We’re just weeks away from the 13th Karachi International Book Fair in Pakistan (7-11 December) and it’s a safe bet that, despite Pakistan having 46 million 3G/4G subscribers and 141 million mobile phone users, and despite being the third largest English-speaking country on the planet, ebooks will not be on the agenda.
Reporting on the latest figures (as per end September 2017) from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, TechJuice PK opines,
Remember the time when there was no 3G or 4G in Pakistan?”
That was as recently as 2013, when Pakistan was way behind the internet curve.
Today Pakistanis have all the infotainment options we’d expect from the internet.
E-commerce? Check-out ShopHive, which actually sells e-readers and tablets.
Video streaming? Of course. What self-respecting country doesn’t have video-streaming in 2017? Pakistani consumers can choose from Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Iflix among others.
Ebooks? Of course. There’s the Kindle Pakistan store, Apple Pakistan, Google Play Books Pakistan… No hold on. Rewind that bit. There are no Apple or Google Play stores and Pakistanis have to jump through ridiculous hoops to have any chance of buying from Amazon.
And because there are no ebook retailers in Pakistan there is no incentive for publishers to digitalise content.
It’s not that Pakistanis don’t read, despite the deficiencies of the analogue infrastructure that means bookstores are few and far between.
There are plenty of online bookstores to choose from, all offering COD, and while not quite offering Amazon-style discounts, all are competitively priced.
In fact Liberty, one of the country’s largest online bookstores, has a 25%-off sale running today to through to November 24. (NB – No affiliate links on TNPS – pure coincidence Liberty has a sale running as I checked their website this morning.)
The Liberty sale comes just as the OUP ends its month-long bricks & mortar store sale across the country.
But the biggest book sales in Pakistan are the international book fairs, like the Karachi fair next month.
In countries like Pakistan, where books are not always easily accessible the big book fairs are major shopping events for readers.
Last year the 2016 Karachi International Book Fair saw, wait for it, 400,000 people squeeze in, and 200,000 books were sold in the first four days.
Even more are expected this year, and Karachi is only the second-largest book fair in Pakistan, after the Lahore event, which takes place in February.
But whichever event we look at, the one safe bet is that while everyone there will have a smartphone in their hand, very few will be thinking about ebooks.