One of the biggest challenges to the digital transition in the so-called Third World is payments.
In countries where cash is king, even though smartphones are everywhere, paying for any sort of e-commerce is difficult if you don’t have a bank account and plastic card.
Mobile payment solutions as we know them in the west are not that helpful, as the funds come from our bank accounts, but elsewhere in the world mobile solutions allow credit to be added in cash at local stores, and payments to be made from the regular mobile credit top-up.
The biggest mobile finance operator in Bangladesh is bKash, which this year is offering 10% “cash-back” to customers using bKash to buy books at the month-long Amar Ekushey Boi Mela, the biggest book fair in the country (and the longest duration book fair in the world).
350 publishers at the event are accepting bKash this year (bKash first started offering the cash-back incentive in 2014) and this discount, which comes with no hidden charges, is on top of the standard 25% discount the publishers are offering.
At the boi mela so far this year the Children’s Corner has proved the most popular, with print books and audiobooks on CDs a big attraction.
Ebooks, streamed audio and online print sales remain widely unavailable, thanks to the issues of payment processing and the absence of any of the big western ebook retailers in Bangladesh.
The latter problem is unlikely to change any time soon. The problem of online payments is slowly being addressed.
Mobile payments are both the biggest hurdle and the biggest opportunity for ebook stores and online book retailers looking to gain traction in the nascent markets.
Operators that can step up to the mark and partner with telcos and mobile finance solutions, where cold cash can be exchanged for online credit, will reap the rewards of connecting with the literally billions of potential customers around the world currently using smartphones but who are unable to engage in any e-commerce transactions.