I have followed the Okadabooks story for quite a while now, with keen interest, and I am quite convinced it deserves more attention. Since it’s official launch about a year ago, I always wanted to do a review but I never quite got around to it. Well, here it goes.

Background

Okadabooks was created out of an author’s frustration with the bureaucracy of the book distribution network in Nigeria. That author is Okechukwu Ofili, the brain behind the How Stupidity and How Laziness Saved My Life series. The choice of the name Okadabooks is a tribute to how the commercial motorbikes, popularly known as Okadas, meander traffic jams on the busy streets of Nigerian cities. The idea is that Okadabooks will bypass the obstacles most authors face, by helping them get their books directly to readers on a platform they have become very comfortable with – their phones – and at very affordable prices.

 The App

Okadabooks is currently available only on the Android platform. I always imagined that there was a version for Blackberry but as it turns out, there isn’t. However, according to the Okadabooks founder,  a Web App that will extend Okadabooks to other platforms is currently in the works.

The User Interface and Experience

At the expense of sounding cliche, the  UI is pretty neat and intuitive. They managed to use just the right amount of whitespace so that even on small screens, it looks really good.

On launching the app, you’re taken straight to the store. There you can use a sliding menu to filter books by popularity, newness, category or by searching for specifics. Each book’s price is boldly displayed with a yellow ‘buy’ button by the side. Before deciding to buy a book, you have the option to read a summary and reader reviews (if any) by clicking on the title.

okadabooks-screenshot-1

You draw up your user menu from the top left corner of the app. From there you can view and refill your account balance, books you’ve downloaded and if you so wish to, edit your account.

The Books

The books are the core of the Okadabooks app. There seems to be quite an interesting selection of books available. Of course you won’t find everything you’re looking for, not even close, but the selection is quite commendable. There’s a preview version of Chimamanda’s ‘Americanah’ and just in case you like it enough to want to buy it, the full version costs only N727. That’s less than 50% of the actual market price. I am even more impressed by the JAMB Past Questions and Answers book which costs less than N3. Now that’s something.

I particularly like that books are available for offline reading. Of course, you can only read them within the app. Seeing as the User Experience is not terrible, that’s not such a bad thing. Downloading books is a breeze. In my experience, most books don’t cross the 2MB size mark.

As for the look and feel, it’s exactly as one would expect on any good eReader app- page flipping animations mimic real life, you can highlight text, bookmark book sections, switch to night reading, access a table of contents and change font and font size. There’s also a text-to-audio functionality for those times when you’re feeling lazy to read for yourself. I’m not particularly a fan of text-to-audio in general so I can’t say if it’s good or not. But I do wish there was a way to control the speed of reading. You can only pause, play and skip paragraphs but you can’t control speed or reading.

okdabooks-page-flip

Payments

Now this is the nitty-gritty of the Okadabooks app. How you handle payments in Nigeria is almost solely responsible for the success of your platform. I think they nailed it.

Since a lot of the books are free, everyone starts with a zero account balance. If you need to fill or refill your account, there are 5 payment options: GTB Bank Transfer, Zenith Bank Transfer, PayPal, Paga and Etisalat Recharge Card

I find the last option particularly interesting. Especially as you don’t even need to have an Etisalat SIM to use it. Just an Etisalat recharge voucher. As stated on the app, this payment option is till in Beta. But so far it works pretty well, though there tends to be a delay in crediting your account. Still, I imagine this is the payment option most using the app from Nigeria will choose.

 The Verdict

In a society where authors face a lot challenges in book distribution, and most people are alleged not to be good readers, I think Okadabooks is a welcome initiative. The idea is to help authors stick it to the bureaucratic publishing houses and eventually get them to start publishing directly to mobile first. In an era where everything is going inevitably mobile, this might not be such a bad thing. The ease of use and intuitiveness of the app make it a candidate for easy adoption in the long run. Also, cutting out the middleman positively affects pricing, which means more people can afford access to these books. I love the effort that has been put into making payments very accessible across a wide range of users.

I believe the only immediate challenge Okadabooks might be facing right now is awareness and book availability. Some efforts have been made towards awareness. I’ve noticed Okadabooks pre-installed on Pliris Mobile devices. Maybe they could extend similar deals with some of the more popular OEMs? Also, I think extending the app to other platforms – particularly Windows Phone and Blackberry – will give Okadabooks more traction.

As for books availability, I imagine it must be very tough getting the traditional media houses on board, especially as you’re likely to be the death of them. But there are still many unpublished books out there in the minds of thousands of relatively unknown authors, who would appreciate a platform like this. It will be interesting to experience what the future holds for Okadabooks. I honestly believe it is bright.

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