How Mobiles are Scripting a ‘Reading Revolution’ in Developing Countries


UNESCO study has revealed that underprivileged men and women enjoy reading and are reading more on their mobile phones and Top books searched through mobiles include Harry Potter, Animal Farm, Romeo and Juliet, and Twilight

In celebration of World Book Day, UNESCO , in coalition with Worldreader and Nokia, released the results of the largest survey on mobile reading in the developing world, which revealed that mobile devices can help significantly enhance people’s literacy skills.

According to the responses of nearly 5,000 people across seven developing countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe – mobile reading can open educational opportunities to nearly seven billion people, ultimately reducing illiteracy rates forever. In places where physical books are scarce, mobile phones are plentiful. And while mobile phones are still used primarily for basic communication, even the simplest of phones are a gateway to long-form text.

According to the report, “Mobile reading is not a future phenomenon but a right-here, right-now reality.” Indeed, Worldreader’s free mobile reading app – which averages nearly 200,000 users per month – is evidence that there is high demand for mobile reading in areas that lack access to paper books. “We now have two years of data proving that people are spending hundreds of hours a month reading short and long form text, using basic feature and Android phones,” said Elizabeth Hensick Wood, director of digital publishing and mobile platforms at Worldreader. “As part of this research, we interviewed dozens of individuals, ranging from students to teachers to parents, and all told a similar story: they do not have access to paper books, they are thrilled to now have thousands of free books on their mobile phones and they are now reading more than ever.”

The study discovered that women and girls in particular are benefitting from having a new way to access books, reading up to six times more than men and boys, and that parents regularly read to children using mobile phones. The study also shows that a vast majority of people enjoy reading more on their mobile phones, and that mobile reading often reverses people’s negative attitudes towards reading.

Contrary to what many may think, only 18 percent of the respondents cited cost, or “use of airtime,” as a potential barrier to reading more on mobiles. This is likely due to platforms such as the Worldreader Mobile platform on biNu, which compresses data and brings the cost of reading to roughly 2-3 cents per every 1,000 pages read. Instead, lack of relevant content was cited as the number one barrier to mobile reader adoption by 60 percent of the respondents.

Recent data from the United Nations shows that of the estimated seven billion people on Earth, more than six billion now have access to a working mobile phone. If every person on the planet understood they can turn their mobile phone into a library, an estimated six billion people would have access to books. “A key conclusion from this study is that mobile devices can help people develop, sustain and enhance their literacy skills. This is important because literacy opens the door to life-changing opportunities and benefits,” said Mark West from UNESCO, author of the report.

Since 2012, Worldreader has helped pioneer new opportunities for mobile reading in developing countries by promoting a mobile app to distribute relevant content to users in parts of Africa and Asia. The organization has plans to broaden its efforts and provide more than one million people with access to free e-books on mobile phones by the end of 2014.

“World illiteracy can be attributed in part to the fact that people have access to a very small number of books, or none at all in some areas of the world,” said David Risher, CEO and co-founder of Worldreader. “Yet there are more cell phones on the planet than there are toilets or toothbrushes. Already kids and families have read more than 1.7 million Worldreader books – helping them attain a more prosperous, more self-reliant future.”