Sign in to my resources Register

Sign in to my resources

bookly-article31 May 2013 – Bookly, a new app available on the Mxit mobile network, is set to revolutionise reading by turning even the most basic feature phone into a sophisticated e-reader, bringing the joy of reading – and, in future, educational material – to poor young South Africans.

The app was launched on 17 May and already has tens of thousands of free, out-of-copyright books available from Project Gutenberg. Housing largest collection of digitised books in the world – some 42 000 at last count – Project Gutenberg offers many common English literature set works, such as Shakespeare and Dickens.

Other than making free books available, Bookly is in partnership with local publishers to sell new works at very low prices, typically R1.50 per chapter or R30 per book. Most newly published paper books cost R150 and up.

“Bookly creates a virtual library on a cell phone, allowing users to browse books by name, author or genre,” says Levon Rivers of Native Inventions, which developed the app. “It has all the features of other electronic readers on more advanced devices. It saves your progress after each session, and you can create your own virtual bookshelf of favourite reads.”

Bringing books to the people

Mxit is the largest mobile social network and instant messaging platform in South Africa, with around 10-million members. The new app was born out of pondering the problem of how to make books more accessible to ordinary people, and textbooks are an important part of Bookly’s future plans.

“When we were brainstorming the news at the time was all about the textbook scandal in Limpopo,” says Rivers. “We used this as a springboard to consider how technology could help solve this problem. We fleshed the idea out and started to work on the framework for an e-reader app that would be available to anyone with the most basic of cell phones.

“We feel that smart phone functionality shouldn’t be limited to the rich, especially when such technology could influence the lives of millions of people.”

Other Bookly features include serialisation functionality, automatic saving of the reader’s progress in a book, bookmarking, and the ability to buy books using Moola, Mxit’s prepaid virtual currency. The app currently has about 200 titles available, with 10 to 15 new titles to be added to the catalogue every month.

“We’re trying to tell publishers that Bookly can connect them to a new market that wouldn’t be buying their books anyway,” Rivers says. “Bookly could help grow readers to become the sorts who will buy books.”

A library for every child

With its genesis in the Limpopo textbook crisis, Bookly’s future potential lies in making educational material available to schoolchildren across the country.

“From an education viewpoint, we are starting with the classics and planning to extend to set works and textbooks in the future,” says Rivers. “The most effective way to address South Africa’s poor literacy rates is to ensure that school children have access to books. Imagine if every child had their own library on their phone?

“Bookly will elevate general reading and literacy rates in South Africa. It is the cheapest and most accessible way to get books. We’ve also added a layer of gamification to encourage reading among the youth.”

Getting government on board

Developing educational material will require working with academic publishers and the government. “We want to get some proper numbers and possibly find a backer, like a banking partner, so that we can show that it’s viable before we approach government,” Rivers says.

In the two short weeks since Bookly’s launch it has had over 1-million page views and 100 000 unique visitors. “People are using it during commuting hours and evenings, which suggests it’s doing what we hoped.”

To use the app, Mxit users can add Bookly as a contact or download it from the app store.

Related articles