Books on the Go: What Keeps Addis Ababa Reading

In News by Dennis Abrams

Bookselling is curbside in Ethiopia’s largest city, where vendors on foot offer titles to passersby.

A ‘mobile bookseller’ at Equatorial Guinea Street in Addis Ababa. image – iStockphoto: Mustafa6 Noz

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

Books ‘Piled Up to Their Necks’
At Addis Fortune, as carried by AllAfrica, Mahlet Workayehu writes, “Everywhere you go in Addis these days, it seems that books are available to buy, whether it’s from a bookstand around Addis Ababa stadium and the National Theater or from bookshops or book vendors.”

Workayehu says that the credit for this observed increase in reading availability goes to the city’s mobile book vendors of Addis Ababa.

“With the country’s literacy rate at 40 percent,” Workayehu writes, “readership in Addis Ababa is growing. More and more people are developing the habit of reading in their spare time or making time in their busy schedules.”

In the  article, we hear from a book vendor, whose name is Addis, about how “people hanging out at bars and khat stores are buying books from us.”

These street vendors, Workayehu reports, roam the streets of Ethiopia’s capital carrying books piled “up to their necks.” He estimates that there may be as many as 1,000 of these vendors on the streets.

Book vendor Addis tells the paper that most Ethiopian readers are interested in books about politics or iconic novels:

“Books written by legends such as Alemayehu Gelagay and Adam Reta are hard to find since they are very old. When we find these books we sell them for a higher price because it is rare to get our hands on them…

“When we find these books we sell them for a higher price because it’s rare to get our hands on them…

“Recently, book publishers have been reprinting the classics and making then available for readers. They’ve been selling very fast since they have a huge fan base.”

And where do the vendors get the books they sell?

Although Ethiopia is reported to have imported US$11.2 million worth of books in 2015, many of the books that vendors sell are published and distributed locally.

Artistic Printing Press is mentioned as one of the leading houses, active for more than 70 years.

Overall interest in categories lies in textbooks, reportedly, but a demand for fiction and nonfiction titles is also said to be on the rise in this country of 93 million people with no VAT levied on books.

Of course it’s not always smooth sailing: the cost of printing has risen due to increased cost of materials and labor, Workayehu reports, and since some supplies, such as paper and ink are imported, the foreign exchange rate has impacted operations.

Nevertheless, he writes, “More and more readers are looking for books…There are only around 125 companies that print and publish books in Ethiopia. The readership in the country is growing fast.”

The full report from Mahlet Workayehu for Addis Fortune at AllAfrica is here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.