eBooks are far from reaching the same levels of popularity in South Africa as in the west and other parts of the world given the high price tag that ebook reading devices attract in the region. This along with bandwidth constraints has made experts predict that printed books will continue to dominate the scene well until 2017. The latest PwC report, “South African Entertainment & Media Outlook 2013-2017,” further mentions that mass proliferation of ebooks in the African nations is further slowed by the fact that the country lacks a clear policy on digital copyright.
Tablets and ereaders have started gaining increased acceptance among the masses, though only among the middle and higher income groups. Further, less access to the internet has ensured vast sections of the society are unable to download ebooks, even if they can afford them. The copyright issues caused by Africa’s reluctance to align with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s copyright treaty makes it risky to invest in digital publishing.
As things stand right now, even printed books aren’t that popular in South Africa owning to their high price tag, something that can be attributed to the 14 percent VAT. This has prompted people there to read more newspapers and magazines than books. Currently only about 49 percent of households in the country have books in their homes as per an estimate from the South African Book Development Council; only a reported one percent of the population actually buys books, and just 14 percent of them read the books.
While ebooks generally cost less than their printed counterparts, the country will first have to enact viable copyright acts that seek to protect the interests of those who invest in this sector. Making available affordable tablet and ebook reading devices along with setting up a robust internet infrastructure will be the other requirements that can spur reading on a mass scale.
There have been some positive developments of late, including Kobo partnering with one of South Africa’s largest retailers, Pick n Pay to sell ebooks. Kalahaari.com, which has a dedicated ebook reading application, also sells the Gobi ereader in the country. As Marcel Welman, kalahari.com e-books manager, explained, the country has already started to see the positive effects of lowering of internet costs and making available affordable ebook reading devices. As a result, ebook sales have shown a growth of 30 percent on a year-on-year basis. However, there is still a long way to go before the ebook market achieves a level of maturation as seen in the rest of the world.