A ‘novel’ idea for spreading literature in Africa: The cellphone

Reading using cellphone

A man wearing yellow shoes checks his phone in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, in Nairobi, Kenya, in March. Cellphones are ‘a huge component of how consumption is happening here,’ Angela Wachuka, executive director of Kenya’s Kwani Trust says. Photo: Jerome Delay/AP

New technology and new thinking are helping African literature leapfrog the high costs of traditional publishing and reach new readers across the continent. Csmonitor.com reports:

As e-readers boom in popularity in the West, African publishers are stretching their reach with the help of a device millions already have in their pockets: their cellphones.

“You can give people instant access to work now,” says Angela Wachuka, executive director of Kenya’s Kwani Trust, which publishes the popular Kwani? literary journal. “Before, you had to rely on delivery or people coming to find you.”

Mobile internet now accounts for well over half of all web traffic in some African countries, and it is expected to grow 25-fold on the continent in the next four years, according to the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association, an industry organization.

Cellphones are “a huge component of how consumption is happening here,” Ms. Wachuka says, noting that she’s seen Kenyans devour hundreds of pages of text on their tiny screens, plowing through tell-all memoirs and other accounts of the country’s recent political turmoil.

For now anyway, much of that literature is pirated, but Kwani is taking the approach that if the e-literate get a taste for free, at least some will pay for more.