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The Ethiopian book publishing industry is riddled with challenges. In the very beginning, hard copy books are expensive because of publishing, and distribution costs as well as agent and dealer commissions.

Amateur, young, and unknown writers do not have a chance to showcase their work and connect with Ethiopian and African bibliophiles.

Even renowned Ethiopian writers don’t ordinarily publish more than 5000 copies in one edition due to cash constraints, curbing the book’s ability to reach a wider audience.

Gizuf Digital Service LLC, an Ethiopian startup with roots in the U.S. is aiming to solve these challenges through AfroRead, a mobile book-reading and digital publishing app.

AfroRead, which makes books available in eBook and audiobook format for readers worldwide, was released in 2021. The app, which also has hassle-free digital publishing and distribution features, is available on Android and iOS.

Founded by three friends, Dawit Alemu, Bizuneh Birhan, and Nebiyu Yoseph, who live abroad, AfroRead is the result of their aspiration to contribute to the growth of Ethiopian and African literature.

The trio, who are all software engineers, decided to take the digital avenue and give a platform to both experienced and amateur Ethiopian writers.

“Writers are required to pay a huge sum of money to publish their pieces; for instance, for the publication of a 300-400 page book, a writer could be asked to pay up to 400,000 birr. This often leads to writers’ taking mortgages on their houses and cars to cover the cost,” Dessalegn Masrie PR, content production and marketing expert at AfroRead, told Shega.

The platform publishes the book free of charge, providing relief for writers who can publicize and distribute their work to many people without any cost whatsoever on one platform.

The launch of the Amazon Kindle in November 2007 popularized the eBook format, making literary content of all varieties accessible at the swipe of a screen or the click of a button.

A range of digital touchpoints and online eBook sellers, including Amazon, Apple Books, and Smashwords, offer the allure of convenience and cost savings.

Moreover, this radical digital transformation has allowed budding authors to self-publish their work through eBook distribution platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

This trend is also picking up in Ethiopia, with platforms like Tuba, Tereka, Teraki, and Semu being some of the platforms that have recently come to the eBook and audiobook scene.

AfroRead, which has over 5000 users, also aims to digitalize Ethiopian literature in eBook formats and bring audio versions for people who prefer to listen.

AforRead produces the audio version of the books through its own studio. The narration of the books is carried out with professional narrators to produce standard and enduring work.

The platform has published 92 books by 46 writers within the past two months alone. Alemtsehay Wedajo, Dr. Bedilu Wakjira, Yismake Worku, Ephrem Seyoum, Solomon Sahile, Dr. Rodas Tadese, and Hiwot Tefera are some of the well-known writers whose work is featured on AfroRead.

Users must create an account and download the books or audiobooks to their shelves to have the full version, even if it’s a free one. This allows the application to maintain the user’s reading habit and provide him/her with an optimal user experience.

The platform uses a fixed pricing model depending on the page of the book and charges buyers a maximum of 50 birr per book. This has an enormous difference compared to the price of a paper-published book. Meanwhile, audiobooks have a maximum price tag of 100 birr, depending on the cost of production.

On AfroRead, writers will cash in when their books are sold at large instead of charging a higher profit per book sold.

Besides assessing the basics of writing and subject matter of a submitted book for publishing, AfroRead’s editorial team reviews the proposed book’s content with the objective of having a worthwhile piece for its readers regardless of the writer’s experience.

Readers abroad can purchase books on AfroRead using international payment options such as Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal. Meanwhile, local readers can use Telebirr to make a purchase on the app. AfroRead will send a receipt via email for each eBook and audiobook purchased.

Gizuf pays for all costs associated with the creation and distribution of e-books and audiobooks. The platform has an equal revenue-sharing deal with writers, and writers take 50pc from each sale on the platform.

Once the book is sold to the customer, the books are for the customer to keep as long as they use the AfroRead application. Customers can also request books that are not in the AforRead Store.

All the books on AfroRead are copyright protected and only available through the account used to purchase them, meaning they cannot be shared or transferred to another user.

AfroRead is also planning to expand to Africa soon.

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