Abu Dhabi Launches Pan-Arab Book Distribution Company

In Europe by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

ABU DHABI: On the opening day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), the organization responsible for the event, has launched Abu Dhabi Distribution (ADD), a new private company to facilitate book distribution to the GCC countries, the Maghreb and the Levant, as well as servicing Arab communities outside the region. The difficulty of distribution has been blamed for inhibiting growth of the book market in the region.

Opening of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, 2010

Opening of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, 2010

“We did a survey of some 600 Arabic-language publishers,” said Dr. Axel Goehler, managing director of Newmex consulting and interim manager of ADD, “and we discovered that many of books get lost, just go out of print without getting distributed. Just 2% of them were happy with their distribution. Distribution has been a major concern for book publishers in the region for a long time and we aim to provide a solution.”

Abu Dhabi Distribution will begin operations later this month and will offer a myriad of services to the Arab book world, starting with the development of a comprehensive database of Arabic books, both those in- and out-of-print. The database is currently being built in Germany, but like the company itself, will be housed here in Abu Dhabi. The expectation, said Goehler, is that the database will eventually include between 150,000 and 200,000 titles.

The plan is to use ISBNs as the basis for record-keeping, but if too many titles prove to be missing ISBNs, ADD may develop its own proprietary system.

ADD will not function exclusively as a wholesaler or a third-party distributor, as would be customary in the United States and Europe, but will develop its own model, one that is “specific to the region,” said Goehler. The company plans to function as an intermediary between Arab publishers and regional distributors, and will develop seasonal sales catalogs of books and build local sales teams in major cities throughout the region.

So far, ADD has had talked with 30 publishing houses — including Hachette A. Antoine, Librairie Orientale, Dar AlShorouk, and Dar Al-Moualef — representing between 40-50,000 titles and is looking to settle on terms of business, sign contracts and begin deliveries of books in January 2011.

“It is an open platform and publishers may participate in any way that they want. Many of the publishers we spoke to told us that they want to focus on their business, so we will do the work they cannot do for themselves,” said Goehler.

ADACH will be working with the newest technologies available on the market, including e-commerce and print-on-demand, to get books to customers as fast as possible.

Perhaps the most important facet of today’s announcement is the fact that ADACH is prepared to give the company five years to break even. “I feel this is very fortunate,” said Goehler, “because ADACH is making a multi-million dollar investment and realizes this won’t be profitable in the first year, but are still willing to sponsor it and be patient for it to develop.”

The reaction to the launch appeared to be hugely enthusiastic; the event drew some fifty people, including some of the biggest names in Arabic-language publishing, as well as foreign companies.

Among those present for the announcement was Andrew Hansen, managing director of the UK subsidiary of the German art book publisher Prestel. “I have been selling books in this region for a very long time,” said Hansen. “This is something that is very much needed and I really hope they succeed.”

Monika Krauss, general manager of the ADIBF and Kitab, noted that the announcement was exciting in the context of the Fair because, in the long run, “The existence ADD means that people in Abu Dhabi will be able to get the books they want when they want them, and the public won’t be so dependent on the Fair to find books.”

READ: Our ongoing blog from the Abu Dhabi Book Fair.

DISCUSS: Is POD a possible answer to book distribution barriers?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.