By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘For Those Who Love Stories’When trade visitors and exhibitors at Frankfurter Buchmesse hear from Accra-based Ama Dadson and Nathan Hull at the new Publishing Perspectives Forum (12 p.m. October 20), they’ll be talking about a forthcoming major relaunch of Dadson’s AkooBooks Audio as Ghana’s first publisher and streaming platform for Black and/or African audiobooks and other spoken-word content.
The new evocation of AkooBooks is to be active this year, well ahead of the handover to Accra as UNESCO World Book Capital in 2023.
Described as a “multi-tiered, credit-based service” available in both Android and iOS, the AkooBooks platform is being designed as a pan-African service reaching consumers in at least 19 countries and allowing users to pay using their mobile wallets, the most common digital-payment form in most African countries.
AkooBooks’ new redevelopment as a platform is backed by the Bergen-based Beat Technology, familiar to Publishing Perspectives readers for creating platforms for European publishers and groups of publishers.
A Beat platform allows publishers to sell and/or stream audio and ebook products to their own consumer bases. Examples of Beat’s work in the field are the Netherlands’ service Fluister (Dutch for Whisper); the Echo platform in Romania; a partnership with Germany’s Skoobe.de; and a trio of publishers in Denmark–Gyldendal, Gads Forlag, and Modtryk. Beat’s installations’ users now total some 300,000 paying subscribers.
The forthcoming “rebranded and reimagined” business will feature audiobooks, podcasts, and ebook titles in indigenous African and Ghanaian languages including Ga, Twi and Kiswahili, as well as curated content in English and French.
Dadson: ‘African Stories by African Authors’
If the name AkooBooks is ringing a bell, it’s because Dadson—winner of the 2021 Startup of the Year award from Women in Tech Africa—has built a substantial local catalogue, as well as casting and recording titles in Accra for major players including Hachette Audio. That has resulted in local Ghanaian authors including Efua Sutherland, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Meschack Asare, having work available side-by-side with internationally popular authors such as Alexander McCall Smith (WF Howes) and Tayari Jones (Recorded Books).
As far back as 2019, Dadson in an interview with Publishing Perspectives talked of having identified a major swath of African populations and “the challenge faced by the busy urban working class in many of our high-traffic cities.
“They spend hours commuting to work each day,” Dadson said, “either walking or by public transport, and are unable to read during such commutes. Audiobooks can be extremely convenient for them and a way to use their time profitably and keep them enthralled and [let them] escape from the chaos for a little while.”
Dadson, an experienced Frankfurt Audio exhibitor, spoke in June 2019 at the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) “Africa Rising” seminar in Nairobi, hosted by the Kenya Publishers Association. Initially, she’d been drawn to the audiobook field as a response to vision-challenged readers: her mother had lost her site.
“African stories by African authors, told in African voices. We want to push the richness and vibrancy of our continent’s literature for those who love stories. “Ama Dadson, AkooBooks Audio
And her survey work with 10,000 students at the University of Ghana–where she had served as deputy director of IT–had found that only 43 percent said they’d downloaded or listened to an audiobook at least once. Of those who had engaged with audiobooks, only 10 percent said they’d listened to content by African writers.
By 2017, Dadson had set up the original edition of AkooBooks, proving that the need and interest was there in the strong reaction she had from consumers.
And now, Dadson says, “Black and African voices, stories, and authors deserve their own platform and that’s what we’re delivering here.
“African stories by African authors, told in African voices,” she says. “We want to push the richness and vibrancy of our continent’s literature for those who love stories.
“We want to reach children with accessible digital formats. And we want to reach our entrepreneurs with inspirational business titles.”
Hull: ‘Finally We’re Collaborating on a Project’
For his part, Hull, who is Beat’s chief strategy officer, tells Publishing Perspectives, “Ama’s drive and passion for audiobooks and storytelling has impressed me for years. Finally, we’re collaborating on a project, and it truly has the potential fulfil one of Beat’s aims in major way—making books and literature available to everyone possible.
“Our platform, combined with the backing support of Ayoba.me and MTN—as well as a raft of other plans in the pipeline—means the all-new AkooBooks can get stories into the eyes and ears of millions of African citizens across the vast continent, all with zero-rated data. Removing data charges for African consumers accessing these large audio files was a crucial step in our planning.
“While available in multiple markets from the outset, the initial focus for onboarding customers onto the service will be Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon. After that, we’ll watch the data carefully to guide us on where our marketing attention goes next.
“The service will live and breathe on the quality of the content it offers.”Nathan Hull, Beat Technology
“The service will live and breathe on the quality of the content it offers, so it has been very encouraging to hear enthusiastic responses in our talks with major English- and French-language publishers who are keen to support growth in literacy and access to books in Africa.”
AkooBooks will feature titles from presses including Ghana’s Afram Publications and Sub-Saharan Publishers, Nigeria’s Ouida Books, and major international works by writers including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Dorothy Koomson; and Michael Donkor from Harper Collins’ United States and United Kingdom catalogues, Macmillan UK, WF Howes, and RB Media.
Publishing Perspectives understands that further English and French catalogues are currently under negotiation for inclusion in the initiative.
At Frankfurt, please join us for the inaugural edition of Publishing Perspectives Forum, a two-day program of leading and influential professionals in the international publishing industry discussing today’s challenges, dynamics, and trends.
“The Audiobook Retail Evolution” panel which includes commentary from Hull and Dadson will also feature Bookwire’s Jens Klingelhöfer and will be moderated by Publishing Perspectives’ Hannah Johnson. Attendance is free of charge for all Frankfurter Buchmesse exhibitors and trade visitors. The program language is English. You’ll find full details and developing news here.
Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s global media partner.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.