A Sharjah Publishing City Update: ‘We’re Selling Out’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘To create a reading culture on the way to a knowledge-based economy,’ as Simon & Schuster’s Seth Russo puts it, the Sharjah Publishing City will soon be open for business.

Ahmed Al Ameri at BookExpo 2017. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘One-Stop Shopping for Publishers in Sharjah’

In our earlier coverage of the development of Sharjah Publishing City, the concept of the world’s first free trade zone for the publishing industry has come gradually into focus.

At BookExpo this month, Sharjah Book Authority‘s chair, Ahmed Al Ameri, spoke with Publishing Perspectives and in the trade show’s Market Focus program about the progress of the project.

While construction took a bit longer than expected, Sharjah Publishing City now is renting space to interested companies with a goal of a formal launch at this year’s Sharjah International Book Fair.

In fact, at Publishing Perspectives’ request, Ingram Content Group‘s spokespeople have confirmed the company’s active engagement with Sharjah. “We are exploring and working toward the establishment of a Lightning Source print facility in Sharjah,” the company says in a statement. “Ingram has not yet finalized a deal to be a participant in Sharjah’s Publisher City, but we are working on it with Ahmed and the Sharjah Book Authority with the strong belief that we will be a participant, starting as a print-on-demand partner.”

Sharjah Publishing City, an artist’s rendering. Image: Sharjah Book Authority

‘365 Days of Book Fairs Per Year’

This is sharply positive news for Sharjah’s free trade zone, which can only benefit from having a distributor of Ingram’s reach and clout choose the emirate as the site of a new addition to its network of facilities in the Americas, Europe, and Australia.

“We will have printers, editors, translators, illustrators…And we’ll be able to provide tables for rights trading, even training.”Ahmed Al Ameri

And in a quiet conversation on BookExpo’s Friday afternoon, a relaxed, smiling Al Ameri said he cannot at this point reveal potential clients who are in discussion with Publishing City—but he’s strikingly upbeat on how things are going.

“Each floor is 10,000 square meters,” he said, describing the new facility which now is being completed at the site in Sharjah.

“We are renting offices, we are renting empty spaces,” meaning rooms for flexible use, “and we are renting land” for clients who may want to build their own facilities near the main hub. “We have 350 office spaces to rent,” he said. “And we already have heard from 650” interesting parties.

“We have good interest in India and in France” in particular, he said, “and we’re opening up the African market this time. And not just to publishers. We will have printers, editors, translators, illustrators. We also will provide print-on-demand and offset printing services. People are signing agreements now.”

The response is so energetic, in fact, that Al Ameri said that Sharjah is prepared to begin construction on a second Publishing City facility when demand calls for it.

“I like to call this 365 days of book fairs per year,” he said, beaming in anticipation. “And we’ll be able to provide tables for rights trading, even training. Because a lot of people can’t get a visa to the United States for training, and they can’t afford the cost. We’re creating one-stop shopping for publishers in Sharjah.”

Now in the final stages of construction, the Sharjah Publishing City facility is leasing offices and space quickly, according to Ahmed Al Ameri. Image: Sharjah Book Authority

Strong Interest: India, France, Africa

“We are providing a solid platform for the publishers to meet, negotiate, do business. The interest we got when we did our roadshow in Paris,” at the Salon du Livre, “was strong. We got around 45 or 55 publishers from France, including the top publishers. The majority of them are keen. And you know how much taxes are in France.

“How unique it is in the Arab world that the royal family has put its imprimatur on this project. They have a great track record of delivering.”Seth Russo

“We’ll have a roadshow in the United States soon, too,” in a series of country-by-country presentations. One of the associated programs publishers in various countries hear about when speaking with Sharjah’s representatives is automatic inclusion in the various book fairs around the world in which Sharjah now is participating, much as in the “combined stand” approach used by German publishers and Frankfurt Book Fair.

Another service being offered to clients of Publishing City is relocation support for staffers. “Schools, accommodations, where to shop,” said Al Ameri. “Everything they need.”

And one of the points Al Ameri emphasizes is the geographic centricity of the UAE’s third largest emirate. Publishing City’s promotional literature includes a listing of freight times from Sharjah to various parts of the world, including:

  • From Australia, air freight takes 12 hours, sea freight 33 to 44 days;
  • From China, air freight takes under eight hours, sea freight 18 to 20 days;
  • From France, air freight takes eight hours, sea freight 13 days;
  • From India, air freight takes three hours, sea freight eight to 10 days;
  • From Singapore, air freight takes seven hours, sea frieght 11 to 22 days; and
  • From the States, air freight takes 13 hours, sea freight 32 to 49 days.

“You can fly here from India for meetings,” Al Ameri said, “and fly back the same day. For 200 dollars. You can fly there and back the same day from Nairobi.”

Sharjah Publishing City, an artist’s rendering of an aerial view of the facility. Image: Sharjah Book Authority

‘Reliable Partners’

The BookExpo Market Focus panel on Sharjah Publishing City on May 31 featured, from left, Ahmed Al Ameri, Seth Russo, Steve Potash, and John Ingram. Image: Sharjah Book Authority

The promise of Sharjah Publishing City was explored on the conference day at BookExpo in a Market Focus session organized by Rüdiger Wischenbart and titled “Reaching the Arab World: The New Gateway and Hub, the Sharjah Publishing City Initiative.”

The panel featured Al Ameri, Ingram Content’s John Ingram, and OverDrive’s Steve Potash, and was moderated by Seth Russo, Simon & Schuster vice president and director of international sales.

In conversation, Russo points to the bigger context in which the Publishing City is being developed. The emirate is known, he points out, for an economic basis that may be only some 20-percent related to oil, as Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi guides his people to deepen and expand Sharjah’s stance as the cultural center of the UAE and of the Middle East, something UNESCO recognized in 1998.

It’s in recognition of Al Qasimi’s drive to make Sharjah a powerhouse of international publishing–both from and in the Arab world–that he was named the recipient in March of the Simon Master Chairman’s Award for outstanding contribution at London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. This, even as he released his new book, Tale of a City, from Bloomsbury in the same week, the latest in his trenchant and highly readable historical studies of the region’s influences.

His daughter, the Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi has become a leader in the international publishing community, too, an Executive Committee stalwart at the International Publishers Association, with her publishing base at the Kalimat Group, which has celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. In fact, it was during the Sharjah Publishing City talks with potential participants in Paris at the Salon du Livre this year that Bodour was signing the latest of her agreements with international publishers—in this case Gallimard—for a cooperative translation agreement with Kalimat.

“Both Steve Potash and John Ingram expressed their confidence in the Sharjah Book Authority and the royal family to deliver on their commitment” to the Publishing City program,” Russo said. “These are trustworthy, honorable, well-intentioned, reliable partners.”

A frequent visitor at Sharjah International Book Fair, himself, Russo talks of Publishing City and “how unique it is in the Arab world that the royal family has put its imprimatur on this project. They have a great track record of delivering, having developed the book fair into a wonderful event.”

‘To Create a Reading Culture’

Seth Russo

Russo points out that the concept of free trade zones isn’t new to Sharjah. Investment guides report that such zones in place there in various industries comprise some 13,500 companies and investors from close to 160 nations.

Al Ameri’s comments during his BookExpo panel appearance included some figures indicating that the UAE’s regional market imports some $1 billion in books and related materials annually, with a yearly growth rate of 11 percent. He’s quoted in Gulf News reports saying that the future book industry in the Arab world and Middle east “will serve nearly 950 million young people in the region.”

Sharjah Book Authority was established in 2014 to guide and encourage investment in the creative industries envisioned by Sharjah’s ruler Al Qasimi as playing a role in the emirate’s development. And the Publishing City project is poised to take its place as the anchoring component of that concept’s crown jewel.

Russo hails the emirate’s “Knowledge Without Borders” program directed in 2009 by Al Qasimi and Bodour to provide tens of thousands of Sharjah families with individual libraries of some 50 books each.

“This whole thing,” Russo said, “is meant to create a reading culture on the way to a knowledge-based economy.”

And to hear Al Ameri describe the quick interest the project is drawing is to know that Sharjah Publishing City is instantly establishing itself as an integral part of that drive.

“We’re selling out,” he said with a smile.

Sharjah Publishing City, an artist’s rendering. Image: Sharjah Book Authority

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.