Literary scout Simone Garzella looks at what’s selling in the the Arabic book market how the region continues to evolve amidst some troubled times.
By Simone Garzella
In the continuation of our regular series, global rights platform IPR License looks at what’s happening in key publishing territories around the world. Today, the Arab book market.
Over the past several years several Arabic countries have faced what seems to be constant upheaval and have endured a number of catastrophic events. The Arab Spring in the Middle East did heavily affect the publishing business in the area, as the riots were spreading from Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen to Syria.
The publishing industry was affected not only in the countries where the riots took place, but also in the rest of the area, where people turned to the television in order to get information on what was going on. In addition, the climate of uncertainty prevented many people, who are now concerned about the future, from buying books.
Bookstores started to shut down – reportedly, the Obeikan publishing group decided to close about three quarters of their stores in Saudi Arabia. And in the Middle East there have never been many bookstores (there are approximately 5,000)
At the same time, online bookstores have started to sell more ebooks. For example the ebook sales at Neel wa Furat, the largest online bookstore in Arabic (its name means Nile and Euphrates), represent now 10% of the bookseller’s revenues (and it started selling ebooks only recently).
Sales and Piracy
There is a difference in the kinds of books which are sold online and the books which are sold on paper. For example, when it comes to printed books, the best-sellers are religious books about Islam, followed by novels, both in Arabic and in translation. Dan Brown is a bestseller. Another fiction bestseller is Arabic author Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk — published by Arab Scientific Publisher — a novel which was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction at the end of 2012.
On the ebooks front, the titles which are selling well are those which are less orthodox, and include books that criticize the governmental establishment and discuss religious conflicts in the area.
Piracy is a big problem in the Middle East. It already existed with printed books, and this is getting even worse with the ebooks, as the titles are being stolen and distributed very widely on the net for free. In order to understand how big this issue is, just try and Google “PDF كتب عربية” (Arabic Books in PDF), and you will find more than 50,000 titles for free on the net.
In this climate, public and private institutions who subsidize the publication and translation of books play a very important role. They promote culture and also translations (very few foreign books are being translated into Arabic, but the situation has also been changing thanks to these institutions).
In addition, book fairs like those in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are starting to promote international co-operations between the Middle East publishing market and the rest of the world. In this area there is a desire of opening up to new culture and ideas through the publication of foreign books, which requires both more translations and a legal way of working, with regular agreements with foreign publishers, the payment of the royalties and good translations.
This is not only in the interest of the foreign authors who are being read in Arabic, but also of the Middle Eastern companies who have always played by the rules.
Interview by Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License