When we think of digital books subscription services it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture as we focus on Storytel, Nextory, Bookbeat, Audible, Ubook and a host of other players targeting consumers in North America, Latin America and Europe.

Africa in particular comes in for some serious looking the other way by the publishing industry, with the consensus being that digital books outside of South Africa have no hope of taking off, despite, as we’ve stressed here at TNPS, there being more Africans online than most people, on the continent or beyond realize.

In June the latest figures revealed Africa had just shy of 525 million internet users.

That’s more Africans online than the online populations of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Germany combined.

Okay, so that puts to bed that faux narrative that Africans haven’t got the internet. How about the small problem of getting Africa interested in any books, let alone digital books?

At TNPS the argument has long been that this is a chicken and egg problem. Make books available, accessible and affordable and readers and listeners will come. And what better way to do that than with a digital subscription service?

This month comes confirmation in stunning fashion.

First some background.

A year ago this October TNPS reported that YouScribe had partnered with Orange to bring digital books to francophone Africa.

And that in turn came on the heels of Orange engaging with other digital providers to open up francophone sub-Saharan Africa.

Elsewhere in Africa while South Africa was well-served, Nigeria was beginning to embrace digital, and Algeria and Egypt had telco-operated ebook stores, most of the continent had little or no commercial access to digital books.

Other notable exceptions being Keny’a Ekitabu and the free-reading app Worldreader, both doing wonderful work, but neither addressing the need for a pan-African commercial platform for digital books.

Then earlier this year France-based YouScribe began an expansion of its Africa game.

In particular a launch in Senegal produced stellar results, with 100,000 new subscribers in the first two months, while across YouScribe’s Africa markets the company saw 100,000 new subscribers just in August.

Across Africa YouScribe expects to top 300,000 subscribers by the end 2019, with a heavy tilt towards education, thanks to a partnership with La Sonatel. But don’t let that detract from the enormity of the news here.

Let’s just hear that last number again so it sinks in. YouScribe expects to have 300,000 digital subscribers in Africa by end 2019.

Here’s the to-date graphic from YouScribe, lest we should be in any doubt.

As we’ve long said at TNPS, make digital content available, accessible and affordable and consumers in Africa will respond the same as anywhere else, rushing to enjoy the opportunity.

Working with telcos is a particularly efficient way to achieve the three goals of availability, accessibility and affordability in emerging markets like Africa, and one YouScribe understands well.

Thanks to content publishing partners YouScribe has the title availability that makes the service appealing.

Accessibility is an issue in regions like West Africa or Madagascar, where traditional paper & ink book production and distribution poses enormous challenges.

And of course those same production and distribution challenges force up the end-price consumers are expected to pay.

A digital streaming service cuts through these problems with ease once the content producers are on board to deliver products in digital formats.

With 525 million people online across the continent accessibility is a simple matter of finding platforms to deliver the content to eager consumers, and what better way than through the smartphone in their hands?

The telco also eliminates that other emerging market obstacle to reading – being able to make a payment. No need for credit cards or even mobile wallets. Simply buy telco credit for your phone with local currency cash and the subscription or download fee is deducted from that credit.

That also solves the affordability issue, with digital downloads available less expensively than their print counterparts, and with the subscription model there’s an even better deal for consumers, that in turn rewards publishers because more books are read or listened to.

Which brings us back to YouScribe’s partnership with Orange.

It’s only YouScribe’s first year with Orange but already YouScribe African subscriber numbers put the operation in the same ball park as the smaller Scandinavian subscription players. And as we’ll see below, even with Storytel.

With Africa expected to easily top 800 million people online in the next decade, the potential of digital to transform the African book markets is clear, and the early numbers from YouScribe show that, far from hype, this is achievable reality.

To put YouScribe’s achievement in context, Storytel first stepped outside the Nordics in 2013, with its Demark and Netherlands launches.

Today comes news from Storytel that the company’s non-Nordic subscriber base totals 278,400 across almost twenty countries.

YouScribe expects to hit 300,000 subscribers by end 2019 in the space of fifteen months, and with just a handful of African countries.