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E-reading Slow to Take Root in Kenya

FILE - A Nook GlowLight e-reader is on dislplay at a demonstration in New York, Oct. 28, 2013. E-book distributor in Kenya for six years says interest in eBooks has been slow.

The theme of this year’s 18th International Book Fair in Nairobi is "Twende Digital,” which is Swahili for “Let’s go digital.” Kenya has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, but are its readers ready to read on their handheld devices?

Kenyan readers, both young and old, say the digital revolution cannot replace the experience of browsing in a bookshop, the smell of ink and the feel of hard paper.

Mercy Kirui is the Publishing Accounts Manager for the most widely used e-book distributor in Kenya, E-Kitabu.

She said E-Kitabu launched in the market six years ago hoping to be the Amazon of Africa, but Kenyans have still not embraced eBooks.

“People really don’t have information on how to go about on eBooks and mainly some people don’t have enough information on how to use devices because for you to be able to use an eBook you need a device and for people who have issues with using technological devices, it’s quite difficult for them to accept to use e-books,” said Kirui.

Younger Kenyans are a different story.

Teenager Belvin Samkul likes the interactivity of reading on her smartphone where publishers can integrate video and audio.

“Just taking a book and flipping through the pages, it gets boring but when you engage your fingers, you find fun. It’s just fun and learning has changed so much,” she stated.

Downloading an e-book on your phone can be half the cost of a new hard copy book.

Used bookseller Charles Odipo said that hasn't hurt his business. He sells 100 books per day, sometimes more. “Most people like to read hard copy books because after reading, they can keep it for future review. They also keep it for their kids so that in future they can see what they used to read, I think especially the motivational books, but you see it reaches a point when not all books can fit in your phone,” he said.

Still it may only be a matter of time before e-reading takes off in Kenya.