By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2
‘The Reading Habit Is Increasing’The United Arab Emirates’ Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri is chairman of Sharjah Book Authority, which oversees the annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival.
During the early days of this year’s festival, which runs through Saturday (April 29), Publishing Perpectives had an opportunity to talk with Al Ameri about the festival and about changes in the reading culture of the Gulf region.
Publishing Perspectives: How has Sharjah’s children’s festival changed over the years?
Ahmed Al Ameri: It’s still primarily a reading festival, but the jewel of it for publishers now is the exhibition for children’s book illustrations.
We’re well organized. A lot of artists are applying to be a part of it. The numbers have grown every year and if you walk through it you can see how important it is. It’s raising the bar for children’s book publishers and their books in the UAE.
The publishers see the art, and while it’s important for them to see what’s being done globally, even more so they can contact the illustrators. It’s important networking.
PP: How would you describe the reading culture in the Middle East and in the UAE in particular?
AAA: We’re talking about a market worth US$1 billion. In the UAE, we represent $214 million of that. The reading habit is increasing, and books are being bought at this fair and at others throughout the region in greater and greater numbers.
There’s a high demand for books, especially for books in the English language. People are demanding books in English more than in any other language.
And now the UAE is offering schools in different languages: in Russian, in Chinese, German, Japanese, they want those living here to learn more. Today I had a meeting regarding a cooperative agreement between Sharjah Book Authority and the Serbian Library, and they said that 10,000 Serbians live here.
People are reading more about different cultures and different aspects of culture.
PP: What impact do festivals such as this one have on reading culture?
“We’re talking about a market worth US$1 billion. In the UAE, we represent $214 million of that.”Ahmed Al Ameri
AAA: We have 2,093 activities and events. These activities combine education and entertainment. We need children to want to have books. When you teach them when they’re young it’s different than when they’re older. I think what we do here is build bonds between books and children that are so strong they can’t be broken.
You know the slogan of the book fair is “Discover a Lifetime Friend.” Those are books.
At this stage, we could easily get 400 to 500 publishers to show here, but we’re intentionally reducing this number as we can. We’re looking for quality, not quantity. We’re looking at the quality of their books, of the illustrations.
PP: What steps to you think should be taken to improve book publishing and distribution throughout the region?
AAA: I think what we’re planning to do through Sharjah Publishing City is going to completely change the industry. It’s going to restructure the industry because we’re going to have the agents here, distribution will be here, we’ll be able to reduce the cost of printing books as much as we can—which will make it possible to get books into the hands of as many children as possible.