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Kwani

If Africans receive and consume media through the Internet using cell-phones, why bother about getting your writing to African readers through print format? Why go through the ordeal of printing books that your audience cannot afford? Kwani?, a Kenyan literary journal, has been thinking along these lines and are working with tech experts to create a literature app specific to their literary market.

To that end, the group has been working with experts from Nairobi’s pool of mobile phone innovators to develop its own literature app, which will run on both smart phones and the “feature phones” ubiquitous around the continent, which offer Internet connectivity but are cheaper and less sophisticated than their smart phone cousins.

Wachuka envisions making 600- to 2,000-word excerpts from Kwani? literary journal available via the app, which she expects to be tested in the next few months and launched in November. The app is expected to be rich in supplementary features as well, she says, including podcasts, videos, and interactive content like chats with writers and text-message poetry contests.

Going digital has meant “a complete revamp of how we produce content,” Wachuka says. “We’re basically creating an entirely new product. It’s an extension of what we do already, but it’s a reshaping of things and spaces.’’

Last year, Kwani for the first time worked with 3Bute (pronounced “tribute”) a site where users can access graphic novel versions of fiction and journalism. But 3Bute is not a read-only experiences. Users can add comments that pop up on the screen, becoming part of the story.

Dan Raymond-Barker, books marketing manager at UK-based New Internationalist, a non-profit publisher, cites 3Bute and Kwani as examples of the innovative, collaborative thinking Africans are bringing to e-publishing.

“It’s not necessarily about the commercial approach – selling books. It’s about people sharing ideas,” he said. “You capture someone’s imagination. You capture their interest. By doing that, you have opened the opportunity to sell them something.” — The Christian Science Monitor

Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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