Two big Arab book fairs were held at the beginning of December — one in Doha (Dec 4-14) and one in Beirut (Dec 6-19) — and they both reported slow sales. Al-Sharq al-Awsat said that “reports regarding the demise of the Arab-language book are perhaps looking somewhat exaggerated,” although the paper also noted that sales have been down for the past three years:
Individual publishers, who generally said that their sales were still fine, talked with al-Sharq al-Awsat about ways to improve Beirut’s Arabic book fair. They mentioned the long-overdue merger with Beirut’s Francophone book fair, greater outreach over social media, and inviting a wider range of publishers from other countries.
Nabil Marwah, owner of the Dar Al-Intishar Al-Araby publishing house, told al-Sharq al-Awsat that because the fairs remain publisher-centered, they never move forward. He told the paper that he believes that the main draw for visitors remains the “social side” of books and the desire to hunt down the autographs of their favorite authors, which is certainly an aspect that could be emphasized, whatever changes digital might bring.
And in Beirut at least, al-Sharq al-Awsat said, “it does not seem that the veritable shower of books that have been published in an attempt to keep pace with and chronicle the events [of the “Arab Spring”] has proven particularly popular.”
About the Doha fair, The Peninsula reported that “booksellers observed the fair had lost its sheen, blaming the decline in sales on lack of publicity and government support.”
While publishers in Beirut were proud and upbeat, the publishers quoted in Doha were generally dejected. Ziyada, owner of Dar Al Asma, told The Peninsula, “The demand for books is decreasing year by year because people are not anymore interested in them.”
Still, as al-Sharq al-Awsat noted, reports of the Arabic book’s death are most likely exaggerated, even if the forms and formats are destined to change.
The next major book fair is Cairo’s, which may not be the glossiest, but is still a bellwether for book health.
Novelist Jana al-Hassan on Beirut’s book fair: