you see that they benefit more -- are more disciplined, more focused," says Atta.

Netty is still looking to have her titles carried on Debonair when the online store begins carrying electronic books. Maybe sales could reach massive ratios of 500 e-books to 1 print copy, she hopes.

"On the other hand, paperbacks are still very much in vogue in Nigeria (for the few who are still avid readers), and until the awareness of e-books is well established, they will continue to outsell the digital format."

An electronic book is a book in digital format--to be read on computer, using specialised software or special gadgets known as electronic readers like the Kindle.

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