Emirates Publishers Association at 10: Driving Books’ Fast Progress in the Arab World

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘Making our country proud—that’s our greatest achievement,’ says Bodour Al Qasimi, the founding president of the fast-moving Emirates Publishers Association.’

Bodour Al Qasimi, at left, meets with members of the Emirates Publishers Association. Image: EPA

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

EPA: ‘To Compete and Thrive in the Global Market’
When you consider that the International Publishers Association’s (IPA) membership now comprises 81 organizations from 69 countries, a single publishers association’s anniversary may not seem immediately significant. But the 10th anniversary in February of the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA) made its stand one of the proudest last week at the London Book Fair.

The accomplishments of this association in a single decade, in fact, are more than just the product of a firmly committed team to a cause: they reflect the remarkable speed with which publishing in the United Arab Emirates has leapt into view, not least to begin an eager effort to connect with the international books industry.

Consider a few statistics. In the 10 years since the Emirates Publishers Association was founded:

  • The number of publisher-members of the group has grown from an initial 13 to today’s 138
  • The organization has participated in at least 254 regional and international book fairs
  • The association has signed eight memos of understanding with various entities to improve and develop the status and market conditions in which Emirati publishers are working
  • The EPA’s seat in Sharjah—the association is national and serves all the emirates—has been named the 19th UNESCO World Book Capital, a program prompted originally by the International Publishers Association
  • There have been 15,789 Emirati new titles published
  • Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, the EPA’s founding president, has this year become the International Publishers Association’s vice-president, representing the first time in decades that a woman has risen to such a leadership position

These achievements can be seen today in several aspects of the United Arab Emirates’ evolving presence on the world stage.

On one hand, the publishers, authors, and others in the industry are reassessing the Arab world’s literary heritage and the role of books in contemporary life. Everything from how a writer’s work is prepared for publication to how it’s sold in the region has been studied, evaluated, and addressed.

On the other hand, these publishing players are also looking to grow the presence of Arabic literature on the international stage at a time when geopolitical realities make it urgent for the world to know more about the Arab context. The range of viewpoints, voices, and debate that lies in Arabic literature is a way to communicate the soul of a frequently misunderstood part of the world.

Bodour: ‘Cultivating a Culture of New Talent’

Members of the 10-year-old Emirates Publishers Association. Image: EPA

“The Emirates Publishers Association,” EPA founder and president Bodour Al Qasimi tells Publishing Perspectives in a reflection on the EPA’s first decade, “plays a significant role in the development of the Arab publishing industry in the region and in the cultivation of Arab literature locally and internationally.

Officers of the Emirates Publishers Association are, clockwise from upper left, Ali Al Shaali, vice-president; Ali bin Hatem, secretary; Mohammaed bin Dakhin, treasurer; and Nooh Al Hammadi, board member

“The organization heavily invests in training and mentorship programs for writers and publishers. And it aims to improve all publishing industry conditions and laws including the protection of intellectual property and related rights.

“All these efforts are cultivating a culture of new talent and publishing companies that are producing unique work for the region,” she says, “work which we’re then using to promote the country, the Emirati people, and local companies, internationally during events, exhibitions and seminars.”

And as the region’s civic and political life is structured, of course, such effort at so fundamental and resourceful a level almost always requires the imprimatur of the state. Bodour’s leadership reflects that of her father and Sharjah’s ruler, the Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the author-emir who has collaborated with Bodour and the Sharjah Book Authority’s Ahmed Al Ameri to steer the emirate toward its development as a knowledge culture based in reading.

Outreach: ‘Making Our Country Proud’

A panel discussion organized by the Emirates Publishers Association in January at the New Delhi Book Fair’s Sharjah stand. Image: EPA

Of course, other important initiatives and programs are broadening their own contributions in the UAE.

The EPA formula: “Produce unique work for the region, work which we’re then using to promote the country, the Emirati people, and local companies, internationally during events, exhibitions, and seminars.”Bodour Al Qasimi

As we’ve published today, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, based in Abu Dhabi, has announced its 13th slate of winners, and the 12-year-old International Prize for Arabic Fiction, also funded through Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, will name its own winner in April. These and many other significant efforts, especially in the UAE, have steadily raised the commitment, both at home and abroad, to a central position for books and reading in the Arab world, and for literature to take a signal role in communicating the evolution of the region to the wider family of nations.

To make all this happen, the publishing infrastructure in the UAE has needed substantial study and development, and this is where the leadership of Bodour and the Emirates Publishers Association have found their important traction.

“It’s very rewarding to see this small humble country,” Bodour says, “now able to compete and thrive in the global market because of the hard work put forth. Making our country proud—that’s our greatest achievement.”

Highlights From the EPA’s Timeline

A meeting of the Emirates Publishers Association with the UAE’s New Media Council. The EPA signed a partnership with the NMC in 2014. Image: EPA

It’s interesting, in looking at such a fast-growing publishers association, to see just how quickly some of the steps the board of the Emirates Publishers Association has taken to move its agenda into place. Here are several examples:

2009: EPA is founded, joins the Arab Publishers Association, and becomes a provisional member of the International Publishers Association based in Geneva

2010: EPA and the Emirates Writers Union sign a partnership agreement

2012: EPA and the Emirates Intellectual Property Association sign a partnership agreement; EPA sends its first participant to the Yale course for publishing; and EPA becomes a full member of the International Publishers Association (IPA)

2013: EPA signs a partnership with the Maghreb Union of Publishers at the Casablanca International Book Fair and announces a joint program, Unshor, with the Kalifa Fund for Enterprise Development to support EPA publishers

2014: EPA signs a development partnership with the National Media Council of the UAE

2015: Sharjah hosts the Arab Publishers Conference in partnership with the Arab Publishers Association (APA)

2016: The EPA launches the 1,001 Titles initiative to boost output

2017: EPA holds an Emirati Reproduction Rights Conference and receives UNESCO’s World Book Capital designation

2018: EPA launches Phase 2 of the 1,001 Titles initiative

2019: EPA launches the One Stop Shop for publishers at Sharjah Publishing City and launches the publications display platform called Manassah for international book fairs

The ‘Manassah’ initiative, just launched this year, is a collective display facility for UAE publishers’ work headed into international book fairs. Image: EPA

The Publishers Speak: ‘A Crash Course in the Industry’

Publishing Perspectives has asked for the input of several Emirates Publishers Association members, so that we can know the thoughts of the publishers directly and hear from these book trade pros whose diligence in the development of their association has helped move their market so far forward so fast.

Jamal Al Shehhi

Jamal Al Shehhi, founder and general manager of Kuttab Publishing

“The EPA plays a pivotal role in the UAE’s publishing industry. It became the legislative umbrella for all publishing houses across the UAE, given that it bridges the distance between local publishers through a plethora of cultural initiatives and events across the UAE.

“Since its inception, the EPA has consolidated its presence at all international and cultural forums, given that it’s an International Publishers Association (IPA) member. It strives to enhance the role of the local and international publishing movement.

“The EPA was able to shape the foundation of UAE’s book industry and turn publishing into an integrated industry that’s considered one of the key sectors supporting the cultural movement across the UAE.”

Iman Ben Chaibah

Iman Ben Chaibah, founder and CEO of Sail Publishing

“We actually started with content curation through an online cultural magazine, long before book publishing, and Bodour Al Qasimi always followed up with me, encouraging me to establish a book publishing business and join the association to get better support. So when we finally did grow into book publishing and established it as business, registering with the EPA was the very next thing we did.

“The EPA has provided a lot of support throughout our first few years, in sponsoring business trips to different international book fairs and conferences and trainings, advising us on what to attend, and pushing us to join the professional programs and start rights discussions, It has encouraged us to network and connect with publishers in our association and with international publishers in different conferences.

“This all felt like a crash course in the industry and allowed us to grow much faster than what we would have grown on our own.

“We were focused at Sail Publishing on digital books only, and the EPA and Bodour nudged us to expand and to look at diversification. So now we’re in print and digital books and we’re expanding to audiobooks. We publish English books in more than one genre, allowing us to attract authors and readers from different segments of the community.

“We’ve also received a lot of help and support and encouragement about being at local book fairs with our own booths and stands, allowing our brands to build stronger bonds with our audience. The EPA’s efforts didn’t only support us as a small business, but also strengthened the ecosystem in the local publishing industry–and that in turn is allowing the cultural scene in the UAE to blossom locally and internationally.

Abdullah Al Kaabi

Abdullah Al Kaabi, Dragon for Publishing and Distribution

Al Kaabi says he sees the acceleration of the industry’s growth as one of the organization’s greatest benefits, and credits “the continuous support provided by Bodour Al Qasimi” for her help in making that speed occur. “These combined efforts,” he says, “have helped to enhance the role of publishing houses here that in turn have enriched the cultural landscape of Sharjah.

“Our participation in international cultural exhibitions and events is one of the association’s key achievements. It paves the way for us to connect to international publishing houses and learn more about their experiences, enabling us to forge strategic partnerships with them.

“At a local level, the association offers us a platform to share expertise with all those who work in the publishing sector, by organizing meetings between local publishing houses to facilitate the exchange of literary works. EPA provides its members with an extensive range of services and incentives, including free ISNBs,” a recently arranged provision, “in addition to other services that motivate us and nurture our passion for publishing.”

Noor Ahmed

Noor Ahmed, Noor Publishing House

“Since its inception in 2009, the Emirates Publishers Association has been the leading driver for the development and growth of the publishing sector in the UAE.

“It has supported a number of initiatives such as the Noor Publishing House, leading to the launch of the Mannasah initiative, which has allowed us to strengthen our participation in regional fairs.

“Today, Noor Publishing House has officially become a regional household brand when it comes to the local and international book industry. The EPA’s continuous support and industry-focused achievements have played a strong and influential role in transforming the publication industry in the UAE, opening new doors for innovation, technology, and new business ideas for our vibrant publishing industry.”

Ahmed Al Sakiti

Ahmed Al Sakiti, Motivate Publishing

Motivate Publishing is a specialist publishing house in books on the UAE’s history and heritage. As such, its publisher, Ahmed Al Sakiti, says he’s watched “the cultural renaissance in the UAE and Sharjah in particular” bring together support both for individual players in publishing and for its publishing houses.

Al Sakiti points out that one of the most important achievements of the EPA, is providing publishing houses operating in the country an the opportunity to represent the UAE in international book fairs and other cultural events. When abroad in these instances, Motivate Publishing has showcased the historical heritage of the UAE and forged strategic partnerships with other leading publishers.

He also says that the EPA’s support has backed a series of cooperative agreements between local publishing houses. One of the devices he mentions that the EPA uses to encourage publisher participation in local and regional events is a 50-percent discount to members–clearly one of the reasons that trade visitors see such avid participation at Sharjah’s Children’s Reading Festival and International Book Fair each year.  The next case in which that offer will be in play will be in April as the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair opens (April 23 to 30).

The Emirates Publishers Association stand at the London Book Fair 2019. Image: Porter Anderson

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Emirates Publishers Association is here, and more from us on the UAE is here and on Sharjah in particular is here.

Our Spring Magazine is ready for your free download, having been produced to coincide with the London Book Fair. Trade visitors to London found a print edition available, also free of charge.

In the magazine, you’ll find issues and players who were important at this year’s London Book Fair and who will factor into other major fairs of the season this year, plus an early look at key points interest about the coming Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 16 to 20).

Download the new magazine here.

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.