YouScribe, the French start-up that is nesting in Ivorian publishing

To meet the reading needs of its approximately 29 million inhabitants, Côte d'Ivoire currently has only twenty public libraries, or one for 1

YouScribe, the French start-up that is nesting in Ivorian publishing

To meet the reading needs of its approximately 29 million inhabitants, Côte d'Ivoire currently has only twenty public libraries, or one for 1.45 million inhabitants. A largely insufficient figure, point out professionals in the sector, in particular for schools whose documentation centers are almost all reduced to the bare minimum.

And in the few bookstores, the average price of the paper book is beyond the reach of most budgets. Interviewed in 2018 at the Abidjan International Book Fair (SILA), the successful writer and former Minister of Culture Maurice Bandaman immediately pointed to the economic argument: "[It is necessary] that the book be more and more accessible, he professed then, with cheaper prices, so as to be within everyone's reach. »

A small French start-up called YouScribe seems to have heard his call. Created in 2011 and originally designed as a streaming library offering bringing together books, press, audio books and educational documents, comics and even music scores, it lived in France until what its president, Juan Pirlot, decided in 2017 to direct it towards the French-speaking, Arabic-speaking and then English-speaking African markets.

The company currently employs twenty people, one third of them in Africa, where it is present in eleven countries. A successful strategy: YouScribe exceeded one million subscribers at the end of 2022 and now boasts 8 million euros in turnover.

"Democratizing access to reading"

"I like YouScribe a lot, it's a good application, rejoices the young Christ-Evan Sampah, in 4th grade at the Enko Riviera school in Abidjan. I have almost no paper books at home. So now, when I want to read a book for school or for myself, I just type its title into the search bar! »

The school's students pay just under 10,000 CFA francs (about 15 euros) each year for annual access to YouScribe, whose catalog includes more than a million references. But the vast majority of subscriptions, assesses Valentin Anceau, YouScribe's development manager in sub-Saharan Africa based in Abidjan, are taken out by individuals, who can subscribe via their Orange phone credit.

True to its ambition to "democratize access to reading", YouScribe offers advantageous rates: 150 CFA francs per day, 500 CFA francs per week, for access without advertising and possible offline. In Ivory Coast, a paper book costs around 5,000 CFA francs.

But Valentin Anceau wants to be reassuring. “We are not here to compete with the activities of paper publishers. On the contrary, we aim to generate additional income for these publishers who often have problems with stock supply or, in schools, seasonality. We also allow them to reach a new audience, readers who, without us, would not necessarily have the means to afford books in bookstores. »

The ally of local publishing houses

In total, more than 2,000 publishers bring their catalog to the platform, which redistributes 60% of its income to them by calculating their share in proportion to the page read. In Côte d'Ivoire alone, 80% of Ivorian publishers work with YouScribe, on the initiative of the Association of Publishers of Côte d'Ivoire (Assedi).

Its honorary president, Anges Félix N’Dakpri, also commissioner general of SILA, welcomes the arrival of YouScribe in Africa as a profitable opportunity for the sector. “We quickly understood that paper and digital books were complementary mediums and not opposites,” he explains. By entering the Ivorian market in 2019, YouScribe immediately positioned itself as an ally of local publishing houses and vowed transparency on their modus operandi.

The same year, Assedi entered into a framework agreement with the company, before giving publishing houses the latitude to establish their own commercial agreements. A way of "vouching", believes Anges Félix N'Dakpri and of reassuring the entire corporation. "It must be recognized that the physical book is very expensive, both for production and for export," he adds. Today, with the digital book, we have the possibility of crossing all physical and linguistic borders. We must not let this opportunity slip away. »

Because digital technology, underlines Sarah Mody, director of the young Ivorian publishing house Nimba, makes it possible to "bring texts and talents outside Côte d'Ivoire" and to survey other readerships. “We are very isolated from each other in the region, she regrets. We do not really know what is published in Benin, Togo or Senegal. But YouScribe brews a lot of content and going through them allows us to have a global vision of what is being done. »

"Democratize access to publication"

Nimba has therefore positioned itself since its birth on the "digital first", to the point of having signed a partnership with YouScribe even before launching its first catalog. “We immediately seized the potential, says Sarah Mody, seeing how difficult it would be to transport works on Ivorian territory. »

The company also offers publishers statistics to establish reading preferences, depending on the country in particular. Thus, Senegalese readers seem to prefer law and religion, reveals YouScribe, while in Côte d'Ivoire there is more interest in personal development and well-being books, literature and the press.

From the Parisian premises of his company, in this district of the 2nd arrondissement called "Silicon Sentier" for its profusion of start-ups, the founding president Juan Pirlot allows himself to dream big. “We also want to democratize access to publication, he ignites. That's why we chose to be called YouScribe: you write. The platform is already a participatory library where users can upload their writings for free, mostly lecture notes written by professors and students.

“Our long-term objective, concludes Mr. Pirlot, is that individuals can receive remuneration for this publishing activity and that they too can live from their pen. Or, in any case, have additional income through writing. Maurice Bandaman, finally, was already delighted in 2018 that "for ten years, around a hundred new titles per year have been edited and published in Côte d'Ivoire - compared to only three to five titles per year twenty years ago. 'years. A number that digital self-publishing could well explode.