Worldreader counts 500,000 users of its e-reading app on feature phones

Worldreader, an NGO that distributes Kindles to students in sub-Saharan Africa, has also been testing a mobile reading app for the past year. Today, Worldreader Mobile comes out of beta. The organization announced that Worldreader Mobile, through technology partner biNu, is now installed on five million feature phones (basic cell phones) throughout Africa, Asia and the rest of the world, and has 500,000 active readers per month.

“There are more mobile phones than toothbrushes on this planet,” David Risher, cofounder and CEO of Worldreader (and a former Amazon(s AMZN) executive) said in a statement. “Together with our growing e-reader program, Worldreader Mobile connects us to millions of the world’s poorest people, providing the books they need to improve their lives.”

The types of books available free through Worldreader Mobile
The types of books available free through Worldreader Mobile

The Worldreader Mobile app makes 1,200 ebooks available for free (see a breakdown of genres on the left) through the biNu app. The app compresses mobile data so that it can be downloaded quickly even on 2G networks, which are the norm in the developing world.

Participating publishers include Pearson, Harlequin, the World Health Organization and stories from Africa’s Caine Prize winners, among others. The ebooks available through the mobile app aren’t all the same as the ones available through Worldreader’s Kindle distribution program, but this year the company is working to get participating publishers to offer their books on both platforms.

Most of the Worldreader Mobile app’s users live in India, Nigeria or Ethiopia. Users are reading 19.5 million pages on Worldreader’s app per month, the company says, which translates to 17,000 200-page books read per month. Eighty-two percent of the readers are male, and 90 percent are between the ages of 16 and 35.

The platform’s most active readers, however, are women. Seventy percent of the platform’s “power users” are female, and they read an average of 17 books per month. I asked Susan Moody Prieto, Worldreader’s director of marketing, to explain the discrepancy: Is it an issue of access, with men more likely to own cell phones? She said the company isn’t sure but guesses that men tend to be early adopters of the platform.

Users are also sharing the books with others. Twenty-nine percent of Worldreader Mobile users read stories to young children from their mobile phones, and 88 percent said they’d like “materials to help young children learn to read” on their phones.”

For now, all of the books on Worldreader Mobile are free. But Moody Prieto said that the organization is looking into a paid platform down the road. “I don’t think people in the developing world will pay $9 for an ebook,” she said, “but they’ll pay something. This is a blooming economy.”