Hakawati’s Karim Beidoun: Abu Dhabi Congress Interview

In News by Porter Anderson

The CEO and content chief of Hakawati looks for ‘themes and topics that resonate with people everywhere.’

Karim Beidoun. Image: Hakawati

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

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Spoken-Word Challenges and Opportunities
A sound designer, composer of music, and audio engineer, Karim Beidoun speaks on Sunday (May 21) at the second annual Abu Dhabi International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries, an extensive conference program that has programming both on Sunday and Monday at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

Beidoun appears in a panel discussion focused on “Audiobooks and Podcasts: Can the Spoken Word Play Along With Music?”

In that session, he’ll be joined by Storytel‘s Helena Gustafsson; Storytel and Storyside’s Mohamme Al Ogaily; and digital publishing consultant George Walkley. The session is moderated by the journalist Saeed Saeed, an arts and culture features writer for The National.

Holding a master of science degree in sound design for linear and interactive media, Beidoun brings more than 20 years of experience to his work in music production and post-production. In multi-cast audio dramas, he’s worked for the BBC, and is currently CEO and head of content with Hakawati, engaged in the creation and production of the company’s podcasts.

‘Loyal Listener Communities’

Beidoun’s company’s name, Hakawati, comes from the term for a storyteller in Arabic, and its origins in two words, hekaye and haki, prompted us to ask Beidoun about Hakawati’s business focus.

“Hakawati is a podcast production company,” Beidoun tells Publishing Perspectives. “We use our own technology to make production, distribution, and monetization more efficient. Our first original podcast was launched in May 2019, and we’ve since expanded to a network of 13 shows, with more in the pipeline.”

He says the company—based in the United States with offices and teams working in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon—uses “podcast download metrics, top locations, and consumption rates to evaluate our performance, as well as listener feedback.

“Our audience has grown exponentially every year,” Beidoun says, “and we’ve built loyal listener communities around our top shows. We use that feedback loop to evolve and refine our content.”

Challenges: Consistency, Monetization Options, Diversity

When it comes to to spoken-word audio, our coverage has indicted that various world markets  experience different challenges, and Beidoun says that in the MENA region–the Middle East and North Africa–podcasting “is a growing medium but it also faces some unique challenges.

“The diversity of the listenership, which spans different countries and cultures in the region and beyond, makes it difficult to target specific markets or niches with relevant and engaging ads.”Karim Beidoun, Hakawati

“One of them,” he says, “is the need for consistency in producing and distributing quality content that attracts and retains a loyal audience.

“Another challenge is the lack of monetization options for podcasters, who often rely on sponsorships, donations, or subscriptions to sustain their work.

“A third challenge is the diversity of the listenership,” Beidoun says, “which spans different countries and cultures in the region and beyond. This makes it difficult to target specific markets or niches with relevant and engaging ads.

“We’re working on solutions to overcome these challenges by creating value for our listeners and finding innovative ways to monetize our content.

‘Our Next Move Is To Create More Localized Content’

The very breadth of the region reached by Hakawati prompts us to ask Beidoun if there are advantages that come along with operating in such a vast area.

“Our next move is to create more localized content that targets specific countries and cultures such as Saudi Arabia.”Karim Beidoun, Hakawati

“We produce content that appeals to a wide range of audiences,”  he says, “regardless of their location or background.

“Our content uses a Lebanese dialect, but it also covers universal themes and topics that resonate with people everywhere.

“However, we also recognize that our largest fan base is in the GCC,” the Gulf Cooperation Council region that includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

“That’s why our next move is to create more localized content,” Beidoun says, “that targets specific countries and cultures such as Saudi Arabia.”

For our readers who will be attending the Abu Dhabi International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries on Sunday, Beidoun and his fellow panelists are scheduled to be onstage at 2:15 p.m.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here, more from us on audio and audiobooks in international publishing is here,and more on podcasting 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.

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

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.