By Nathan Hull
Kotobi is a Vodafone-backed ebook service from Egypt. According to Managing Dircetor, Ashraf Maklad, the Vodafone partnership has had a profound impact: “The [Vodafone] name got us a serious, high-level meeting with almost all publishers. However business here is still done on a handshake so personal relationships, the business model, trust, and transparency is what closed the deal.” He predicts that increased smartphone and tablet penetration, lower prices in this region for digital, more players in the market, and more new business model will continue to grow the market at a pace. Citing research on the increased demand for ebooks in the region, Kotobi will seek to replicate their Vodafone Egypt model with expansion this year into GCC and Levant countries. PWC seem to back this conclusion, predicting that 14% of Egypt’s total books revenue will come from ebooks by 2018.
EkTab — an iOS, Android and web ebook service — is pan-MENA and will shortly be launching an initiative to tackle issues around credit card payments. Cash-on-delivery is the preferred current method for the region, and EKtab co-founder Bilil Zahra plans to tackle this head on by launching a credit system across the GCC. “The options to pay for digital content in our region are very complex and challenging,” he says. “For digital content sales we’ve created ‘eKtab credit’. The user chooses denominations between $50 and $500. A driver collects the money from that user in cash, and we then activate that account with the credit to buy ebooks.” It’s a bold move founded by the desire to just make something happen.
The undertaking isn’t the first time Zahra has tackled an issue face-to-face. A common perception is that there are not enough ebooks in Arabic to stimulate demand for local platforms to launch or international platform to enter. EkTab addressed the issue by becoming the only IDPF-validated service and therefore also creating the ebooks on behalf of the publishers. “We rearranged the whole digital publishing formula to add our own code so the fonts worked as well as the right to left reading,” explains Zahra.
It’s not an established region yet, both with local businesses starting to emerge and big players lurking ominously in the shadows primed to move, and so the opportunity seems to me a glorious one. Connectivity in the GCC countries is amongst the fastest in the world, smartphone and tablet penetration is increasing rapidly, publishers are starting to adapt their rights agreements to automatically include digital, Arabic is set to be the fourth-biggest internet language by 2018, some of the most expansive book fairs in the world are hosted there and developing an infrastructure for payment solutions grows closer by the year — so why wait?
As Chief Business Development Officer at Mofibo, Europe’s success story in the world of eBook subscription models, Nathan’s role is to identify the markets in which Mofibo will roll out as well as establishing relationships with media, telco and hardware partners, and negotiating terms with publishers and authors. Previously, Nathan was notably Penguin Random House’s Digital Product Development Director, with strategic responsibility for its blossoming digital portfolio and a strong focus on product innovation.