By Roger Tagholm
Dubai-based Rufoof (‘shelves’), the young company that has created a platform for Arabic digital books and magazines on the iPad, and is on a mission to make more Arabic digital content available.
“There are various problems with transferring Arabic to digital which make the process expensive,” founder Mohamad Al Hasan. The Arabic font is two-and-a-half times heavier, the letters are connected and there are differences like the use of ‘tashkeels’ [the little double flecks of type above certain characters]. All of these issues have to be tackled and that can be expensive.”
Rufoof uses freelance developers in India who simplify the font and transfer it to Arabic ePub. “None of the other platforms can cope with Arabic,” maintains Al Hasan. “Kindle and Kobo cannot cope with reading right to left. I think Apple want to wait until the market is mature here before they give their attention to it.”
Rufoof began life simply as a free app, but quickly grew and was formally launched as a business in late 2011. It currently offers 5,000 titles, but will have 11,000 by the end of May.
Al Hasan says he faces a challenge with some of the older, more traditional houses who are reluctant to put their content with Rufuf, but adds that start-ups have been much more enthusiastic. “Dar Al-Huda in Egypt have all their ebooks with us. We’re also creating stores for publishers within the Rufuf site.”
Born in the UAE, Al Hasan studied Engineering at the University of British Columbia and worked in media and marketing for a branding company before establishing Rufuf. “We hope to sign more contracts at the Fair and add more traffic. We have around 100,000-plus users, with around 50% from Saudi because we started with free Islamic heritage content when we started.
“Our hope is to create an electronic shelf, not just for books and magazines but for everything – games, videos etc. What we’re doing is creating a brand.”