By Dennis Abrams
In Al Multaqa Magazine, a quarterly magazine published by the Arab Children’s Book Publishers Forum, Ahmad Rashad examined “The Era of Books and Bookstores: The Conflict Between Paper and Digital (A Look into the Future).”
After looking at the impact of digital publishing in the US and the UK, he turned his attention to the Arab world:
“Considering schools, universities, and public libraries, I predict that in 5 or 6 years digital books will constitute up to 75% of their books. For example, the Ministry of Education in Egypt implemented studying curricula via tablets in 300 schools, while the Ministry of Higher Education in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar now all have data bases of over 3,000 digital Arabic titles in addition to much more English titles.”[…]
“Where do we as Arabs stand in the digital books revolution?
“There is a state of confusion in the Arab world regarding digital publishing even deeper [than in the US and Europe] when it comes to addressing common readers rather than educational institutions which creates its own set of problems. Arabic fonts in usage are deficient, especially when converting into (E-pub) technology, while international companies see that Arabic book market as too insignificant to do research into developing reliable Arabic fonts. Besides, most companies concerned with distribution and marketing of digital books lack either technical expertise or effective marketing. In fact, the majority of Arab publishers and authors are skeptical about delving into digital public due to a lack of knowledge of its basics.
“Another problem is digital piracy which disseminates stolen books over the web with no laws to protect publishers or authors.
“Most Arab publishers do not have their earlier publications archived as InDesign or Word files which take tremendous effort and expense to collect, retype, and proofread all over again. And to top it all off, tablet users make up only 10% of the population of the Arab world.
“As a result, the American experience [with digital books] might not be replicated here because even in England, the second largest country in digital publication, digital book sales which reached a high of 18% of all book sales began to drop last December. In fact, a Financial Times report mentioned that digital book transactions decreased while paper book sales rose between 5 – 11%
“Consequently, we cannot assert paper books will disappear, at least not those addressing common readers. Although affected by the rise of digital books, paper books will remain, except at institutions, universities and schools, where the future is in favor of digital books.”