Publishers Training Abu Dhabi, Day 3: All About Digital

In Arabic Publishing by Edward Nawotka

By Salwa Shakhshir

SalwaShakhshir, a children’s book publisher from Amman, Jordan, is attending the second annual Publishers Training program organized by KITAB and The Center for Publishing at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies in Abu Dhabi. She’s documenting her experiences for Publishing Perspectives. Read coverage of Day 1 and Day 2.

Day 3, Publishers Training, Abu Dhabi

Salwa Shakhshir

Ok . . . I seriously don’t know where to begin! All I know is that I left the classroom today with a cloud on top of my head, and the only thing I could think of was . . . I have SOOOOO much work to do when I get back home! It’s great . . . I am not complaining at all . . . it’s just a LOT of information to digest all at once and I am so glad Peter is staying on till tomorrow for Day 2 of Digital Publishing.

The class started out with Peter Balis, Director of Digital Content Sales for John Wiley & Sons, saying in a very slow and pronounced manner to make sure we understood the weight of what he is saying . . . “the digital revolution is already here, if you don’t embrace it you’ll be left behind.” For a full second I don’t think I heard anybody move let alone blink, and I think it dawned on us right then and there in the first minute of the course how much we need to catch up with!

Whenever I used to have discussions about digital publishing, the concern for piracy was one of the main concerns, if not an obstacle even, as to why a lot of publishers didn’t want to get into digital publishing in the first place. I was glad Peter addressed this at the very start of the course, and what he said made a lot of sense, that if we (as publishers or providers) don’t make our product available to an audience that wants to consume it, then this audience will find an another way of getting it. The best example of that is what happened to the music industry when they didn’t make their music readily available for their consumers, they ended up losing a lot of money, as the consumer found ways to get the music they wanted illegally.

Peter went on to say that in the US, physical bookstores are closing down almost every day. Studies have shown a decline of on-line sales of print books, and a double or triple sales of digital books. Even in the Arab world, Omar Chebaro (of Arab Scientific Publishers) said that their sister company, Neel wa Furat, which is the biggest Arabic bookstore, with more than 70,000 books online, has also seen a rise not only in people visiting the website, but also buying from their online store. We then read a quote from an online Arabic Magazine,, by Brendon Ogilvy (VP of digital insight at Effective Measure): “Despite the fact that the overall level of online shopping activity is low, at 32% of Internet users (in the MENA region), that still represents a market of more than 20 million online shoppers across the Arab world.” Something that left us all thinking about . . .

Other growing markets for digital content are libraries -– not only because libraries can only fit so many physical books, but also because education in all parts of the world is going digital. In Jordan for example, if you go around the schools in Amman and nearly every classroom has an interactive white board. It’s a clear signal there’s a need for digital educational content inside the classrooms.

An interesting fact, which I found hilarious, is that in Japan e-book usage on mobile phones became very popular in part because men were were able to read books and/or magazines without their wives knowing what they were reading! And that is a large factor, apparently, is what drove the digital publishing in Japan! Hey, at least they’re reading, right?

We went into the different formats of E-books, the pros and cons of each, and the devices on which they’re read and the interoperability between them. Apparently, the biggest changes happening are in children’s books -– as some have deployed the pop-up technology to the digital format, with sound effects and animations, the books have actually come to life. And numerous parents have asked to have electronic versions of the books their children love online.

Peter kept referring to his 70 year-old mother at various times throughout the day, with stories of how she too is adapting to the new technology and is using an iPhone. While he was praising his mother for being able to send and receive messages, he noted that one time he sent her a message and never got a reply and when he called to ask her why she didn’t reply she said she sent back a message to his office land line!

On the other hand, Peter mentioned his 3 year-old niece, who once greeted him at the door and asked if he has any pictures of his dog on his iPhone. Then, as he leaned over to show her the pictures, she grabbed the iPhone -– and in a matter of seconds knew where to find the photos and used the touch technology to zoom in and out, giggling and laughing like it was the most natural thing for her to do!

Later on, Andrea Chambers (Director at the Center for Publishing, New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies) jokingly said that she expects to see a picture of his Mom on screen tomorrow! I really hope we get to see her after all those stories!

Last but not least, our group activity involved devising a digital publishing strategy for a company that is still largely print. We researched the company online and came up with a preliminary plan of how we think this company should go forward into digital publishing. It was a really good exercise because we reviewed all that was said throughout the day and compared points. I have to admit we had some confusing moments, but for the most part I think we knew what we were talking about!

But still I have a lot of questions for Peter that I’ll be sure to ask him tomorrow!

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.