Friday, August 29, 2014 Last update: 7:03 AM - All Company Technology News Since 1996

Study Finds Mobile Devices Unlock Literacy Potential, Sparking a Reading Revolution in Developing Countries

Companies mentioned in this article: Worldreader

SAN FRANCISCO -- (BUSINESS WIRE) -- In celebration of World Book Day, UNESCO, in coalition with Worldreader and Nokia, today released the results of the largest survey on mobile reading in the developing world, which revealed that mobile devices can help significantly enhance people’s literacy skills.

UNESCO partners with Worldreader to release study results on the impact of e-reading in developing c ...

UNESCO partners with Worldreader to release study results on the impact of e-reading in developing countries. (Photo credit: Jon McCormack for Worldreader)

According to the responses of nearly 5,000 people across seven developing countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe – mobile reading can open educational opportunities to nearly seven billion people, ultimately reducing illiteracy rates forever. In places where physical books are scarce, mobile phones are plentiful. And while mobile phones are still used primarily for basic communication, even the simplest of phones are a gateway to long-form text.

According to the report, “Mobile reading is not a future phenomenon but a right-here, right-now reality.” Indeed, Worldreader’s free mobile reading app – which averages nearly 200,000 users per month – is evidence that there is high demand for mobile reading in areas that lack access to paper books. “We now have two years of data proving that people are spending hundreds of hours a month reading short and long form text, using basic feature and Android phones,” said Elizabeth Hensick Wood, director of digital publishing and mobile platforms at Worldreader. “As part of this research, we interviewed dozens of individuals, ranging from students to teachers to parents, and all told a similar story: they do not have access to paper books, they are thrilled to now have thousands of free books on their mobile phones and they are now reading more than ever.”

The study discovered that women and girls in particular are benefitting from having a new way to access books, reading up to six times more than men and boys, and that parents regularly read to children using mobile phones. The study also shows that a vast majority of people enjoy reading more on their mobile phones, and that mobile reading often reverses people’s negative attitudes towards reading.

Contrary to what many may think, only 18 percent of the respondents cited cost, or “use of airtime,” as a potential barrier to reading more on mobiles. This is likely due to platforms such as the Worldreader Mobile platform on biNu, which compresses data and brings the cost of reading to roughly 2-3 cents per every 1,000 pages read. Instead, lack of relevant content was cited as the number one barrier to mobile reader adoption by 60 percent of the respondents.

Recent data from the United Nations shows that of the estimated seven billion people on Earth, more than six billion now have access to a working mobile phone. If every person on the planet understood they can turn their mobile phone into a library, an estimated six billion people would have access to books. “A key conclusion from this study is that mobile devices can help people develop, sustain and enhance their literacy skills. This is important because literacy opens the door to life-changing opportunities and benefits,” said Mark West from UNESCO, author of the report.

Since 2012, Worldreader has helped pioneer new opportunities for mobile reading in developing countries by promoting a mobile app to distribute relevant content to users in parts of Africa and Asia. The organization has plans to broaden its efforts and provide more than one million people with access to free e-books on mobile phones by the end of 2014.

“World illiteracy can be attributed in part to the fact that people have access to a very small number of books, or none at all in some areas of the world,” said David Risher, CEO and co-founder of Worldreader. “Yet there are more cell phones on the planet than there are toilets or toothbrushes. Already kids and families have read more than 1.7 million Worldreader books – helping them attain a more prosperous, more self-reliant future.”

UNESCO’s study highlight readers’ demographics in developing countries, and the impact this has on the population. Key findings include:

  • On average, mobile readers in developing countries are primarily male, with 77 percent male. However, women read longer than men, spending 207 minutes per month reading, while males spend only 33 minutes.
  • 62 percent of respondents reported they enjoyed reading even more after they started reading on their mobile devices, as a result, they are reading more as well (62 percent).
  • One in three respondents said they read to children from their mobile phones and a further one-third of the respondents said they would do so if there were more kid-friendly reading material available.
  • 13 percent of the respondents said their primary reason for reading on a mobile device is because it’s affordable.
  • 60 percent of respondents cited lack of content as the primary barrier to mobile reading. Only 18 percent noted concerns around cost, while half claimed they never worry about cost.
  • When asked about their intentions to engage in mobile reading in the future, 90 percent of respondents said they intend to spend more time reading on their mobile phones in the next year.
  • The most popular genre according to the number of clicks per menu item on Worldreader Mobile is romance, followed by religion.
  • In regards to search terms entered by all Worldreader Mobile users, Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, Animal Farm, Twilight were among the top searched books between April and June 2013.
  • Kwame Nkrumah: The Great African, The Girl with the Magic Hands and Can Love Happen Twice?, were among the top read books between April and June 2013.

To read the full report, visit To make a donation to Worldreader, visit

About Worldreader

Worldreader is a global not-for-profit organization that aims to put a library of digital books in the hands children and families across the world. Founded in 2010 by former Microsoft and Amazon executive David Risher, and former Marketing Director at Barcelona’s ESADE Business School Colin McElwee, Worldreader works with device manufacturers, local and international publishers, governments, education officials and local communities to deliver its programs. Using culturally relevant digital books distributed across mobile phones and e-readers, Worldreader has demonstrated that its rapid scaling capacity is the most effective way to eradicate illiteracy across the globe. Worldreader is piloting e-readers in schools and libraries in nine Sub-Saharan countries and on Worldreader Mobile has more than 150,000 regular monthly readers across the world.

Copyright © Business Wire 2014

Finn Partners
Andrea McDonald, 415-249-6768
Worldreader U.S.
Susan Moody, 646-853-1721
Worldreader EU
Nadja Borovac, (34) 618-399-102