Krauss Leads Abu Dhabi Book Fair into a New Era

In Europe by Chip Rossetti

By Chip Rossetti

Monika Krauss of the ADIBF

In 2009, when Monika Krauss took the position of General Manager of KITAB, the organization that manages the annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF), she was coming full circle. Although born in Iraq to a German father and an Iraqi mother, Monika Krauss had spent most of her life somewhere else, having been raised in Nigeria and Algeria, and working for much of her adult life in Germany, most recently as in-house counsel for the art book publisher Prestel Verlag in Munich.  The 20th ADIBF takes place March 2-7, 2010, and will be Krauss’ first as General Manager.  “When I got here last year,” she says, “I found good foundations, and a good team in place. The next step is to have it grow.”

Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

Although the ADIBF is now in its twentieth year, it was only in 2007 that KITAB — a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) and the Frankfurt Book Fair — was established, with the aim of promoting the ADIBF and developing the publishing industry in the United Arab Emirates as well as  the rest of the Arab world.  The result was a transformation of the ADIBF in the last three years from a small, regional book fair to a far more professional, globally oriented book trade event.  “We have very strong support from the Frankfurt Book Fair — they are almost like our bigger brother.  If ever I need advice, contacts, or networking, I can call them.  They also promote KITAB at every book fair they travel to.”  Krauss also works closely with the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Juergen Boos, who was in Abu Dhabi earlier in January in his role as an executive committee member of the Shaykh Zayed Book Award.

In her first year, Krauss has been pleased with the response from international publishers, despite the global economic downturn:  “Last year almost 650 exhibitors from 52 countries were in attendance, and there will be more this year,” she says. “We’ve moved to larger exhibition halls and our exhibitors are investing in bigger stands — they’ve already taken 20% more space over last year, and we already have a waiting list.”  Large publishers such as the UK’s Thames & Hudson will have their own stand this year, Krauss points out, and other new faces will be there as well:  “This year, for example, we have an American collective stand for the first time.  The French collective stand has doubled its number of co-exhibitors.  It’s just larger, with much more going on.”

At the same time, the global economy (including the ongoing financial crisis in nearby Dubai) has scared away some potential attendees.  Krauss notes that for the past year, she has been making the argument that an economic downturn is exactly the time they should start coming to ADIBF:  “Our job is to convince publishers that in bad times it is vital for them to look for new places, to find new markets.  We are an emerging, growing market, and we are a gateway between East and West.  In fact, we are on the doorstep to India — a huge market.”

International Publishing Association Copyright Symposium

This year, Abu Dhabi also hosts the 7th International Publishing Association Copyright Symposium (February 28-March 1), taking place just before the Fair begins.  The IPA, a federation of 60 publishers’ associations from 50 countries, has expanded its historical objectives of ensuring respect for copyright law to include protecting freedom of speech and encouraging both the growth of literacy and a culture of reading.  In the Middle East, where international standards of copyright are not always upheld, the selection by the IPA of Abu Dhabi as the site of its current symposium carries weight: “We’ve been pushing copyright on Arab publishers,” says Krauss, “telling them that if they want to play on the international stage, they need to abide by copyright law.  Piracy is an issue, so it’s important to show the international publishing community that this subject is being taken seriously in the Arab world.”

Speakers include UK literary agent Andrew Nurnberg, Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization, and Indian author and politician Shashi Tharoor; as well as a number of European, Chinese, and Arab publishers.  Unconfirmed participants also may include Bloomsbury Qatar publisher Nigel Newton and Random House CEO Markus Dohle.

Krauss says the major topics being covered this year are the future of digital publishing in the wake of the Google settlement, with one session specifically devoted to copyright and Islamic law. The issue of copyright in the Arab world is closely linked to the problems of book distribution — meaning not just a scarcity of bookstores, but the obstacles (primarily censorship and protectionism) that often prevent books published in one Arab country from being sold in others.  However, Krauss hints that KITAB will be making a major announcement at the Fair about this subject — specifically, unveiling “a new system for distributing books in the Arab world,” to be launched immediately after the Fair.

Training Arab Publishers

Fortunately, she has found an enthusiastic environment among both Arab publishers and her Emirati colleagues: “There are a lot of very motivated publishers in the Arab world who have asked us for assistance, and are looking for new sales channels.  We started last year with publishing training seminars with publishers from a number of Arab countries.  I loved speaking to them: they were really hungry for new opportunities, and are extremely open to new ideas.” Krauss is expecting to continue the training seminars this year, while making them more tailored to Arab publishers’ needs.  Literary agents are rare in the Arab world, and for this year’s Fair, Krauss has invited several agents — from Switzerland, Turkey, Spain, and the US — to speak on the role and benefits of agents, not only for authors, but for publishers as well.

Adding Color and Culture

The ADIBF’s cultural program includes a wide variety of international authors, who will be speaking and signing books, including Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran), Adam Haslett (Union Atlantic), popular Algerian novelist Ahlam Mosteghanemi, as well as Amit Chaudhuri, Pankaj Mishra, and Yann Martel, whose new novel, Beatrice and Virgil is due in April. At last year’s Fair, Rajaa Alsanea, the young Saudi author of the runaway hit Girls of Riyadh, was mobbed by adoring fans, and Krauss fully expects the same enthusiastic response for Azar Nafisi this year.  Additionally, the winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (known as “the Arab Booker”) will be announced on the Fair’s opening day, March 2. (See the shortlisted six here.)

In a region where book fairs are often little more than bazaars for the reading public, ADIBF finds itself balancing the needs of the professional attendees and the general public: “It’s a very delicate, sensitive matter of balancing between the two sides,” Krauss points out.  “A wonderful goal, in a few years, would be to have a purely trade-oriented fair like London or Frankfurt.  It depends on how the distribution system develops in the Arab world. As bookstores become more widespread, public attendance will become less important.  For the time being, it’s important to have both at the fair, and to satisfy both.”  For a number of Arab publishers, fairs like ADIBF are major venues for them to sell their books, so public attendance remains very important to them.

Krauss is optimistic about ADIBF in the coming years, and is looking forward to helping it develop further: “I would like to see this fair not as a miniature version of Frankfurt, but as something in its own right.  The ‘dry’ business environment of other book fairs is what I’d like to avoid.  I’d like this fair to be something more colorful, while of course keeping in mind that its main purpose is doing business.”  While other regional fairs have been struggling to persuade publishers to come, Krauss is delighted that ADIBF’s status has been transformed in recent years:  “I’m happy the international publishers that are coming aren’t coming only because I invited them, but because they want to.  I’m really looking forward to the Fair — I can’t wait for it to begin.”

LEARN: More about the 7th IPA Copyright Symposium (Feb. 28-March 1)

VISIT: The Web site for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (March 2-7)

DISCUSS: Are you going to the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair?

About the Author

Chip Rossetti

Chip Rossetti is the managing editor of the Library of Arabic Literature translation series at NYU Press. He is a translator of contemporary Arabic fiction.