South Africa now has its own digital library. Kelo, an app created by Zakheni Ngubo was recently launched on Android, with IOS coming soon, and according to its founder it will hopefully get more people reading and exposed to homegrown literature. Initially, content will focus on educational material in tandem with the organisation Ngubo heads, Syafunda, where innovative learning solutions are provided to South Africans.
“It became very clear to me that children in rural areas and in some townships do not have adequate access to learning materials,” says Ngubo. This is part-reason that Kelo has launched with primarily educational product. However, he says, academia is one of several pillars on the app and rollout of additional content will begin soon. In short, Kelo is really a localised version of an Amazon Books and author sites Smashwords and Kubo. Authors will be able to self-publish on the platform and retail direct to potential readers.
He says that many talented writers never got to publishing stage as the barrier to entry may be too great a hurdle. “If a publisher does not publish your book, then you don’t get access to that whole value chain. And so, for us, we want to break down all those barriers, which means (with Kelo) you will get a much larger collection of African books than you would anywhere else. Books that are self-published and we have books that are published traditionally. So, you’re getting a lot more diversity in terms of the kind of titles that you can have access to”.
He adds that for writers, traditional royalty splits do not make taking to the pen a lucrative career option. “Between the publisher and the distributors, the profit share or the revenue share is so much the news that the author ends up with very little. And so that was one of the key things that we wanted to change.” Kelo’s policy is strictly 75 to 25 percent in favour of the author.
Books may be purchased or rented for a period, not dissimilar to, for example, music rental subscriptions on Apple Pay or Kindle’s Unlimited product. “We already have a lot of African books lined up. It’s time that people start reading more, and I hope that through Kelo we will achieve this,” says Ngubo. The Kelo app is compatible on mobile and desktop devices.
Ngubo is passionate about reading and about education. Kelo is a subsidiary to Syafunda, his ‘other’ day job, an organisation that focuses on “using technology and mobile technology for educational purposes, so we have a history of developing solutions for Africa, whether it’s Wi-Fi networks or digital content in local languages. Since 2014 we have partnered with teachers to develop digital content in local languages, which is something that was unseen, unheard of.”
“We are about pushing the envelope a little bit, making sure that there is representation in the digital spaces that we find ourselves in. So, whether it is education or books, we need representation, we need local languages. We need local stories being showcased.”
Hein Kaiser is a seasoned journalist, broadcaster, producer, and marketing communication professional and has worked in a variety of markets, sectors, and countries. He presently hosts the 360 Brunch over weekends on Mix 93.8FM.