Some activists reportedly have called for a protest outside the Dar el Shorouk publishing house, demanding that the house lower their book prices. (Ahram Online, Youm7 )
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.
Publishers are not like Wall Street firms making obscene profits; even if they artificially lowered prices, it will act as a disincentive for them to expand in the future, so I don’t think this is a real solution. Let’s set up some libraries and then ask the publishers to donate free copies instead.
the politics of publishing is very interesting. perhaps you can recommend an article or outside reading on the topic of publishers and publication? what I find particularly interesting in all your posts and other articles on Arabic Literature is that almost every book published revolves around some aspect of Arab history (be it Lebanese Civil War, Palestinian Occupation, etc). I’m no newcomer to Arabic lit or history but it seems to be those are the only books that get published in novel form (with the exception of the great Mahfouz). It’s the short stories that dive into the day-to-day experiences of Arab life (Yusuf Idris, Salwa Bakr, etc). Is this because publishers won’t publish otherwise? Or the readership isn’t interested in the daily stuff? I guess what I’d like to know is what/who controls what gets printed.
Well, certainly there are novels about daily life (Ghada Abdel Aal’s Ayza Atgowaz, Raja Alsanea’s Banat al-Riyadh, Betool Khadairi’s Ghay’eb, Miral’s Brooklyn Heights), although perhaps it is more often women who write about daily life, and perhaps I…like many people/publishers…skew toward paying attention to “important” issues rather than daily life.
And I say this in an ironic manner, of course, since what could be more important than daily life?
Harrumph. That graphic obviously refers to a publisher which allocates its authors comparatively generous royalties then 🙂
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