biNu a hit

Africans have a thirst for mobile content and it’s not just for SMS news headlines and football scores. Last week social media content platform biNu announced that its partnership with World Reader had netted it 0.5 million book readers on mobile phones and that the number was growing 30% a month. Russell Southwood spoke to Mark Shoebridge of biNu about this development.

When you hear about content being developed for mobile phones, it’s not the mobile operators who are making the running. Yes, SMS services and income will be relevant for some time to come. But the really interesting content services that give some idea of what Africa’s future will look like are being developed by independent companies.

Social media content platform biNu entered into a partnership with World Reader. The latter is the organization that has been putting 3G Kindles into schools in Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana and Uganda, pre-loaded with content, more of which later. biNu provides a cloud-based, low-bandwidth, smart-phone like service for low-end smartphones and feature-phones. It gives the user a scroll button navigable, icon-based screen. biNu created the World Reader book app. This has then been available to its 4.2 million monthly active users globally, 1 million of whom are in Africa.

The partnership with World Reader is part of biNu’s overall education strategy that includes: a Wordnik dictionary (which can both listen and translate); flash cards for doing test revision in key school subjects; educational quiz games; and Word Target, a  game that gets the user to make as many words as possible out of a combination of letters.

World Reader’s motto is books for all and a key part of its work has been making agreements with African and international publishers to make their books available on devices like mobiles and Kindles. These books include African titles like City Life, Kobbey’s Trolley, No Empty Dream and Happiness at last as well as international titles like Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Nancy Drew books. These titles are available in – in English, in Twi, in Kiswahili, in Kinyarwanda.

The books offered on the Kindles are for primary school students whereas the mobile phone readers are teens and young adults. World Reader found negotiating book rights for the Kindle relatively easy but publishers were “freaking out” about the scale of the potential mobile readership and its potential impact on paid sales. Nevertheless a number of publishers took the leap and signed up.

It currently has 1,000 books available and these are a mixture of public domain classics and books where publishers have the rights. The latter includes some of the following organisations: The Caine Prize for African Writing (short stories), Harlequin/Mills and Boone (25 bodice rippers, most of which quickly shot into the readers’ top 10), CK-12 and Yoza cellphone stories.

The attraction of the partnership for World Reader is that it can: see what they’re searching for; collect data on what people are reading and have a channel to ask them what they want more of.

biNu had 484,000 active mobile readers in July who read some 24 million pages. The number of active readers is growing at around 30% a month. This is interesting interesting in terms of the widely repeated assumption that Africans don’t read. In terms of African page views, 42% are from Nigeria, 10% from Zimbabwe and 5% from Ethiopia and Ghana respectively. With public domain classics from Gutteberg there was demand globally but that demand had begun to flatline. With the addition of new books, use in Africa and India really took off. The challenge now is to create a consistent pipeline of new books.

47% of its readers have a phone with a screen that is  240 mm by 320 mm – which is also the most popular phone type. 31% of its readers have a phone with a screen 320 mm by 240 mm and 14% have a screen that is 128 mm x 160 mm. The latter has a tiny number of words per screen.

To get some idea of what makes biNu users tick, it collected the top 20 searches, which account for just 9% of its 180,000 monthly searches. These provide a fascinating insight into the pre-occupations of its readers: sex (3,172), love (1,505), the Bible (1,338), Harry Potter (1,199) and the Quran (1,078). Among the other top searches are Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (which is probably a school text) and Romeo and Juliet.

World Reader ran a survey with biNu and got 15,000 responses in a month which gives some idea of the enthusiasm and loyalty users have. Based on three surveys in a six-week period with 17,865 responses it discovered that the majority of respondents were male (82%) but there must be many female mobile readers based on the popularity of the Harlequin/Mills and Boone titles. 90% are aged 16-35, 81% are single, 41% are students and 85% have no children. This is Africa’s coming generation and they aren’t much like their parents. 74% of them read books on their mobile at home.

The five main reasons for reading on a mobile phone (in descending order) were: convenience; access to books which were otherwise available, free, more fun than a book and light for night-time reading. Top five books are fairly consistent for both men and women: romance, action, textbooks, spiritual and classics.

72.2% said they read to learn, 8.3% for entertainment and 5% to escape reality. They would spend more time reading if they had more interesting books (42.9%) and more free time (35.9%). The majority of users were reading themselves but in Africa’s sharing culture 28.9% of those reading were friends, 11.7% were siblings and 9.6% were parents. 92.9% accessed the Internet on their mobile but 5% had their own computer.

All of this data illustrates that young Africans have a thirst for knowledge and want to read. The challenge now is for both African and International publishers to step up to the plate and get them more materials. Chinua Achebe’s place in the hearts of young Africans will be assured if his texts are available on mobile phones.

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biNu a hit