TikTok at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair: Chatting With Hany Kamel

In News by Porter Anderson

Books, says Hany Kamel, ‘align with TikTok’s mission to inspire creativity and bring joy.’ The social medium is at Abu Dhabi’s book fair.

Inside the unmarked TikTok stand at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

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

TikTok Mounts a ‘Stealth Stand’ in Abu Dhabi
There’s a luminous, unmarked circular stand on the exhibition floor of the 2022 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, tucked away near the screen-flashing National Geographic stand and the Children’s Oasis activity area.

In the 73,000-square-meter exhibition hall, this may be the only installation without branding all over it. It looks like a bedroom-sized Stonehenge, but instead of stones, these are lighted rectangles, standing on end in a circle—they might even be books in some imaginations.

One giveaway to whose installation this might be? The colors. Watermelon, white, and a bright-green cousin of turquoise.

Inside this bevy of monoliths, there’s a small round revolving table with a ring light on a stick. When Publishing Perspectives looks in, a boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old is spinning on the revolving platform, grinning into the smartphone-camera inside the ring light. He’s loving it. He’s making a fast video of himself with a helpful, watchful assistant. And this is TikTok’s booth at the sprawling Abu Dhabi book fair. You’ll find it at Stand No. 10F17.

On the left side of the entrance, there’s a small QR coded note, but still you don’t see the word TikTok. Only the logo.

And that’s all it takes. A report from Wallaroo Media in late April indicates that TikTok worldwide has more than 1 billion monthly users, many opening the app some eight times per day, and logging in from at least 154 nations in as many as 75 languages.

Publishing Perspectives is glad to have had an exchange, before the 31st Abu Dhabi fair opened, with Hany Kamel, director of operations for TikTok Middle East and North Africa, or MENA as the region is known. BookTok and its influencers have become a recent darling in book-marketing conversations. In many parts of the international publishing industry, the short-video platform is spinning up the dreams of book marketers like a gleaming ring light.

But can such a medium woo adults as well as younger followers to this or that title?—can it do what BookTubers once were doing (and some still do)?

Hany Kamel

“TikTok is a platform for everyone who’s looking to create very engaging video content through their mobile phones, and it has been recognized as an app that provides a refreshingly positive online experience,” Kamel says. “Examining hashtags that appear most frequently, we’re able to learn more about popular content and trends within the BookTok community.

Young Adult fiction and fantasy are top categories of the BookTok community, with other top hashtags covering popular all-time favorites worldwide.

Publishing Perspectives: Many publishers and distributors and retailers are eager to use TikTok if it can help create visibility and interest in books and reading. Can you tell us about one or two particularly strong approaches being used with the platform currently in the Arab world? Is BookTok an interest for Arab readers and social-media fans?

Hany Kamel: TikTok has democratized creative expression in general and in relation to books. Basically it levelled the playing field for anyone who has an idea to share, a story to tell, or a book to write. For authors, there are multiple communities and sub-communities to tap into to engage with on your idea. You can discuss potential routes and gauge their interest. You can even share your thoughts in chunks or chapters and fine-tune based on your community’s comments.

In addition to this, since TikTok is a video-based platform, language is not a barrier because you can engage with others in your language of preference.

#BookTok itself has more than 120 million views in the Arab region, while specific regional hashtags such as #كتب have almost 600 million views and #ArabicBooks has 137,000 views in the region, allowing a community of Arabic-speaking readers to come together. Adding to this and because of the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt phenomenon—which branched out to include more than just everyday products—now when you step into bookstores such as Barnes and Nobles, or Borders and Kinokuniya locally, you’ll find sections dedicated to books that are trending on #BookTok.


The TikTok stand at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair from its exterior. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Publishing Perspectives: How do you see TikTok working with the book fair here in Abu Dhabi and its exhibitors and attendees? Will you have some special programs that we should let our readership know to be on the lookout for at the fair?’

Hany Kamel: We’re excited to partner with Abu Dhabi International Book Fair this year to show how an entertainment platform such as TikTok and books can come together simultaneously.

Just as books are among the oldest forms of entertainment, they align with TikTok’s mission to inspire creativity and bring joy. During the fair, we’re aiming to host a number of activities to inspire and educate the community on the different opportunities and trends happening around the literature community, including a panel discussion on the role of social media in the book market with our head of platform strategy Annie Arsane as a guest speaker. There’s also a “TikTok for Beginners” workshop on creating engaging content.

In addition, we’ll also be hosting a TikTok booth for attendees to enjoy and interact.

Publishing Perspectives: Many are looking for ways that “platforms”—and TikTok is a big one, of course—are affecting books and reading and the business of publishing. Can you speak a little to the sort of future you see for TikTok and its presence among the reading public of the Arab world?

Hany Kamel: TikTok is continuously developing its offering to delight all its users, including literary creators and consumers in the Arab world.

In the past, we’ve listened to our users and created opportunities in-app accordingly, such as #InspirationByWords in which users were asked to share inspirational words or quotes from their favorite books gaining more than 544 million views and #BookRecommendation gaining more than 65 million views in the region.

Our special Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2022 Show Magazine is here for your free download (PDF).

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, and more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here. More from us on book fairs and trade shows in world publishing is here. More on translation is here, and more on Arabic in the publishing world is here.

More from us on TikTok is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and the International Publishers Association. Our extended coverage of ADIBF 2022 is supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic 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.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.