Do E-Books Leave Arabs ‘Cold’?

First off, let’s just say there is something faintly irritating about this headline, from The Media Line, which links Arabs, e-books, and moral temperature.

Arabs—I know I get boring; I repeat myself—are too big and varied a group to get hot and cold all at once. And, if we’re to speak about Egyptians, most of us have not been exposed to an e-book, and so have had no opportunity to get hot and bothered, cold and clammy, or anything else.

Admission: I’ve never seen one. Not in person.

The Arabic publishing world has not run out to embrace the e-book, that’s true. I asked Seif Salmawy, managing director of the new Bloomsbury Qatar house, about e-books when he was in Cairo last week. He shrugged, noting that the digital book readers don’t yet support Arabic. He said that they were keeping an eye on the phenomenon.

So he wasn’t hot on the issue. But I wouldn’t say he was cold, either. Certainly, many in the publishing world aren’t keen on change. Certainly, some governments aren’t keen on a new medium that might offer fewer opportunities for information control—but we’ve already got that issue with the Internet.

At the end of the piece, Abeer Mishkhas, a features editor at the London-based Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat, tells The Media Line that she feels, actually, a little bit warm about e-books in the Arabic-speaking world.

The digital book reader revolution is not likely to change much, Mishkhas said, “not until it can carry Arabic, because these are English books and it isn’t the majority who can read English and know how to deal with electronic media. If it does carry Arabic, I expect a lot of people will be happy to read books in Arabic.”

If I really had time on my hands, I’d go see if I could find a story from a couple decades back that announced “Arabs Cold on Mobile Phone Technology.”