Rummaging through a second-hand book store’s well-worn tomes will always have their place, but more and more people are turning to e-readers.
This is has been especially acute during the lockdown, with book stores shut. Online reading platform InstaNovella is taking this relationship between reading and technology a step further and challenging the future of storytelling.
InstaNovella is a free, user-generated stories platform that gives writers, many of whom are amateurs, a space to write and share stories. It gives readers millions of narratives to choose from, as well as an opportunity to comment on and interact with their favourite InstaNovella authors.
You could find yourself delving into some historical fiction, horror, LGBTQ+ stories, or fantasy. But if you like a good page-turning, a corset-ripping tale of love and lust, then InstaNovella is definitely for you. Romance rules on this platform.
Founded in early 2020 by Dandy Jackson Chukwudi and Awaji-Itimikpang Abadi, the Nigeria-based start-up aimed to “revolutionise how people discovered, shared and connected through stories”.
The company now sees itself as an African up and coming multiplatform entertainment company for stories that is expanding using various avenues.
InstaNovella communications lead Chinedu Favour says its profit comes from advertising and brand partnerships.
Now, a few months since its launch, InstaNovella boasts 50 thousand monthly users who spend a collective 960 thousand minutes on the site. It offers more than 100 thousand uploads, and 90% of its users are Generation Z or millennials.
Its largest markets are in Nigeria (24-million users) but also, interestingly enough, in developing countries like South Africa, Morocco and Senegal.
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If you think that data is interesting, InstaNovella has a lot more where that comes from. Every time someone chooses to read a story, comments on a paragraph, or votes on a favourite tale, this information is used by the platform to pinpoint the latest trends, what is resonating with an audience and what stories are gaining traction and popularity
Using this information, InstaNovella has branched out into a data-backed publishing division, InstaNovella Books, which it sees as the future of publishing. This is an opportunity for amateur writers of all genres to be recognised and published. It’s a chance that many wouldn’t get otherwise.
Fourie Botha, a publisher at Penguin Random House SA, explains the complexities and stumbling blocks of getting a book published traditionally.
Publishers get between five and 10 submissions every day from aspiring novelists, and they end up publishing between 5% and 10% of what is offered to them. Botha says it’s very hard to get a book published or to make a living as a writer in SA.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, he loves the idea of InstaNovella. “Any writerly success on any platform,” he says, “is a success for everyone else in the book world, as it attracts more readers, grows the market, and brings money into the sector.”
The upcoming big time
Building on the success of the publishing division, InstaNovella has started a production arm called InstaNovella Studios, which will single out stories that have a great chance at success in film or on TV.
A number of InstaNovella most ardent writers are teenagers. Without the usual publishing gatekeepers standing in their way, they have just as much of a chance at making it big as anyone else.
Yes, this all sounds very romantic, and the data and stats are most impressive, but uploading a story on InstaNovella doesn’t promise you instant literary success. Many users won’t become bestselling authors.
For good and bad, InstaNovella has no real curatorship. It’s like an Idols audition of literature; there are the outlier gems, the down-the-middle offerings and those whose moms should have told them to just stay at home.
And the problem for readers using the platform is that you may need to trawl through some abysmal writing to find the good. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give InstaNovella a go, as a reader or author.
Most of the writers using InstaNovella are hobby writers. One such is Isabella Okeke, who lives in the Abia State of Nigeria and has a background in numbers and analytics.
She, like many InstaNovella users, enjoys the anonymity that the site gives (through the use of a username), as it may encourage someone who wouldn’t usually write to publish their work online.
InstaNovella CEO Dandy Jackson Chukwudi says: “Reports of the death of reading are grossly exaggerated. Reading just looks a lot different today. It’s a social and interactive experience, not the solitary pursuit it once was.”
Reading is rampaging in Africa, and you should join up.