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.
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.