Arabic Publishing and the Covid-19 Pandemic

Yesterday, “Arab Publishers Take a Hit From the Covid-19 Crisis,” appeared in al-Fanar:

The “Publishers Without Borders” panel.

The piece was sparked by a “Publishers Without Borders” panel held May 2 over Zoom, and it surveys the issues facing Arab publishers, from Morocco to the Gulf, in the coming period.

Two publishers got their comments in late:

Sherif-Joseph Rizk, a partner in Dar al-Tanweer Publishing House, offered a few additional observations:

1. Since there is virtually no government assistance, small publishers and bookstores with limited cash reserves might not make it.
2. This is the ultimate test for ebooks and audiobooks. This is their golden opportunity since they have a monopoly on the legal book trade. Will they grow to finally become significant? Every industry guru keeps on saying go remote, go digital and so forth. Ultimately, that depends of whether customers are willing to go digital. Soon we will be on amazon kindle and apple iBooks. In a year’s time we can have more answers.
3. As in all industries, consequences will be a function of the disruption timeline and no one knows how long that will be. Obviously there will be few if any book fairs this year. What about 2021 and 2022? Of course that depends on a vaccine/treatment which is uncertain. What if we don’t have one. There are no easy answers just scenarios.

And Ahmed Al Ali, Managing Editor of Rewayat, an imprint of Kalimat Group in Sharjah:

No publishing house can honestly claim that canceling book fairs and closing bookstores haven’t affected its financial and publication plans, whoever has invested in the online services is being paid back now though. The orders on Kalimat website have almost doubled, but this in no way can overcome or replace book fairs. I believe that this pandemic situation gives an opportunity for the audio and e-book mediums to thrive finally in the Arab world, and to fight back online piracy because now we all sail in one ocean, one downloadable pirated book is equal to one that can be bought online, there is no on-the-ground shopping anymore. In addition, the print-on-demand model can now speak out to prove its point. The publishing business in the Arab world needed a shock to renew itself and set priorities to follow the world’s publishing trends, and this is it, we have never experienced a situation similar to Amazon entering the publishing business, or Harry Potter, or Audible.

Emirati publishers are in line with all Arab publishers, we have lost Sharjah Reading Festival, and Abu Dhabi book fair, to name a few of the canceled/ postponed book-selling events. Moreover, Sharjah was the year’s World Book Capital, and Kalimat had to delay some projects that were planned and designed specifically to be launched this year: Sharjah Anthology – New Writers from the Arab World, for instance.

The pandemic has broken an ongoing yearly circle of publishers meeting their customers: individuals, representors of public libraries and bookstores, authors, schoolteachers, librarians, and many more. I wonder if it would come back to normal after the pandemic (if there is such a time as after-pandemic, we might have to live with it for generations). Thus, it is the task of the mainstream publishers to come up with new ideas to get books to people. I just read that Penguin has recorded their authors giving lessons on videos that would be available for school kids, how smart is that? I learned from Sonny Mehta that the real asset of a publishing house is its authors, books come after, this is a good implementation of that wisdom, and a good move for the publishing house to keep its authors engaged and connected with their audience and target new ones. I noticed an increased number of online events, Arab publishers are announcing live readings by their authors, mostly poetry, which I encourage, and free online ebooks for a limited period of time.

Read the overview on al-FanarArab Publishers Take a Hit From the Covid-19 Crisis

1 Comment

  1. More translations and ebooks and audio would be excellent from the region, bring it more into the main stream elsewhere in the world.

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