By Dennis Abrams
Last week, the Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Quasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, attended the launch of the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) held at Sharjah Expo Centre at the site of the 7th Sharjah Children’s’ Reading Festival.
The Sharjah Book Authority promises to oversee a “publishing free zone” in the United Arab Emirates, which will include a printing press which the Emirate hopes will offer Middle Eastern and African publishers access to superior printing technology than already exists in the region, as well as providing European publishers an alternative to printing in China or India. In addition, the Authority also aims to become the Middle East’s largest book distribution company.
The Sharjah Book Authority is now the umbrella for most publishing activities in Sharjah, most notably the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival and the SIBF Translation Grant, and will organize the Professional Program for Publishers (a training program for Arab publishers), as well as a joint conference with the American Library Association (ALA).
In his speech, HE Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, SBA Chairman, said: “The Emirate of Sharjah has a rich cultural heritage — with historical monuments and landmarks that stand as living testimonies to its prolific history and cultural legacy being passed on from one generation to another thanks to its outstanding leaders throughout the past; the builders of the UAE’s renaissance who have sculpted the Emirate of Sharjah into a choice destination of writers, poets, intellectuals and all lovers of the written word.”
Al Ameri made clear that the Sharjah Book Authority would be a substantial platform for the book and publishing industry in the UAE, and for the region as a whole.
The SBA Chairman announced that the Authority’s new identity involves the launch of Sharjah book city – similar to what you might find in Incheon, Korea (for example) which will be the what they hope will become “first publishing free zone in the world,” offering “all professionals and stakeholders in the book and publishing industry the opportunity to benefit from package privileges to boost the publishing sector and increase development.” A similar idea was floated by the cultural authorities in Abu Dhabi several years ago.
As Sharjah Book Authority Chairman Ahmed Al Ameri told Publishing Perspectives:
“Anyone will be able to come here and publish. We can print 3000-5000 copies (done by a semiprivate company owned by the Sharjah Book Authority) with prices comparable to the Chinese market, and since we’re minutes away from Sharjah or Dubai airports, costs will be cheaper to ship than from China. It will be cheaper to sell in the marketplace, and it will be easier for publishers to ship around the world.
“We’re set to launch in 2016, and we already have found a lot interest from Europe, the United States, and from the Arab world.
“Sharjah is becoming the capital of the Arab world, and our goal is to make it the cultural hub for publishers with easy access and a great geographic location – 6-7 hours to either Europe or China. So if a British publisher wants to open up a company here to reduce their taxes; they’ll have 100% ownership of their books, they can print their books here, and then easily ship them to China, to India, or even back to the European market.
“We are adding a research institute, so if you’re looking for permissions and rights, if you want to know what children are reading where – we’re going to have the database.
“We are also going to do joint ventures for distribution around the world. We need to do alliances. But…we’ll see what we can do about Amazon. They don’t exist in the Arab world up to now, and our hope is that when they do want to enter the market here that it’s going to be too late.
“The Arab world is ready for this.”