Nigerian e-book distribution startup Okadabooks, which allows users to bypass traditional publishers and publish their stories, has seen tremendous uptake since launching, which chief executive officer (CEO) Okechukwu Ofili says dispels the myth that Nigerians are not big readers.
Launched in 2013, Okadabooks was born out of Ofili’s frustrations in selling his own self-published book in Nigeria.
“The problem was not selling the book, the main issue was collecting the money after I had sold the book,” he said. “I would visit the bookstores and they would keep telling me to come back later or that the manager was not around,” he said.
Okadabooks aims to solve these problems, leveraging mobile technology to create a platform that enables more authors to write their stories and sell them to a wide and growing audience.
“I initially started out by putting my own books on BlackBerry and selling it. But then I started thinking about how I could help other authors sell their books, because they too faced the same issues as I did and a lot of them had given up and stopped writing their stories,” said Ofili.
“With Okadabooks more and more authors are telling their stories and publishing their books, from comics to romance, because of the simplicity and transparency we have been able to create.”
The figures demonstrate its effect. More than 120,000 users are registered on the platform, and have downloaded almost one million e-books thus far. Ofili said the startup has seen exponential growth in user numbers and revenues, and is on schedule to double both this year even without investment.
That said, the self-funded startup is seeking US$200,000 in funding to help it accelerate its growth. Ofili, who recently resigned from his job to focus full-time on Okadabooks, said there were a lot of ideas and opportunities his team wanted to explore, but thus far they have been limited by funds.
One thing he is particularly pleased to have proven is that Nigerians do actually like to read.
“The major gap we spotted is the fact that only 10 to 12 publishers service a nation of over 200 million people, and that only about 33 top level bookstores exist for major publishers to distribute their content,” he said.
“Therefore very few books are getting published and those few books are only distributed in a handful of bookstores. This environment creates the popular falsehood that Nigerians do not read. But based on our experience, we are seeing that Nigerian indeed will and do read.”
Providing a simple, easy-to-use platform has also helped budding Nigerian writers to find an audience.
“This simplicity has enabled us find writing talents like Musa Ajayi, a fruit seller in Nassarawa state who writes best selling erotic romance novels in the Hausa language,” Ofili said.
“His success would never have been possible in traditional terms, most publishers would have run away from romance novels written in Hausa and top e-distributors would have rejected him, but Okadabooks made Musa Ajayi and lots of other authors like him possible.”
According to the CEO, the startup’s major competition – believe it or not – are the authors themselves.
“We have authors that have been giving away their content on the internet for free, and when we tell them that there is a way for them to make money from their writings they struggle to grasp the context,” said Ofili.
“This makes them one of our greatest competitors as they neutralise our efforts to get authors paid. But we are working slowly to change the perception amongst authors. If we can get them to see their value we would be able to get more of them to tell their stories on the platform.”
Okadabooks – which takes a 30 per cent commission on e-books sold through the platform – is currently focused on the Nigerian market, but has plans to expand across Sub-Saharan Africa, especially to Kenya and Ghana.
“Our greatest obstacle is that the payment gateways for each country varies so it is difficult to accept payments outside of Nigeria, with the exception of Europe, Canada and America,” said Ofili.