At #LBF11: Embracing the Education Market in the Middle East

In Arabic Publishing by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

“Any publisher who considers themselves to be an international publisher cannot ignore the Middle East and the GCC countries in particular” says Bill Kennedy, director of the Avicenna Partnership, a company that acts as a marketing and sales rep for education publishers selling into the region. “But the thing that we have to be realistic about is that although the area is currently grabbing headlines, it’s not a hugely significant market in global terms — maybe 2%-5% of revenue for a publisher — and those looking for instant gratification are going to be disappointed. It takes time, relationships, and an understanding of the nuances of each country in the region, since they are all different.”

Bill Kennedy will be speaking as part of a panel covering “Opportunities for Academic and Education Publisher in the Gulf Region” taking place at 2:30 p.m. in the Wellington Rooms, Earls Court 1 on Tuesday, 12 April.

The education sector is the largest opportunity for Western publishers, as oil-rich countries in the Gulf are investing heavily in secondary and university level education, something that has produced “well endowed and exciting institutions” like King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia and New York University in Abu Dhabi, among others. “In Qatar, they’ve built an ‘academic city,’ with six or seven universities based on the American model. In the United Arab Emirates there are several new tertiary institutions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, though they’ve embraced a more cosmopolitan model, drawing from the UK, the US, Australia, Russia and India.”

Bill Kennedy

Bill Kennedy, director of the Avicenna Partnership

It’s important not to underestimate the impact of the price of oil on the education market, says Kennedy, as it drives government investment and revenues to these institutions. With geopolitical change sweeping through North Africa has made the future levels of commitment much more difficult to foresee. “The region is going to look very different in six months to five years from what we saw last year,” says Kennedy.

Egypt, for example, has the largest population in the Middle East, a well-developed publishing scene and established universities — like the American University of Cairo. But with the recent political change, it is not yet known how the “fabric and substance” of how this will affect publishers. “There are ominous signs and positive signs and it’s just hard to tell right now, that’s why it’s important to pay close attention,” says Kennedy.

While the aforementioned GCC states are the first candidates that Kennedy recommends looking at as potential markets, another is Iran. “They have the second largest population, some of the best tertiary education institutions and research facilities in the Middle East, and a huge percentage of the people are under 25. They are tech savvy, erudite and ambitious — they want to learn. It’s easily one of the most important markets.”

For many publishers the idea of working with the Middle East and Arab countries is as intimidating as it is intriguing. There are religious and cultural sensitivities to bear in mind and the geopolitics and level of wealth and education vary from country to country. “But the solution is rather simple,” says Kennedy, “I recommend what any marketing professor would as a matter of course: Do a little homework. That way you can minimize risk and take full advantage of the opportunities available — and there are many.”

Event: “Opportunities for Academic and Education Publishers in the Gulf Region”
Time: Tuesday, 12 April at 2:30 p.m.
Place: Wellington Room, Earls Court, London UK

With governments strategically investing in education, the opportunities for academic and educational publishers are constantly growing in the Gulf region. Learn more on how to gain access to this market and the opportunities awaiting your company at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Brought to you by: Abu Dhabi International Book Fair – KITAB


  • Bill Kennedy, Director, Avicenna Partnership
  • Ian Grant, Managing Director, Education, Encyclopaedia Britannica, UK
  • Mike Thompson, Director of ELT, Cengage – Learning EMEA, Cengage Learning
  • Monika Krauss, General Manager, Abu Dhabi International Book Fair – KITAB
  • Chair: Emma House, International Director, The Publishers Association
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.