Ready to learn about something cool? I hope so – this about blew my mind with the neat-o. I was contacted recently by Dani, who works for WorldReader.org. Their mission is to make digital books available to developing nations, and they focus on school children. But because they want everyone to assist kids in picking up the digital reading habit, WorldReader also makes books available to adults through their supremely cool app. The app is for everyone, as they want to reach as many people as possible.
Dani contacted me because guess what type of book is among the most popular among the adult readers? But, of course: romance!
When Dani emailed me, I asked her all kinds of nosy questions because I thought this was really freaking cool. I put together a Q&A based on our conversation, and I hope you find it as interesting as I did.
I work for an organization called Worldreader (http://www.worldreader.org) whose mission is to bring books to all. We do this by using electronic books delivered over mobile phones and eReaders, a solution which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of books being sent to children in schools and several hundred thousand more people in the developing world reading engaging stories on their phones. I'm writing to you two today because we've discovered, somewhat unsurprisingly, that no matter where people are in the world they love reading romance novels, and in our quest to acquire more of the kinds of things people like reading I'm thinking you could help.
To clarify on our audience, our eReader program is geared toward students (primary to high school), however in order to make our programs a success in the schools in which we work the teachers need to love their reading devices. We often try to put on exclusive teacher-only content that will get them reading, like romance. As for our mobile app, it's interestingly, mostly men in their late teens and early twenties but they also seem to dig romance, a lot…. We have a lot of romance stories from Africa, particularly by an author called Myne Whitman who is originally from Nigeria that you might be interested in.
How did you discover that romance is popular? What writers are read the most?
We can see what people are reading and romance novels generally have the most page views and opens. There was one book, by Myne “A Heart to Mend”, that we couldn't knock of out the top spot for weeks. Also, now we've added some books from romance publishers and they're accounting for an astonishing number of page views. Finally, we did a survey and when asked our readers said they liked reading romance (and non fiction).
How does your service work? Are the books provided free or do readers have to buy them? Which countries are using your app?
The books are free and the bulk of our readership is in India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia, though most African countries have at least some readership. In order to access The Worldreader Book App people have to download something called biNu (http://www.binu.com) which is free and comes with a suite of other free items.
biNu's main attraction is that it turns a feature phone (a low end smart phone that normally runs on java, though the program also works on Android phones) into a smart phone by making it run faster and have items display better on the screen. If you want to see a demo of this, we have a page showing our Worldreader in action.
Most of our stories are also African as well, though we do have romance titles from the US and Canada and we're slowly acquiring more Latin American content. We also have a lot of skills development and non-fiction educational content (about malaria, for instance).
Do readers have to pay to read the books, or are they donated by the publisher? Are you looking for more material from American or European publishers? Are there (forgive me for not knowing this) many African publishers of digital material?
Readers don't have to pay to read the books. Most of the stories are donated directly by authors, some from publishers. Publishers are using it to market themselves in the areas we have traction and I see what they are doing more as promotion than donation.
With most of our African content (including the books in our eReader program) we've been taking on the costs of digitization and a lot of the epub conversion has been done in house. There aren't that many African publishers that do their own digital conversion but it's slowly starting to pick up steam in the African market. Anything we convert we send back to the publishers so they have epubs and mobis of everything on hand.
Have you noticed that romance is far above other topics/genres in the ereading? How many romance titles and total titles do you have now?
What languages are they reading in?
In terms of the mobile phone app people really do love romance more than anything else even though they self report liking non-fiction as much.
We've got about 50 romance titles and about 300 titles overall. Our books are mostly in English but we also have Spanish books and a few French titles. We're working on fleshing out our languages since the platform (biNu) that we are on can display books in any language with any characters.
If authors want to donate I normally get in touch directly. They can choose to donate just to the App program, or to both our App and eReader program. Depending on which they choose they sign a contract, send us a preferably word doc or epub of their book and we upload it to our App. Instantly, our readers are able to read their story.
If I really want people to read something I just add it to our top ten new.
That's interesting! So the Top Ten New gets a lot of interest? That's cool.
Which languages do people read in most? Do you know which countries in Africa use the service most?
Well, when it comes to languages many countries (for example Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda) were all British colonies at one point in time. Most people tend to be bilingual or trilingual, speaking several tribal languages in addition to English. English is taught in all the schools as well and most official business and signs tend to be in English. Dutch and French are also big, but not in the countries we're operating in.
The countries that use the app the most in Africa are Nigeria and Ethiopia.
If you're interested in donating a book to Worldreader, you can read more about the services for publishers and authors on their website. You can also learn more about WorldReader's focus on Africa on their FAQ.