April 3, 2012

Read ebooks on a ‘dumb’ phone: new app aimed at developing countries



Tom Tivnan reports in The Bookseller that Worldreader — often called ‘the e-reader NGO’ — has just beta launched an app that will enable owners of ‘dumb’ phones to use them to read ebooks. The app is aimed at readers in developing countries, where ownership of mobile phones, of the older variety, has skyrocketed recently:

The Worldreader app, developed by Sydney-based start-up biNu, uses cloud-based data compression technology to enable any Java-enabled “feature” phone (non-smartphone) to download e-books and access news websites and Facebook over an ordinary mobile signal.

This is exciting stuff, and Worldreader is well positioned to make it work: since it was founded in 2009, it’s put 75,000 ebooks into the hands of 1,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa, where 50% of schools have few or no books. They work both with local publishers and local literatures, and with a number of international publishing partners, including Random House and Penguin, who make their books available at no cost. For the Worldreader app, they’ve secured rights to some of Roald Dahl‘s stories, and are currently trying to expand the list further. Elizabeth Wood, their director of digital publishing, says:

The end-game is to have thousands of e-books on the app. Yes, this is a leap of  faith for publishers, giving away some of their content for free. But once you give these kids in the developing world the tools and hook these kids on books, they will become book buyers.

Whatever your thoughts on ebooks, you’d find it hard to deny that this project is a brilliant outcome of the digital revolution.

Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.