Among the new initiatives are the US-based non-governmental organisation Read-and-Prosper, which are providing e-readers, pre-loaded with e-books to primary and secondary schools in rural villages.
In partnership with a local publishing company based in Nairobi called Word Alive Publishers, the organisation seeks to provide Kenyan books to students in electronic format.
Since some Kenyan publishers have concerns about the possibility of e-books being illegally copied, Read and- Prosper has also formed partnership with E-Kitabu, a local e-book company.
The initiative E-Kitabu distributes e-books across the world Africa included.
This is meant to empower children in developing countries where students do not have access to the internet, books and other learning materials.
According to Evans Colton, chief executive officer Read-and-Prosper, the organisation is partnering with publishing companies in order to help students access reading materials produced locally.
"We intend to introduce books that will not only help in distribution of local sales channel, but will also nurture indigenous writers,” explains Colton.
This, he adds, is through adaptation of the syllabus and converting it to electronic messages which will then be fed into mails.
He argues that it is easier to provide students with a lot of free foreign books that are in the public domain but these will not be of help to Kenyan students.
“We want to conceptualise the African story and improve the experience of Kenyan students,” he notes.
E-book readers are easy to operate, have the memory capacity to store hundreds of books, are relatively cheap, and require very little electric power.
An e-book reader can be charged using a USB from a wall plug or a small solar panel, and uses very low electric power that it can potentially run for weeks on a single charge.
This is why Read-and-Prosper maintains that it can use e-readers to deliver large numbers of books at a low cost to needy schools.
According to the head of Tennessee Institute of Information Technology (TIIT), Andrew Thuku, e-readers have really encouraged his students to read more. The school is among the beneficiaries of the NGOs projects.
According to Thuku, students are more encouraged to read using that technology.
“The portability and accessibility of e- Learning helps students adopt better and learn more. They also have an in-built dictionary and one can add their own content and other materials to the e-readers, and I have no doubt that the results will be tremendous,” explains Thuku.
Currently, Read-and-Prosper is providing e-readers pre-loaded with a combination of free public domain e-books and some Kenyan content.
However, Colton says that the e-book production and distribution is still new in Kenya.
The business models are not yet fully understood, and this is a challenge to local publishing companies.
"Most of the companies are still very cautious about changing a business model that is currently profitable, and is understandable,” says Colton.
He notes: “The key is to simultaneously build demand for e-books by spreading the availability of devices that can read these books.”
Colton also observes that it will be important to build production and distribution capacity within the Kenyan publishing industry.
“It is important to develop business models which ensure that book publishers can continue to profit in the digital world,” he advices.
The cost of an e-reader in the United States is approximately KSh8,500 ($100), which is inexpensive once you factor in its capacity to hold an entire library. If Kenyan publishers seize this opportunity, the official says, they will be able to lower the price for books, while also increasing their profit margins, because they will not have to pay the costs of printing, importing, and distributing paper-based books.
This means they can also dramatically increase the number of books they sell and their profits.
Furthermore, the more children read, the more they will be book buyers for life, creating a virtuous cycle for the publishing industry.
“Some publishing companies see digital distribution of books as a threat to business, but I see an enormous opportunity for the publishers, but also for Kenyan students and the general public,” Colton explained.
“As we have already seen with music and films, digital distribution is the future. I hope to see Kenya leading all of Africa and the developing world in putting these new technologies to work, to improve education and to build a stronger reading society," he said.