Books in Africa. How this French company competes with Amazon

YouScribe is a digital reading platform with more than one million books, newspapers and audiobooks in French, which users can access on their mobile phones or other digital devices. For a daily fee, subscribers have access to all books on the platform, such as Netflix or Spotify. Over the past few years, the French company has amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers in Africa. Jacques Maritz sat down with Anne-Sophie Steinlein, COO of YouScribe, to find out how the company is able to compete with Amazon in Africa through an innovative business model focused on affordable pricing and a viable payment method.

Refocus on Africa

When YouScribe started in 2011, it mainly focused on France. However, after attending a book fair in Conakry, Guinea, in 2018, they soon realized there was much greater demand for his service in Francophone Africa, where books are often expensive and difficult. to obtain. “[In France] we have so many libraries and the books are not that expensive compared to people’s purchasing power. [But] if you take a country like Ivory Coastthere are less than 20 bookstores in the whole country,” says Steinlein.

The number of French speakers in the world is expected to increase from 300 million today to 750 million by 2050. It is expected that around 85% of French speakers in 2050 will be in Africa, mainly due to its population growth.

French-speaking Africa currently represents 90% of YouScribe’s more than 700,000 subscribers. The service is available in 11 African countries, and Morocco and Côte d’Ivoire are its first and second markets. The company recently launched in South Africa with content in English.

Overcome the payment challenge

One of the main reasons for YouScribe’s success in Africa is the way it collects payments. Due to the low penetration of credit cards on the continent, it is not a viable mode of payment for a mainstream service. To overcome this, the company has partnered with mobile network operators, such as Orange and MTN, to deduct payments directly from users’ mobile phone credit. In South Africa, the service costs R3 ($0.19) per day for MTN network users. This equates to around R90 per month; significantly cheaper than the price of a physical book which sells for around R250 in major bookstores. To overcome high data costs, YouScribe also offers offline reading options.

Negotiating with mobile network providers was a long process. It took YouScribe two years to sign its first contract with Orange. YouScribe works with a company called Digital Virgo to handle the technical aspects involved in mobile billing.

Additionally, YouScribe has partnered with French satellite TV provider Canal+, which has a strong presence in Africa, to bundle a YouScribe subscription with its TV packages. “They pay for their subscribers to have access to YouScribe,” says Steinlein.

Compete with the likes of Amazon

In response to how YouScribe competes with a company like Amazon – which has a strong grip on the global e-reading market – Steinlein reveals that payment method is the big differentiator. “Amazon…is very powerful but they haven’t tried to adapt to African realities…Credit cards are not yet very developed in some African countries. We are therefore in competition with Amazon by offering the right payment method.

YouScribe further differentiates itself by offering books by local African authors as well as international bestsellers.

Convince publishers

Another challenge is convincing publishers to put their titles on the platform. “Publishers don’t always see the digital in a good light… The first difficulty was to explain their potential to reach new readers who don’t have the means to afford traditional books. And to see that it is not a danger but an opportunity”, adds Steinlein.

Sixty percent of YouScribe’s revenue goes to publishers, and each publisher’s revenue is calculated on the number of pages read.

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