Books on the Go: What Keeps Addis Ababa Reading

In News by Dennis Abrams7 Comments

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.

Comments

  1. Speaking of selling books in the streets of Addis Ababa, let me share my once upon a time personal diary: like that photo, I saw a boy with a pile of books and I was interested in doing some browse looking for old and rare books- the boy quickly interjected and said I will find the best book for people like you and he pulled out a shiny magazine-it turned out to be a pornographic material!!

  2. As somebody who spent an unforgettable two and a half years in AA (1984-1987) and wrote a book set in Ethiopia, I am glad to hear that the country is developing at an increasingly rapid pace, of which thirst for knowledge is a sure sign. Thank you for your optimistic perspective. Could you suggest a number of publishers who would be interested in translating into Amharic or Tigrinya and publishing a novel with an action-packed, multi-layered plot unfolding against the background of the 1984-1986 famine? I have just finished my own translation into Russian, which may be more convenient for translation purposes, as the original (published in Kiev last year) is in Ukrainian. Will appreciate any relevant information on the subject. Thank you.
    oginal My book was written in Ukrainian and published last year

  3. As somebody who spent an unforgettable two and a half years in AA (1984-1987) and wrote a book set in Ethiopia, I am glad to hear that the country is developing at an increasingly rapid pace, of which thirst for knowledge is a sure sign. Thank you for your optimistic perspective. Could you suggest a number of publishers who would be interested in translating into Amharic or Tigrinya and publishing a novel with an action-packed, multi-layered plot unfolding against the background of the 1984-1986 famine? I have just finished my own translation into Russian, which may be more convenient for translation purposes, as the original (published in Kiev last year) is in Ukrainian. Will appreciate any relevant information on the subject. Thank you.

    1. you can look in to the websites of the local English newspapers (addis fortune, capital, reporter, the monitor to name some of them) and contact them. They may help you to contact with some interested ones. Cheers from Addis

    2. Dear Serhiy,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas about the famine that has claimed so many lives. I happen to be one of the people who witnessed the then going on crisis. Please do write me, if you can, so I can help you information wise.
      Godofai Tgiorgis
      (614)260-6200
      tgiorgis12@yahoo.com
      thank you

  4. Thank you for the interesting report. Indeed we all get most, if not ALL the books we read from these vendors; and their unheralded role in boosting the culture of reading in the capital is indispensable. Let’s keep supporting them.

    See our book review forum on Facebook: Ethiopia Book Forum. Or our less interactive website: ethiopiabookforum.com

  5. Read. But think more so you can come up with original ideas and solutions. Stay up People with burnt faces. Love yall.

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