SBA Publishers Club Highlights Learning Curves in the Arab Publishing Industry

SBA Publishers Club Highlights Learning Curves in the Arab Publishing Industry

The second session of ‘Publishers Club’, a virtual discussion initiative organised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), addressed the challenges facing the Arab publishing industry following the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and delved into the need to leverage the digital medium to drive sales. 

At the session titled ‘Selling Books in the Arab World in the Time of Corona’, Sherif Bakr, General Manager, Al Arabi Publishing and Distributing, Egypt, spoke of how publishers are transforming traditional business models by adopting digital solutions to connect to existing and new readership groups, in their efforts to stay afloat amidst disruptions posed by the onset of Covid-19. 

In a conversation with Emma House, Founder of Oreham House, Bakr expressed hope that the pandemic may eventually bring about a positive change in the region’s distribution network. He said, “Book fairs across the world are generally the starting point of book releases and other key marketing activities, and despite several innovative initiatives by many publishers – developing web portals to advance digital offerings, for instance – nothing has yet provided the value that book fairs offer.”

“It is not only book sales opportunities that makes book fairs vibrant; they also open new vistas of knowledge exchange and introduce Arabic culture and literature to a global audience,” he added. 

Although paper and print are still the preferred format in the region, one medium that has been making a clear headway in the region is the audiobook industry. With Covid-19 driving the digital transition worldwide, e-books could revolutionise the prospects of Arab academic publishers, he noted, adding that the lack of data on who reads what and where in the education sector is a challenge that has to be addressed.

Highlighting the need to market content in innovative ways, Sherif Bakr cited how a committee he was leading is collectively launching ‘Arab Voices’, a select catalogue of 32 titles at the virtual Frankfurt Book Fair next month, which will introduce popular Arab novels to an international audience. “The launch of these titles will be the main Arabic event at the Frankfurt Book Fair,” he said, adding, “the pandemic may not be the right time for large investments in production and marketing, but it is a good time for publishers to get creative, and think of ideas like checking their backlists to find titles that may interest international publishers, which might lead to revenue generation without having to generate new content.” 

With many book-based television series and films appearing on streaming platforms, he is hopeful that popular global providers will start sourcing Arabic content, which will be a gamechanger for both publishers and authors.

Even as the way in which people create and consume books are steadily evolving, Bakr says “the Arab publishing industry is still a growing market and with as many as 400 million-plus people around the world speaking Arabic, even tapping into the opportunities that 1 percent of this population represents, can shift the needle in the right direction.”

Chris Fernando

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