Sharjah’s New Booksellers’ Conference Debuts This Month

In News by Porter Anderson

The Sharjah Book Authority’s new Booksellers Conference runs parallel to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival this month.

The theater at Sharjah Publishing City, site of the new Sharjah Booksellers Conference. Image: SBA

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

Booksellers Meet at Sharjah Publishing City
As if the emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates was having a slow season—it’s having anything but a slow season—Sharjah Book Authority‘s chairman Ahmed Al Ameri has announced a new event: The Sharjah Booksellers Conference is set for May 15 and 16 at Sharjah Publishing City.

This is an instance in which it’s immediately clear why much of the world publishing industry watches Sharjah‘s level of activities with a mixture of admiration and envy. A literary dynamo in the desert, the emirate ruled by author Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi can pack more international publishing events into a month than many national markets might manage in a year.

Before the new Booksellers Conference is seated, the annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival will have opened, running May 11 to 22. The booksellers’ gathering is an event paralleling the reading festival, a bit like the autumn’s Publishers Conference precedes Sharjah International Book Fair and its annual librarians’ conference is held during the run of the show.

This is part a pattern in Al Ameri’s canny production strategy. He starts with one of his major regional and/or international anchor-events—such as the Reading Festival and the Sharjah International Book Fair—and then he attaches an more focused component.

In the case of the new booksellers’ conference, Sharjah’s embrace reaches to publishing professionals in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. An estimated turnout of 200 booksellers, distributors, and publishers is anticipated at the inaugural event when it opens on May 15. Programming is to feature keynote addresses, some of which will look at booksellers’ roles from the historical perspective.

Al Ameri: ‘New Business Opportunities’

In a prepared comment, Al Ameri is quoted, saying, “It’s a matter of pride for Sharjah and Sharjah Book Authority to be hosting this new Booksellers Conference.

Ahmed Al Ameri

“I’m delighted to see that our collaborative efforts have successfully created an exclusive platform for booksellers from the region and around the world to network; exchange ideas and expertise; and explore new business opportunities.

“Joining our existing offerings of professional program for publishers and librarians, this event will also allow booksellers from across the region seek new books for their stores and communities,” he added.

And Mansour Al Hassani, who heads up Sharjah Book Authority’s sales department, says, “Sharjah’s leading cultural project turns a new leaf with the debut of the Booksellers Conference.

Mansour Al Hassani

“The role played by booksellers is vital to the sustainability and future growth of the publishing industry, and with fast-changing consumer needs, booksellers need to continue updating their skills.

“This event is poised to provide actionable information useful for both new and experienced stores. We’re confident that the conference will offer everything the regional and global bookselling community has come to expect.”

As it turns out, there’s some new timeliness to the program that Al Ameri and Mansour are offering: The new event will go into session just days after the news today (May 3) that the 28-year chief of Germany’s major bookstore chain Thalia, Michael Busch, will retire from operational management on June 1, handing off to sales director Ingo Kretzshmar.

Busch has been a champion of the concept of the omnichannel in bookselling. He described it to Publishing Perspectives in January when we moderated a panel he’d joined for the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri, which for almost 40 years in Venice has been an annual booksellers’ conference of deep influence in Europe and beyond. For Busch, the omnichannel concept, he said, refers to seamless, valuable customer experiences and interactions across multiple sales channels.

And this is the kind of model that surely will be discussed at the Sharjah Bookseller Conference, in a time of so much instability triggered by the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. What looms large, in so much of bookselling, needless to say, are questions of how best to bring closer the brick-and-mortar bookstore experience and the deepening penetration of digital retail and e-commerce. This is something that James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones and Daunt Books (United Kingdom) and CEO of Barnes & Noble (United States), spoke to in his comments to us at the Mauri School.

Nana Lohrengel

Indeed, Nana Lohrengel, secretary-general of the Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri Foundation in Milan, will be giving the final keynote address in the Sharjah conference on the 16th, in conversation with Simon Littlewood, an executive committee member of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

The Sharjah event for booksellers includes leadership addresses and four panel presentations, goals being to encourage best-practice sharing, and enable an in-depth analysis of current trends across several domains that impact bookselling: digital strategies; stakeholder relationships; stock curation and presentation; customer engagement and new business models.

Participants will also have opportunities to network, present their titles, and explore new market opportunities in a series of one-on-one sessions.

Booksellers Conference Program Notes

Al Ameri will open the conference with welcoming comments followed by a panel moderated by business consultant Kuo-yu Liang. In this instance, topics are to include community engagement and sales performance through digital channels, including websites, social media, e-newsletters and e-commerce.

A second panel discussion is to look at building “solid relationships with stakeholders including publishers, authors, festivals and schools in order to run a successful bookshop.”

And Nadia Wassef, co-founder of the Diwan Bookshop in Cairo, will speak about her experiences in creating her high-profile bookstore, with its challenges and lessons.

On the conference’s second day, Jasmina Kanurić, who is the communications advisor with the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) will speak to the conference on trends and issues in the industry.

A panel will follow on the topic of inventory curation and presentation as well as staff training in customer service, followed by a final panel on “adjacent opportunities” for bookstores, as well as print-on-demand–which is a major new presence at Publishing City thanks to the installation of Lightning Source Sharjah by Ingram.

And the program will close with the conversation between the Mauri Foundation’s Lohrengel and Littlewood.

When Publishing Perspectives spoke with Al Ameri and Ingram’s David Taylor on London Book Fair’s Main Stage last month about the new print-on-demand Lightning Source installation at Sharjah Publishing city–where the Booksellers Conference is set–Al Ameri made a point that can help many in publishing understand the energy and commitment the emirate makes to produce so many international events in publishing.

The fact that he and his fellow Sharjans live and work in the business environment they’re creating, Al Ameri said, makes it all the more important to them to make Sharjah Book Authority’s efforts effective.

“The vision of Sharjah Publishing City,” he said, “is to have a publisher able to operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to do business, to sell rights, to print, to translate.”

With this inaugural Booksellers Conference, that mission now expands to include bookselling and the retail framework in which book publishing operates in the world.

More from Publishing Perspectives on bookselling is here. More on Sharjah is here, more on Sharjah Publishing City is here, more on Ingram Content Group is here, more on Sharjah Book Authority is here, more on Sharjah International Book Fair is here, more on guest of honor appearances is here, more on London Book Fair is here, and more on publishing’s trade shows, book fairs, and festivals is here

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner for the International Publishers Association.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is 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 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.