The protest is tentatively set for World Book Day, April 23.
This comes on the heels of complaints from the Egyptian Publishers Union that book piracy is cutting significantly into sales.
I have, in the past, asked publishing-house owners and directors if they didn’t think cheaper books might make reading available to a broader spectrum of the Egyptian public. Sixty LE is, after all, quite an investment to make in a new title. Seif al-Salmawy, previously of Dar al Shorouk, responded several years ago now that Egyptians spend a great deal annually on other consumer products (he noted mobile phones, George Orwell has suggested cigarettes), and added that Egyptian publishing houses operate on thin profit margins.
However, he is now managing director of Bloomsbury Qatar, which recently halved the prices of many of its children’s picture books in Egypt: from 60LE a book to 30LE. So deep price cuts are not, as a strategy, out of the question.
Pricing complaints are not, of course, limited to Shorouk. Activists said Shorouk has been targeted because it’s one of the largest publishing houses in Egypt. A number of authors — Ahlam Mosteghanemi, for one — have complained about the high prices of AUC Press hardbacks, which are often the spendiest locally published books on the market with occasionally eye-popping prices.
What about bookstores? In the graphic above, after all, the retailer is taking 55%. But even if there’s a store in Egypt taking 55%, they’re still not growing rich off it. And authors? Most are still contributing to the cost of production.
Is forcing publishing houses to drive down prices the solution to accessibility? It’s certainly the most visible target, although the near-absence of public libraries is another.
On Twitter, Kan Ya Ma Kan bookstore (@kykbookshop مكتبة كان ياما كان) notes: “@arablit We think it’s a vicious circle, different strategies should be adopted to break us free from the high price low profit dilemma!”
They added: “@arablit I think that creating a reading generation will boost the sales, fair and clear laws to protect authors rights,” although how to create this reading generation is another dilemma altogether.