Sharjah Book Fair in Numbers: 1.47 Visitors, $48.5 Million in Sales

The Sharjah International Book Fair ended on the 15th, and — by the numbers — it was the most successful in that city’s book fairs yet, drawing a number of visitors (or visits?) that puts it in league with the mammoth Cairo and Riyadh book fairs in terms of attendance:

The sign comes down after the fair. Photo credit: Sherif Bakr.
The sign comes down after the fair. Photo credit: Sherif Bakr.

And in sales, $48.5 million puts it far ahead of Riyadh’s reported $19 million. It’s far more than the flashy Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which this year drew in a reported 248,000 visitors and around $9.5 million in sales.

Indeed, when book fair director Ahmed Al Ameri says, “We had so many people this year that we have some cracks in the tiles,” it is certainly believable: When the students were around, it was difficult to move from one section of the book fair to another, even more packed than a Friday at the Cairo International Book Fair.

In the fair-wrap press release, it notes that “On one day alone, November 11, nearly 46,000 students from 350 schools visited the fair,” and I believe that’s the day it took me twenty minutes to cross from Hall 5 to Hall 2.

Anecdotally, publishers were happy with sales this year. Gulnar Hajo of the Bright Fingers publishing house, for instance, said that, “We are always happy in Sharjah.”

Of course, there are many other metrics by which to judge a book fair and festival, especially one that tries to hit so many aims — the quality of professional events and meetings, the public’s engagement with cultural events, children’s-book readings and engagement with authors — and with such rapid growth there are bound to be growing pains. Sharjah saw a 45% increase in visitors this year over last, and cultural events continue to multiply apace.

This sometimes means that panels can seem rushed together or authors can be invited and then nearly forgotten. Indeed, a high-profile authors can be flown all the way to Sharjah to be wedged onto a single panel discussing something outside her or her focus, as Moroccan novelist Youssef Fadl was only used on a panel about theatre. Other panels seemed to be moderated by people unfamiliar with the genre and authors.

The embarrassment of riches means that many interesting and big-name authors are barely promoted and hardly seen, although some need no introduction or publicity, such as Ahlam Mostaghanemi, who apparently generated a tempest in a teapot with fellow Algerian novelist Yasmina Khadra about the worth of writing literature in non-Arabic languages.

The fair also boasted a packed series of professional events that preceeded the fair and an American Library Association conference at the fair’s end.

The Sharjah International Book Fair is almost surely the most ambitious Arab book fair: aiming to be a trade fair, a selling fair, a book festival, and a children’s-book festival all in one. It is a gargantuan task, and yet somehow it all came together, one way or another.


    1. Sorry, I don’t have an interest in makeup.

  1. This is an interesting post so thank you for writing it. I’m wondering if you have heard any estimates of sales in terms of Arabic vs. other languages. I visited the fair for an afternoon and saw a lot of Arabic titles and publishers as I would expect, but I left wondering if any sales figures are out broken down according to language. Just a thought.

    1. Good question!. Actually, there was a large presence of Indian-language publishers esp. in Hall 5, yes? I saw a lesser number of English books (more in the children’s area) and a handful of French. It would be great to have an estimated breakdown. I’d also like to see a bestseller list, which the Cairo Book Fair sometimes puts out. Not sure exactly how they’re gathering data or how they might be able to crunch it, but yes, all this would be very useful for readers, publishers, authors, etc.

      1. You’re right; I saw the India-based publishers (although I completely missed any French that was there). I also left wondering if there were any Tagalog publishers, although that market might just be reading English. At any rate, thanks for the thoughts and I look forward to reading more.

        1. Next time I talk to Ahmed, I’ll ask if they break down activity by language. He was an accountant once; perhaps he’ll enjoy a spreadsheet exercise!

          1. And my littlest boys are studying French, or I’m sure I would’ve never noticed — it was just a handful of Lebanese houses, since this overlapped the Francophone book fair in Beirut.

  2. With no sale or issue of entry tickets how are such visitor numbers verified, let alone the scotch-mist of sales?

    What was noticeable this year, was the heightened Arabic social media output, with minimal English, indicating a reversion from the “International”!

    With the failure to influence UNESCO, Sharjah has moved on to the gullible American Library Association.

    1. I didn’t see Ahmed this year or ask how they were counting (estimations at the door?) since yes, there was no ticket-sales (like Cairo) and none of those turnstile thingies. But surely every student in the area was there, and although I have no estimatory capacity, it felt enormous (and occasionally suffocating).

      1. As a former accountant Ahmed should be aware of the need for audits, not just pulling figures from out of the sky.

        I expect to read in 2015 that roads were shut as volumes overwhelmed the car parks! 😉

  3. Wonderful to see these types of events having such great success 🙂

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