The Challenges of Encouraging a Reading Culture in Developing Countries
When you live in parts of the world other than industrialized countries, chances are you can’t fulfill all of your bookish quirks and literary dreams. Imagine that after marathoning Stranger Things, you want some cute bookmarks or some trendy accessories. You go to Amazon or Etsy, but then realize that you are volunteering in a remote village in Mongolia and you won’t have them anytime soon. Sounds inconvenient, doesn’t it? That’s how things work in developing countries.
If you have been living in one or if you are traveling to one, you won’t have much access to the bookish stuff offered to much of the rest of the world. Below are some bookish things I wish developing nations had access to, to develop and improve their reading culture.
Online Bookstore as Comprehensive as Amazon
Not every country with emerging markets has its own Amazon store, except India, Brazil, China, and Mexico. Love it or hate it, Amazon makes book buying easier by delivering books right to your doorstep. This kind of service still needs improvement in some developing countries while they adapt to the demands of shoppers and solve challenges in logistics. For instance, in the Philippines, the norm is still going to bookstores instead of buying in an online bookshop, due to limitations.
What I like most about Amazon is that it has exhaustive bibliographic data. It’s my go-to source whenever I want to find out the publication details of a book. You can’t find these things on other platforms like China’s Alibaba and Singapore’s Shopee and Lazada.
What’s more, you can also find plenty of book accessories there that are not simply available elsewhere.
OverDrive-Powered Digital Libraries
While some publishers from developing countries have partnerships with book lending platforms, the content the libraries offer is so meager. Though in my case, OverDrive doesn’t have partner libraries in the Philippines. Seriously, none at all. That’s because they prefer print books over other digital formats. I think this must also be the case with other countries where ebooks and audiobooks are still a novelty.
As a night-owl bookworm, I sometimes browse randomly at night for free ebooks to marathon even though my TBR is full. My genre preference changes all the time. What if I feel like reading something feel-good tonight? Well, it’s the 21st century, and you would think that things are one snatch away. The first place I would go to is the Amazon U.S. store, but titles there can be very expensive and I don’t feel like spending. Second is…well, the library. But it doesn’t have an ebook collection!
Nada. Do you get what I mean? This is what it feels like to live in low- and middle-income countries. Ebooks and audiobooks are not even commonplace in the library. I even did a sweep of the Pan-Asia region and found out that only two developing nations have OverDrive-powered digital libraries. I’m a little bit jealous.
Meager collection or not, these digital libraries will be of big help to those who can’t afford to buy books. A 2014 UNESCO study in some developing countries found that “people read more when they read on mobile devices, that they enjoy reading more, and that people commonly read books and stories to children from mobile devices,” The Guardian reports.
Fast and Reliable Postal Service
In most countries, orders from international online bookstores usually take a while to arrive.
For instance, the book you order from UK-based Book Depository, which attracts bookworms with its “free” shipping service, takes over a month—and sometimes more—to get into your hands! Imagine the frustration of having to wait for a year to read the last book of your favorite series; and then another month on top of that. You still don’t know who killed who and if that billionaire was tamed.
It’s not my intention to pit these two groups against each other nor to illustrate the wide berth between them. After all, the terms “developing” and “developed” may imply different meanings. Their usage is still a developing debate, as NPR notes. But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll go by Study.com’s definition of developing countries as those that are “less industrialized and have lower per capita income levels.”
We already know the benefits of reading books for everyone especially children, and so I just wish everyone had a fair access to them, as much as possible.
The bottom line is, everyone will be encouraged to read if there’s a faster way to access books—whether full-fledged online bookstores or heavily stocked digital libraries. What are the other ways that you think can help develop a strong reading culture in developing countries?