By Chip Rossetti
ABU DHABI: KITAB, the joint venture of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and the Frankfurt Book Fair, recently held the first of two five-day CEO-level training programs it has organized this year for publishers from the Arab world. Nineteen publishers from eight Arab countries attended a series of workshops in Abu Dhabi from June 14 to 18, all with the aim of increasing the level of professionalism in the Arabic book publishing industry. A second session for the CEOs will be held this December 6 to 10, with sessions for mid-management publishing professionals from September 27 to October 1 and November 8 to 12. The training is a series of workshops on topics ranging from strategic marketing to book design and e-publishing.
Participants were enthusiastic about the new program. Fadwa Boustany, the managing director of Egyptian publisher Boustany’s Publishing House, pointed to the discussion of organizational structures, online marketing, and keeping tighter control over accounting. A key conclusion she took away was “it is important that we have a vision for our company, and then apply it with the aim of making it happen.” Since publishers in the Arab world currently do little market analysis, she was pleased that the training highlighted “the importance of analyzing the market we’re working in and studying our competitors.”
Publishers, she explained, also face other steep challenges: “Some of the biggest difficulties are the problem of distribution and the problem of account payments and revenue. Unfortunately, we are working in the field of cultural production in order to nourish minds — not to feed bellies — in a world that has retreated from reading for many reasons, including a high levels of illiteracy and poverty, as well as other temptations such as television, the internet, and so on, which unfortunately have pulled the rug out from under the book in our Arab world.”
Ibrahim Anas al-Rajab of Iraq’s al-Muthanna Library, a family-owned bookseller and publisher based in Baghdad, confessed that he hadn’t had much in the way of formal training publishing before the seminar, although he has been to seminars focusing on the German book trade at Frankfurt, and is now the third generation of his family to run the business. For him, the most valuable lessons involved drawing up business plans and devising long-term strategies, which he likened to learning to play music.
“It’s like I had been playing piano for a long time using just my fingers and ears, but this was the first time that I used my eyes as well and learned how to read the notes!,” he said. For Anas al-Rajab, the profit-and-loss sheets were a visual, quantifiable confirmation of many of the realities of business he had learned informally from his father.
Safaa Azmy of the UAE children’s publisher Waha al-Hikayat found that the most useful aspects of the training involved “getting to know global distribution networks, familiarizing myself with different accounting systems and drawing up budgets.” Like other participants, she bemoaned “the scarcity of institutions that have substantial distribution networks,” which leads to a conflict of interest between publishers and distributors, “since the publisher in most cases acts as both publisher and distributor together.” Particularly when dealing with official entities such as ministries of education, publishers run up against issues of corruption and favoritism. As a result, she says, “personal interests get in the way of the public good in some government institutions, which have large budgets for books.” On the other hand, she’s looking forward to “selling books online, expanding my cooperation with other Arab publishing houses, and participating in future sessions.”
Given the number of challenges facing book publishing in the Arab world, and the overwhelmingly positive response from participants, it seems clear that KITAB’s training program is a welcome initiative for the region and an effective way to draw Arabic book publishing into the wider global market.
CONTACT: KITAB for information about next training session.
READ: More about the program of this and forthcoming sessions.
THE PARTICIPANTS: Pictured above, are listed here.