After ten short years the digital publishing platform Okada Books is shutting down. The platform was founded in 2013 by Okechukwu Ofili and showed substantial success, offering numerous readers access to free online books, and giving many African authors the opportunity to publish. However, it is facing insurmountable struggles and cannot continue to operate, many citing a low reading culture and economic downturn as the reason for the failure.
In November of 2021, Itai Makone published an article discussing the breakdown of what the reading culture is like in Africa. ”In South Africa, for instance, a study showed that 78% of primary school grade 4 pupils cannot read for comprehension in any language,” she said. If the book is not of an academic nature, it is less relevant to a population that will always prioritize bread and butter needs first. This is completely understandable but also delivers the exact reason that advancements in the digital publishing world are doomed to failure. If a culture does not embrace the positive ramifications of literature diversity, then there is no way of guaranteeing the flourishment of such platforms as Okada Books.
She also goes on to point out that the digital environment presents a potentially positive opportunity but the prospect of leisure reading falls to the bottom in favor of other easier digital entertainment. Very few consumers will devote the time, money, or resources to reading for leisure if they can barely read. And access to videos, music, and games is far more gratifying. To a culture that relies heavily on making practical decisions, reading seems like a luxury. They reject the advancement because “There are costs associated with digitalization; these are subscribing and buying online books, purchasing mobile data and internet connectivity challenges.”
In the statement posted on social media the founder of Okada Books reassures his consumers, “We explored various avenues to keep our virtual bookshelves alive.” Unfortunately, they were unable to find a way to continue to offer the digital publishing services that gave many African authors their start into the world of literature.
Just as the rest of the world is suffering from a roller coaster of economic struggles, the African country faces not only a precarious position with regards to finance, but they are still working diligently to advance their selves and develop the areas that are much more rural. According to The World Bank in Africa, “Rising conflict and violence across the region exerts a dampening effect on economic activity, with climate shocks poised to exacerbate this fragility. About 462 million people in the region are still living in extreme poverty in 2023.”
Stretching of financial resources will always have a tremendous impact upon products that could be labeled as leisure or even non-essential. That way of operating will almost always guarantee that services like the ones Okada Books offers will never be fulfilled by alternative means, like government grants or incentives. To make a complex matter simple, books are not as important as lives.
From the perspective of readers from countries that rely heavily on digitally published texts for information and pleasure, the concept of a digital publishing platform closing down as if it were a brick-and-mortar store is a hard thing to imagine. For as long as the internet has been around, it is fairly common for people to caution others to be mindful about what they put on the internet because it is forever. Clearly, that is not always the case since that is exactly what is not happening for Okada Books.
It is a harsh reminder that something as simple as accessibility to books is not the reality of so many other places. They have not reached a point in development where they can offer easy access to internet, they do not have the capability to ensure text is readily available, and lack of funding will still impact companies that have little overhead costs to consider.
Many would argue that if the company just considered basing itself out of another country, then it would have been able to flourish. But nothing is as simple as it seems. In the case of Okada Books, they were trying to offer individuals a place to grow past the expectations of an underdeveloped country and encourage growth in their reading culture. The core purpose of the sight would not have been achieved if they compromised on where they chose to represent.
THE END BUT NOT THE ENDING
The closure of Okada Books is a significant event that will largely impact the Nigerian population of Africa, but their mission is not lost on the individuals who recognize how reading and writing will improve lives. Access to text through digital publishing platforms will remain a model that others will demand and even fight for as they grow and evolve. Countries like Africa will face challenges that other countries will never understand but that does not mean that they are not striving to do better.