New Survey: Publishing in the UAE

Rüdiger Wischenbart Content & Consulting — together with Lebanese publisher Nasser Jarrous — just released a report on the publishing landscape in the UAE:

The report, commissioned by the Emirates Publishers Association (and co-sponsored by the Sharjah International Book Fair), mostly concerns itself with the number of books being moved around — rather than publishers’ individual anecdotes of success or frustration. The publisher who sent me the report felt that some of the numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt; nonetheless, it makes an interesting read.

First, the report — and its existence — underlines how highly books and reading culture are rated in many quarters in the Emirates. A lot of money, sweat, and effort has been put into the development of the two big book fairs (Sharjah and Abu Dhabi) as well as other ambitious reading initiatves. You can see this as either beautiful or sinister, but there it is: Emiratis have put a lot of effort into books and publishing, particularly in the last five years.

However, as the report noted, this book fever is not necessarily generalized throughout the nation:

As a recent yet still unpublished survey on reading habits at the Sharjah International Book Fair in 2011…highlighted, reading, education and the acquisition of knowledge are embraced by the local younger generation much less enthusiastically than, for example, their peers in India, China or Korea.

Nonetheless, the report said that “all indicators…point to an increase in reading books, with a particularly large increase in reading books in English, as well as the strong impact of pirated books, both print and digital.”

Pirated books were not seen as an opportunity in this report — although they might be good evidence of reading culture, or a culture that is trying to access more books — as the report’s focus was on developing a book business. There is no specific detail about piracy in the UAE, but the report notes that “the impact of piracy has been so strong that it has reached the point of destroying the economy of books in the leading Arab book publishing countries, such as Lebanon. Several publishers and retailers interviewed for this report, including Bashar Chebaro of Arab Scientific Publishers Inc.…described a situation where any title that is successfully released triggers a flood of illegal copies, both digital (in the form of a digital scan of the printed edition turned into a PDF document) and in bootlegged printed versions, within a matter of days.”

But despite this, the report as a whole was optimistic about traditional book production, asserting that, “Foreign language imports, mostly English books, outnumber the Arab production… [yet] both markets are growing continuously and at a significant annual rate—well in the double digits in both title numbers and value.”

The question of which books are available in the Emirates and how these are selected was not addressed. The report estimates that the number of titles currently in print in Arabic is around 500,000. They say that, “The largest Arab online book store, Neel WaFurat…currently has a database of about 400,000 titles. According to Saleh Chebaro, Neel WaFurat’s owner and founder, this represents roughly 80 percent of all available titles, as it excludes most books from publishers in the Maghreb countries, Mauritania, Sudan and Iraq.”

So 500,000. How many of these 500,000 make it to the UAE? Surely, no one wants all 500,000, but an opaqueness surrounding current censorship rules means that sometimes books aren’t stocked just because no one knows if it’s banned.

The report spends little time on these very big distribution problems and doesn’t mention censorship or other restrictions, which make distribution between different Arab countries so nettlesome, as well as restricting internal development and creativity.

However, the report does suggest that greater transparency would be a boon:

As each title exhibited at the SIBF must be registered in advance, the fair is in a position to publish a directory of all these titles annually as a catalogue in English and in Arabic on its website.


Furthermore, all the information collected by the regulatory bodies could be used, by making it publicly available, to create a database of available titles, plus detailed references on all aspects of the sector, resulting in a highly valuable source of business information. The availability of reliable information on the industry in all its aspects, at its local basis, and in its international connections, is recognized as one key driver in the development of the industry overall, in the UAE and as the future hub that can emerge in the UAE.

Want to discuss the report in Frankfurt or Paris? Or, if you’re in neither of those places, you can just download the report and discuss it here or among yourselves.


  1. I just wonder how much did they pay for this report?
    I bet more than what spent on the publishing industry itself.

    1. Search me; I doubt it’s the sort of question that they’d answer (from me, anyhow). Although I think they have put funds into the Kalimat children’s publishing house…or *someone’s* put funds into that house, because it’s churning out some really high quality material, and I believe I understand it doesn’t have to stand on its own yet. I don’t know about the grown-up publishing houses, though.

      1. But it’s a good point…there’s a lot of money for the book fairs and book-trade business, but will the development of a passionate publishing industry, passionate and honest readers, passionate and honest critics boom as well? And how…?

  2. we have a saying here:
    “its not important how you work its how you present the work”
    this is the case here, they didn’t have enough publishers to make an association and enough production with the exception of some great books.
    but whats important is to present it with a report that they paid … I would say minimum of 200,000 euro.
    if they spent half this in publishing or publishers or even just buying books from other publishers … you will get a far better result.

    1. 200,000Euro! I should get into this line of work. 🙂 I suppose the report does something for image, though, among European publishers. The European publishers I’ve met at the Sharjah & especially at the Abu Dhabi fairs definitely see the Emirates as the center of the region.

      1. CENTER of what ??? publishing wise … or money wise.
        they are the center were you might get money from.
        Culture is not bought and can’t be sold … its either there or not.
        it needs building and takes layers and layers to have such a thing.
        go walk the street in Dubai and then walk the streets of Rabat … you would feel it.

        1. But many of these publishers have only been to the Emirati fairs, and never to Rabat/Cairo/Beirut/Tunis. I haven’t been to Rabat. Some day soon, isA, after I get my 200,000Euro consulting fee….

          1. are you blond? do you use sophisticated English? do you carry a business card that says you are the CEO of whatever company in England or Germany, then we decide either to give you 200,000 euro or maybe just pay for your hotel and the plane ….
            publishers know how it works very well. I know stories of how they try to milk them and how they like to be milked since its presented in a nice bohemia crystal vessel 🙂

            1. I’m afraid I’m already a known quantity here, more of a jolly gadfly-blogger than a crystal-vessel CEO type.

              1. ok so we pay for the room and the flight but you have to write of how great we are or else …..

  3. Interesting comments. This report was commissioned by the Emirates Publishers Association just before Frankfurt Book Fair to give an overview of the publishing industry as it stands today in the UAE. We have over 70 members in the Emirates Publishers Association and we are only 4 years old. Yes we are a young industry but many of the publishers are ambitious and this is the future of publishing in the Arab world, especially now with political unrest in the region. The report was done by the same company that researches other publishing industries worldwide and they were chosen so that UAE can be positioned in the global ranking system and compared with other publishing industries. This is the first time any research has been done in the region and it’s a great start. Hopefully other countries will follow and start publishing more information about their publishing industries.

    Kalimat has been publishing children’s books in the UAE for the past 5 years and we are financially independent and we stand on our own. There are other publishers in the UAE who have also had success stories and we do represent the future of the Arab publishing industry whether the rest of the Arab world likes it or not. This is the reality when you look at the situation today.

    We are proud to say that the report helped us become full members of the IPA recently and it was a great achievement for us. Hopefully other Arab countries will follow as well.

    Bodour Al Qasimi
    CEO and Founder of Kalimat
    President of the Emirates Publishers Association

    1. Rather more schoolyard than interesting.

      I’m not sure that, for most countries, a report like this would be a good investment. There are so many problems sitting right at hand to tackle…although how to do it, I certainly don’t know.

      I don’t think anyone who’s read Kalimat’s books would be anything but impressed.

      But of course there is something very precipitate about how everything in the book world seems to have changed — book fairs, prizes — everything taken in hand by one country. For instance, this year, the Emirates Publishers Association was being voted into the International Publishers Association; meanwhile, Egypt was bickering over whether to ban a poetry collection because it discusses smoking, as though the whole country were a fourth-grade class. And while the Abu Dhabi and Sharjah book fairs have largely taken over all regional/international trade, I think the only thing the director of the Sharjah Intl Book Fair took away from coming to Cairo’s fair was food poisoning.

      The whole thing is moving so fast, and with so much purpose (and sometimes transparency, and sometimes not) that it can be unnerving. But yes, as you say, that most certainly is the future.

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