By Michael Bhaskar
When will Amazon come to the Arabic world? We know they are playing a global game. However as yet they have shown little interest in Arabic publishing. The Kindle, for example, does not support right to left text or Arabic characters, which means it is effectively useless for Arabic literature. It’s conversion and display of PDFs is lacking. And, perhaps of most importance, there is no Arabic store.
Amazon likes to bide its time. A Japanese store has just opened, as has a Brazilian Kindle store. Meanwhile Apple iBooks can comfortably work with Arabic text — and with a representative based in Abu Dhabi who is in charge of the region, one expects it will launch sometime soon. Google’s localization to the Arab world has always been very effective, much more so than many US firms’ efforts.
The main barriers are neither linguistic nor technological. If Amazon can produce a Japanese store, then it can produce an Arabic store. I suspect the main barrier to Amazon is the multi-state nature of the market. There are many jurisdictions, local cultural factors and the like for it to customize and Arabic store to. The complexity, to Amazon, of establishing an “Arabic Kindle” is therefore greater than other potentially lucrative markets, like in India (where it is now selling a rupee denominated offering), Russia, Latin America or as yet Kindle-less territories in Europe.
In the short run this probably limits the size of the Arabic ebook market. This is not necessarily a bad thing; many in the book industry complain about Amazon, more than they laud its successes. Arabic publishers and book sellers have some breathing space.
In the long term the Arabic market will, I think, be too big and important for Amazon to ignore if it wants to be a genuinely global company, as it’s rare public missives repeatedly state that it aspires to be. This means eventually there will be considerable investment and the ebook market is sure to see lift off in the region. The only real question then is whether a home grown or rival ebook service will get there first, or whether an alternative model, like Japanese keitai fiction, will thrive in the interim.
Agree, disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.
A version of this story first appeared in the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair Show Daily.