What Should an Arabic Bestseller List Look Like?

It could look like this. But it wouldn't have to.

Booksellers, authors, and publishers in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan expressed interest yesterday in the idea of a “universal” Arabic bestseller list. The idea came out of a Abu Dhabi publishers’ training workshop that Salwa Shakhashir (Dar al-Salwa) blogged about for Publishing Perspectives.

Major Egyptian publishing house Dar el Shorouk was one of the first to echo its interest. But smaller booksellers and a variety of authors were also enthusiastic about the idea of a universal (or semi-universal) list. However, as Flora Majdalawi, owner of Jordan’s Majdalawi Masterpieces noted: “Credibility is a major issue here.”

What should a bestseller list look like? One well-known model is the New York Times version, as publishers discussed at the Abu Dhabi workshop. The NYT started their bestseller list in April 1942.

According to the lazy researcher’s best friend, Wikipedia:

The exact methodology used in creating the list is classified as a trade secret.[4] In 1992, the survey encompassed over 3,000 bookstores as well as “representative wholesalers with more than 28,000 other retail outlets, including variety stores and supermarkets.”[4]

I don’t think anyone is ready to start surveying every book stall and stationery shop in the Arabic-reading world for how many copies of Essam Youssef’s “1/4 جرام” they’ve moved. At least, well, I’m not.

Rehab Bassam of Dar el Shorouk notes that the list’s methodology depends on its aim. She said that, if the aim is to show trends, one way to start would be to ask each major publisher for a list of their bestsellers for region-wide promotion.

However, this either potentially leaves out the smaller publishers, or else overwhelms us in a sea of “top 10s” from el Shorouk, el Ain, el Merit, Nahdet Misr, Elias Modern, Farouk…

Another option would be to compile a country-wide “most popular” books list. Perhaps a universal, region-wide “top 10” makes less sense than a “top 10” from participating countries: a top 10 from Egypt, from Syria, from Jordan, from Morocco, from Lebanon, from the UAE, and so on. The downside of this is that it would mean lots of work and would require unprecedented openness from booksellers.

However, this way, booksellers in Algeria could see—at a glance—what titles are moving in Syria, and perhaps pick up a few of them.

Ideally, it would be organized by a major, credible, transparent, region-wide news or cultural organization without ties to the book-publishing business. The list would primarily be available in Arabic, but no reason not to translate it for non-Arab publishers looking for hot titles.

Or it could look like something else altogether. I would love to hear your ideas: positive, negative, constructive, or otherwise.


  1. Idea is good.. as always. I believe there are some points to be taken into consideration before starting such a list in case we issue a list of best sellers reflecting Best Sellers in Arab world. I believe we need to make sure that books published in Lebanon, Syria and Jordon are having ISBN and Bar Code. Further, ISBN must be there on each book published in Arab world. I have noticed for quite some time now that many of our major Arab publishers do not have ISBN or Bar Code which -for credibility & integrity-should not be included in list even if it is a best sellers. ISBN and Bar Code are international system used to track the exact numbers of sold copies which will help to decide which are best sellers based on accurate figures. Such a list I will trust and take into consideration other than that it would be like other list we see in papers and they do not reflect the accurate info. Other point to take into consideration; the transfer of books between countries – Arab countries- you can not find their books around the year and you have either to import and go through the dilemma of customs and Raqaba or wait for Cairo book fair to get the books from Arab publishers……

    Marcia, idea is good but not easy and there is a trust issue here… still there must be a FIRST time.

    Have a great day,

  2. If there was a booksellers association in the Arab world then they could compile the list of best sellers from each region and then put the results together to get an Arabic bestseller list. Unfortunately we haven’t got a booksellers association in the UAE, not sure if other Arab countries have them.

  3. Thanks Bodour… someone suggested an entity like Neilsen. I’m still thinking and asking around. Of course credibility and neutrality are important.

  4. Back when I worked at the Abu Dhabi book fair, we bandied about the idea of attempting to establish an Arab World-wide distribution company, with a central warehouse located in a country like the UAE that has the money to fund such an operation and relatively relaxed censorship laws. In addition to facilitating the movement of Arabic books across national borders, this distribution company would also keep track of the titles moving through its system and compile them once a month into a sort of bestseller list. I’m sure it would have been mostly the Dar El Shorouk’s of the Arab publishing industry who would’ve made use of the distribution company, and therefore whose books would’ve ended up claiming a disproportionate percentage of the bestseller list, but it would be better than nothing,

  5. Do you know if the idea is still simmering, or if it’s been dismissed?

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