Abjjad: An Arabic Social Network for Books with a Big Vision

In June 2012, Eman Hylooz and Tamim Al Manaseer co-founded Abjjad, an Arabic social network for books with a big vision. 

abjjadArabLit: Why did you decide to start Abjjad? What’s your background?

Eman Hylooz: I majored in computer science followed by MBA in quality management… I worked for more than six years in a software development company in quality assurance and software-process engineering[.]

My solid experience all came precisely from working for local start-ups, which created inside me the love of entrepreneurship and creating something out of nothing and working on every detail to see it grow. So I decided to start my own thing that is directly related to my passion and experience, books and the cyber world.

I love books since I was a little kid, and discovered the beauty of Arabic literature at a later stage of my life… found that the cyber world does not really show people’s love for Arabic books.. so I decided to start Abjjad.

AL: How many people work on the project?

EH: It started with me and my partner, Tamim, as full timers and a 2-3 freelancers. Currently we are 3 full timers, along with more than 8 freelancers. Some of them are based in Jordan and others based in Egypt.

AL: How is it different from goodreads and other social-media book sites?

EH: Abjjad and Goodreads (or any other social networks for books like Shelfari.com or TheLibraryThing.com) have the same idea with a different vision. Here are some points that explain how is Abjjad different:

1. Abjjad’s main interface is Arabic, to serve Arabic speakers online (they reached more than 86 million according to 2011 statistics).

2. Abjjad’s vision is to create the biggest and most accurate database for Arabic books and Arabic authors. Currently there is no one place that has all Arabic books being:

a. Fully authenticated by the publishers or the authors in terms of: (books titles on goodreads re: user generated and not moderated by Goodreads content management department).

i. Brief about the book

ii. Book image

iii. The publisher

iv. ISBN

v. Number of pages

vi. Clear image

b. Fully categorized, so as to be able to browse by category from a page showing the whole book catalogue (this is something cannot be done on Goodreads).

3. Based on having an accurate and fully categorized data base for Arabic books, a recommendation system will be developed where Abjjad users can get customized recommendations by Abjjad (this is something applied only for the English books on Goodreads, Shelfari, etc…).

4. Working on the marketing campaign and SEO specifically for Arabic books, so as to show the world that Arabs do read, write, and publish high quality books.

5. Adding into Abjjad the book-related events that are happening all over the Arabic region, to have one place where event managers can announce their events. Solving the pain of not having enough marketing done for Arabic intellectual events and are mostly kept on small scales. (We have more than 25 book fairs done yearly in the Arab region.)

6. Finally and the biggest vision we have is: To add Arabic book publishers to Abjjad’s network. In that case, Abjjad would be a network for Arabic readers, writers, and book publishers.

Each book publisher would have the ability to:

· Have their own branded social online shop inside Abjjad’s community, to sell and present their books at minimum prices.

· Socialize with their readers and writers.

· Discover new writers.

· Send their fans their newly released books, even before releasing it formally.

In that case, a reader on Abjjad would be able to: Create his profile, track his reading, socialize his reading experience, discuss books with readers and writers, and be able to know where he can buy this book from directly from the book publisher.
Abjjad will be THE place to reach any Arabic book.

AL: How did you spread the word about it?

EH: Viral marketing, word of mouth, free social media, SEO.

We didn’t spend a penny yet on advertisement…we depended purely on technical solutions to spread the word from Abjjad users to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and to directly reach out to authors, readers, and book clubs in the region up until we reached till now more than 34,000 users.

AL: What sort of user/person do you think will be most interested in this site? Who are you targeting?

EH: We are targeting Arabic online speakers who are interested in reading or writing.

A user could be someone who is already a heavy reader, or someone who has light interest in reading/writing and would love to be involved in such community to work more on his readership.

AL: Do you know where do most of your users come from?

EH: Thirty percent are coming from Egypt, 26% coming equally from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Then comes Algeria, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, UAE, and the rest of the Arab countries.

AL: How are you planning to develop it? What next?

– Mobile applications (Android and IOS)

– Re-engineering for the current website to enhance its performance and user experience

– Invest more in marketing to increase our members base.

– Develop the platforms for the book publishers and start inviting them to join the network.

AL: What relationship do you have with Arab publishers? How do you keep track of what books are coming out?

EH: It started by asking publishers to provide us with their digital catalogues and update us with what is new. The next step would be a bigger step, to ask them to actually join and have control over adding their updated digital content.

We have a big team of content management who adds books and keep tracks on the new ones, in addition to having our community to help us in enriching this database. So basically we depend on so many channels to stay updated.

AL: Do you know what categories have the most reviews?

EH: Literature and philosophy.

AL: How do you choose the “related books”?

EH: Basically by matching the category of the book, and by getting insights into who added those books to their shelves and how did they rate them.

AL: Who did the “10 books you should read” feature? It’s the same for everyone?

EH: For now yes, it is a simple feature where our content management team pick 10 books we suggest for users from different categories, just to highlight some other categories that people have not seen or read before.

AL: Are there ways that you are looking to make this into a profitable venture? How?

EH: Yes, Abjjad has started as a profitable online startup, but we decided to focus on building the community first before thinking of generating revenue.

Revenue would be basically generated from book publishers, by paying yearly fixed fees to have a presence inside this network, [a] kind of sophisticated presence. A combination of a social platform and e-commerce platform. This is coming soon.