Okada Books is an Indie African eBookstore

The indie author movement is so loud and boisterous in the Western world that it often drowns out similar efforts elsewhere in the globe. In Africa, for example, Okada Books has been operating in Nigeria for the past several years but has received scarcely any news coverage outside of Africa.

Founded by author, engineer, and blogger Okechukwu Ofili, Okada Books grew out of Ofili's frustration with Nigerian bookstores. The name comes from the motorcycles used for commercial deliveries in Nigeria, and it was chosen as a reference to the way that okada get around traffic jams (just like bike messengers here in the US).

The idea is that Okadabooks will bypass the obstacles most authors face, by helping them get their books directly to readers on a platform they have become very comfortable with – their phones – and at very affordable prices. - TechCabal

Okada Books carries around 9,000 titles, both paid and free. The ebooks are encumbered by DRM and can be read in the companion Android app or in your web browser. There's talk of an app for iPhone and iPad, but it's not available.

The site is in English, and the ebooks are sold in Nigerian naira (NGN) with customers paying through transfers from local banks, prepaid Etisalat phone cards, or Paypal. Many (all?) of the ebooks are uploaded directly by the authors and sold on their behalf. According to the FAQ, Okada pays a royalty of "about 70%".

The DRM has discouraged me from buying any ebooks, but I have been browsing the site and I am unimpressed with the bookstore. It's not the limited selection which bothers me but the fact that there's a limited number of sorting and filtering options. You can't browse just a single genre or category, nor can you sort the ebooks by price, publication date, or author.

I mainly read science fiction, and I don't want to commit to yet another app with yet another DRM, so the lack of options were a problem. But I did set up an account, and I did find a few freebies.

I've been reading in the Android app today. It offers a basic reading experience with limited formatting options (fontface, font size, night mode) left to the reader. The app also supports highlighting, bookmarks, and text to speech (doesn't work for me). The only page turn option is the dreaded page curl.

okada books

Speaking as someone who has used dozens of reading apps, the stock formatting is basic. it's not very pretty but it is workable, although I do wish that the app wouldn't scale the cover images and author photos past the point where they get fuzzy.

All in all, this won't ever be my first choice for a source of reading material but it has proven useful in helping me find new authors and publishers. In just a few minutes I have found Omenana, a monthly speculative fiction magazine featuring African authors.

I read science fiction in part to encounter different ways of thinking and different cultures, and lately I've realized that there are only so many American authors who can transcend American cultural assumptions and show cultures without filtering them through American biases.

There's a strong book culture in Africa which can help supply the books I seek, and Okada Books is my first introduction into that culture.

About Nate Hoffelder (11480 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

11 Comments on Okada Books is an Indie African eBookstore

  1. It may leave a lot to be desired but at least its accessible. Most of the big western retailers don’t serve Africa except South Africa, either being blocked territorially, blocking downloads, or surcharging., and none have local payment options

    With significant English-speaking populations and very widespread access to smartphones the African continent beyond South Africa is ripe for a savvy ebook operator to embrace.

    That said, Amazon is still busily surcharging South African and Apple doesn’t have an iBooks store in South Africa, leaving Google Play, Txtr and Kobo to share South Africa with domestic stores like Exclus1ves and Kalahari. So a safe bet the rest of the continent is not on Apple’s or Amazon’s radar.

    Google Play will be the only serious candidate for Africa’s ebook embrace for the near future.

  2. I pretty much stopped reading at the mention of DRM. Not because of the article itself but because that instantly made that book store completely irrelevant.

    • It’s going to keep me from buying but I’m still reading freebies. And I’m looking up names.

      But I agree, the DRM is an issue.

      • Out of curiosity why is DRM an issue?

        From our experience, most publishers we approach especially the international ones will not touch us because they feel Africa is a piracy danger field.

        So DRM was a core focus of our app but per the article it seems like an obstacle for users. And I wanted to know why.

        PS: Thanks for the feedback we truly appreciate the honesty. Our goal is to serve the neglected African markets.


        • For me, it’s not that you have DRM so much as it is your own DRM. If your store shuts down, any ebook bought here will die with it.

          There are readers who have been burned by DRM when an ebookstore loses a contract with a distributor or closes (see Fictionwise, Borders, Sony, Fictionwise, Blinkbox, DieseleBooks, BooksOnBoard). I could also name a bunch of failed bookstores in Japan.

          Also, some of us object to DRM on principle because it is ineffective at preventing piracy. You’ll even find authors and publishers who feel this way, including Cory Doctorow, Baen Books, O’Reilly, and others. We would prefer that you made it a choice for authors and not a requirement – just like Amazon has made it optional for the Kindle Store.

          By the way, at least one of your suppliers would choose a DRM-free option. The magazine I referred to in the post, Omenana, publishes stories as DRM-free PDFs on its own site. I don’t think they see a need to protect the stories from piracy.

        • I never buy DRM books. I have pretty much stopped buy anything that has restrictive DRM not just books.
          The problem is that if you buy something that is infested with DRM you are in reality only renting it and not buying it since you need third party services to access your content. You may have no problems for a year or two but you are bound to run into issues. On top of that, DRM opens you up to tracking and being spied on.
          Amazon is a great example of horrible DRM. They actually have access to your device, if you get a Kindle, and can remove or alter your private content at will. To me that is unacceptable.
          If publishers think that I am dishonest and will steal from them, which is implied by their use of DRM, I will not do business with them.

  3. Noted now. I understand. We are on the same page with that. Making DRM optional is something we agree with but have not yet designed into our app and website.

    Also we would need to update our text to say DRM is optional seeing the drawbacks and turnoffs it creates for readers. Thanks again for the feedback, very helpful.

  4. There is/was another epublisher located in Africa that had a lot of books that appealed to me. I didn’t bother to bookmark the page because they also used DRM and an app. I have been digital only for my fiction long enough that those two things are deal breakers for me. Take away DRM and allow me to me to convert to whichever format I prefer for reading on eink and I’ll reconsider.

    I will check out the Omenana site though. If I find a story of interest, I’ll download and convert the pdfs or do the cut, paste, convert thing. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    • You’re welcome.

      You wouldn’t happen to remember the name of that other one, would you?

      • No and I spent way too much time yesterday trying to track it down. I think I remember it as being mostly lit fic and had books in both English and French. They specifically said they had no intention of distributing to any of the US stores because they wanted to people to use theirs but as I said, DRM* and an app are deal breakers for me. I was disappointed because I’m always on the look out for publishers in Africa and Asia.

        A sweeping generalization here but I dislike what the US pubs do to books set outside the US in order to make them more acceptable to the US audience. I’d rather get them from the source. I’m fully capable of looking up words/slang that I don’t understand. I read an Australian crime novel not too long ago and I had to keep checking the Urban Dictionary but that was half the fun for me. An Australian publisher has now picked up the book and I’d love to see if they made any changes or reduced the slang in it but I’m not going to pay $9.48 plus tax to find out.

        *I will deal with Amazon’s DRM if necessary. The pubs can thank agency pricing and B&N’s poor customer service for that.

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