Interview with Augustino AGBEMAVO, by Sarah Djos for Muna Kalati.
Could you briefly introduce yourself (what you do, how did your journey in the book industry begin? Your role in the culture industry in Africa or in your country)
I am Augustino AGBEMAVO, General Manager of BOOKCONEKT.COM. We sell and rent paper and digital books through our website. Since high school, I have always loved documentary research and I dreamed of having a personal library at home. The lack of a library in my community led me to turn this personal dream into a reality in service to the community. Today, we strive to be the pioneer in the digitalisation of book-related services with the innovation of bringing books closer to readers.
Could you tell us more about your initiative (its objectives, target, and expected results)?
BOOKCONEKT is a platform for the distribution and diffusion of paper and digital books. We provide four main services: a Mobile Bookstore, which is the purchase of paper books online with delivery at home, at the office and internationally with our partners DHL and the Post Office of Benin; a Mobile Library, which is a service of lending books to students in schools or at home through a quarterly subscription; the Digital Library is the loan of digital books through a subscription. More than 300,000 eBooks, including audiobooks, are available offline via a mobile application. These services are very rich in professional resources, leadership, financial education, and others. As for the book club, it is reserved for children aged 8 to 10, from third to fifth grade. These children meet once a month around a book with various fun activities to be carried out. The objective is to cultivate a reading culture by making books easily available to readers.
Where did you get the idea to set up such an initiative? What was your inspiration? Why this initiative? What specific problems are you trying to solve?
In my community, Abomey-Calavi, which has the largest number of students in Benin, there is no municipal library worthy of the name. So, in 2010, when I was 17 years old, I established a library in the school where I graduated. It was accessible to all students in the neighbourhood. We had 80 books at the beginning and carried out various activities with our own funds until 2015. The Foundation Zinsou, the French Institute, our sponsor, and various friends helped us reach 2000 books. But in 2015, faced with our inability to renew the book collection, students’ books were becoming increasingly scarce. We decided to move the existing books to students far away from us so that they could benefit from them. Hence the idea of the Mobile Library. The objective is to bring the book closer to the reader to encourage reading. Mobility then became our added value because we realized that most bookstores are concentrated in the city centre and going there sometimes discourages users, especially when the book is out of stock and they have to go back and forth. So, we created BOOKCONEKT to bring the book to you wherever you are! In other words, we save students from having to go to the library all the time, and we save parents from having to waste time going to bookstores looking for books.
How is it different from similar existing projects? What is its added value?
BOOKCONEKT is a global project that brings together two essential links in the book chain in one place (distribution and diffusion/promotion). Then, all our services are digitalized, allowing everyone, wherever they are, to benefit from them. Few bookstores, especially in Benin, have digitalized their services. Also, most of the library initiatives that exist depend on external donations and inputs. We have succeeded in setting up an economic model that is supported by the beneficiaries and that allows us to meet our various expenses. Our bookstore allows parents to check the availability of a book in a bookstore, its price, order it and receive it at home. With BOOKCONEKT, it’s the book wherever you are!
What is the progress or achievements so far? (Please talk about your activities and programs.)
The mobile library started with one school, in one city, in 2016 and today covers about 20 schools in 3 cities. From a motorcycle as a means of transportation in 2016, we acquired a tricycle in 2017. We have signed a partnership with DHL and the Benin Post Office to ensure distribution throughout the world. We have as partners Unicef and Canal+ who have sponsored the mobile library in schools. The bookstore has launched the Consumons Le livre Béninois en 2020 campaign, which aims to highlight Beninese literary productions. In terms of human resources, from a single HR in 2017, we are at 5 permanent jobs created.
What are your current sources of funding? Could you be described as financially autonomous? How do you plan to strengthen the financial autonomy of your initiative in the coming years?
We have raised funds through calls for projects and entrepreneurial competitions that we have won over the years. We are almost financially autonomous and we plan to strengthen this by increasing our sales.
What are the main challenges or difficulties you face in the realization of your project? How do you overcome them?
Although we are essentially digital, we are still confronted with the reluctance of the users, especially because of cybercrime, which has not stopped growing. We are working to increase our notoriety through customer feedback, by participating in national and international events, and by retaining our former customers. None of us is trained in business management, and therefore we find it difficult to make the right choices and the right investments at certain times. With our passion and determination, we turn challenges into opportunities.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work? How have you adapted and what changes have you implemented?
COVID has helped us expand our business better as digital has become the tool of choice for everyone.
What support or backing would you need to increase the impact of your initiative and accelerate its development?
First, it helps in managing the business and then raising funds for expansion.
What will be the impact of this initiative on the promotion of books and culture? If you have a numerical impact, please share it.
The impact is clear: 1000 students each year discover the joys of reading with our mobile library. About 30 children participate in the monthly children’s book club and many others.
What are your plans for the next 3 to 10 years? What do you plan to achieve that is big and memorable in your business?
It is to expand our activities in the sub-region.
For more information, contact Mr AGBEMAVO at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can visit the BOOKCONEKT website by clicking this link: https://bookconekt.com
Follow BOOKCONEKT on social platforms!
Twitter : https://twitter.com/BOOKCONEKT