Egypt’s BookBake: E-publishing for Arabic (and Everyone Else)

In Digital by Rachel Aydt

“Most e-book readers do not provide right-to-left functionality, and that’s only if they get away with displaying Arabic characters in the first place.”

By Rachel Aydt

Self-publishing an e-book is pretty simple. Once the thing is written and (hopefully) edited, all you have to do is choose your platform and click a few buttons. Will you choose Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing? Or opt for PubIt on B&N? How about SmashWords, whose boastful tag entices with: “Your eBook, Your Way”? Now all that your dear readers have to do is, well, find your book, and download the correct corresponding reader.

Want to help them skip the cumbersome step? Meet BookBake, a new self-publishing platform that promises to eliminate the need for e-readers altogether. BookBake, which launched last month, is a product of Vijua, a Cairo-based company specializing in e-book creation tools and services.

BookBake is capable of creating interactive multiplatform publications out of standard PDF documents (which is, truth be told, how self-publishing really began). It’s back-to-the-future thinking: once you remove the need for a reader, suddenly your book can be viewed anywhere.

Back to the Future with “Enhanced” PDFs

Ayman Abdel-Rahman, the Managing Director of Vijua, explains it like this: “A marketing department can use BookBake to create and display their company brochures on their own website for direct viewing, and entirely brand the interface to their own.”

What’s potentially innovative is that new functionality options in BookBake’s software give people the ability to “enhance” projects themselves, rather than employ more savvy development houses that would typically increase the bells and whistles. One example is the selection between different page transition animation effects.With these features in mind, Vijua has aimed BookBake squarely at indie authors who wish to find an intuitive DIY way to design, and then showcase their book (or an excerpt) onto their site.

Owen Thomas, the lead singer of the American rock band The Elms, loved using BookBake, in part because his band wanted their fans to be able to get a hold of their project digitally, and in part so that fans could eliminate that pesky reader software.

“We had also accrued thousands of photos from over the years, images of the band on tour, in the studio, and in introspective moments that we thought our fans would love to see. So, we decided to issue some kind of retrospective image book as a companion piece to the music. But, since we were issuing a digital collection of music, it seemed strange to issue a standard physical book. So, we started exploring options for some kind of digital book release, but wanted it to be something very accessible for our fans that they wouldn’t need an additional app or software for, and we wanted it to be free for them to use.”

Abdel Rahman shows off the new platform.

Thomas’s readers could theoretically also purchase his book as a mobile app. How? BookBake allows one to create and export a native Android app that would be an independent application (with its own icon) that can be sold on Google Play (formerly the Android Market). “To create this Android app, no skill set is required nor any special machine configurations. Even the Android SDK is not required for that! We simply think it’s amazing,” says Abdel-Rahman.

BookBake also features controls that target different Internet speeds by providing different page content resolution and compressions. This means that you control the speed of the page download in return for the quality level of the pages, a useful trick for someone targeting users with sub-par internet speeds, which is especially important to readers in many developing economies.

A Boon for Arabic Digital and Self Publishers

Abdel-Rahman is also excited about BookBake’s possible impact on the Arabic book market. The Arabic book market is one not to be underestimated. At the moment, it’s a sleeping giant left in the dust. In this case, BookBake is addressing one of the most challenging aspects of the e-book publishing world in the Middle East and North Africa: “Arabic users are [often] forced to read e-books through left-to-right navigation. To better grasp this, imagine reading an English book and being forced to navigate from right to left. It is just ridiculous! Services like Google e-books are not available in this region, nor is Amazon Kindle,” he explains. “Most e-book readers do not provide right-to-left functionality, and that’s only if they get away with displaying Arabic characters in the first place.”

The demand for self-publishing is certainly alive and well in the Arabic world. “For centuries, Arabs have been known for poetry, and a relatively large percentage of natives in the Middle East have a strong interest to publish their work in one way or another. Throughout the past three years, we have received many requests from poets ranging in ages to publish poetry, especially from Saudi Arabia,” says Abdel-Rahman. “Although there are a number of interesting initiatives in the Arab market today, we’re considering BookBake to be an excellent step to contribute to the solution, at least in the digital space.” BookBake does not just produce Arabic (right-to-left) e-books, but in addition, BookBake Publisher (the self-publishing application) is completely translated to Arabic. This means that the user can have a complete Arabic workflow: buy credits from the Arabic-translated website, use BookBake Publisher the Arabic version, and convert the Arabic right-to-left e-books.

There is a free version of BookBake available, which some of its features locked. This version will automatically place a BookBake banner in the final e-book. In just 10 days since the launch, the free version had been downloaded approximately 5,000 times. Their paying version of the software is sold “by credits”, a structure that aims to keep things simple for individuals who wish to produce only one project at a time. “Users will just pay a credit for that single e-book, instead of paying high numbers for mainstream software which they may not use fully.”

So far, so good. “We came across the BookBake platform, and it was a great fit for our digi-book,” says Owen Thomas, of the Elms. “The functionality of the platform is really intuitive and cool.”

DISCUSS: Are PDF E-Books Still Key for Developing Digital Markets?

About the Author

Rachel Aydt

Rachel Aydt is a full-time writer, editor and researcher in New York City. She worked on the staff at American Heritage Magazine, YM, Cosmopolitan and CosmoGirl. Rachel has also contributed to Time International and Inked magazines. Since 2001, she has taught writing classes at the New School University.