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Sunday, January 19, 2020


Welcome to Publish MENA #7

Back on schedule after a disrupted Q4

As some will know, Publish MENA, along with The New Publishing Standard (TNPS) and the other B2B newsletters about global publishing, is produced in The Gambia, West Africa, and  is occasionally subject to local disruption.

In Q4 2019 we experienced a major breakdown of the submarine cable that connects West Africa with the rest of the world and for a while it was all I could do to keep TNPS on schedule, let alone keep up with the newsletters.
But we start 2020 with (fingers crossed) all connectivity issues resolved, and the B2B newsletters will start appearing regularly hereon.

Today's edition will be a mix-n-match of current and recent items form the Middle East North Africa region, along with the usual array of examples of digital in action in other parts of the world, to show MENA authors and publishers what digital can do for the region.

"Taking Arabic titles global”, "Global Publishing: What's next for this growing industry?"

Sharjah International Book Fair sets the pace for the next decade

Our first item takes us back to the 9th Sharjah Publisher Conference, which began ahead of of the Sharjah International Book Fair. The conference hosted eight panel discussions and the themes were crystal clear.

The 2020s Arab Renaissance will be driven by digital and will it pull the emerging markets into the 21st century alongside.

Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of Sharjah Book Authority, inaugurated the three-day conference, attended by more than 500 publishing professionals.

Here’s how the press release announced the panels:

The first day of the conference will feature a discussion titled "Global Publishing: What's next for this growing industry?" with a host of publishing professionals from around the world speaking on the new trends and emerging markets that are shaping the growing global publishing industry.

The second session titled "Taking Arabic titles global: How to do business with Arab publishers", will offer a guide on striking successful business deals, including tips on how to apply for the SIBF Translation Grant, a US$300,000 fund available exclusively to participants at the conference.

Day Two will begin with a discussion titled "Arab Authors in conversation". The second session, titled "Publishers' digital strategy: New ways of storytelling", will focus on how the digital revolution is affecting publishers' business strategies. The day's activities will conclude with a session on "Freedom to publish: Mighty oaks from little acorns", which will discuss the Arab world's evolving relationship with the written word across media.

The opening speech will be delivered by Hugo Setzer, President, International Publishers Association, on the last day of the conference on 29th October, followed by keynote addresses by Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, CEO, Dubai Cares, and Samuel Kolawole, Chair, African Publishers Network, Nigeria. The activities on the last day of the conference will be held in collaboration with IPA and the African Publishers Network, APNET, and will focus on the African publishing market.

The first session, titled "Catalysing publishing innovation: Old problems, new solutions", will focus on the African Publishing Innovation Challenge Fund and the solutions that have been shortlisted by the fund. The lack of intra-African cooperation to support the publishing industry in the continent will be the subject of the second session, titled "Connecting African publishing ecosystems". The third session, titled "Transforming African libraries", will complete the focus on the African publishing scene.

It’s worth at this point taking a step back and considering the Arab and African markets together.

Obviously there’s a lot of cross-over between the two, with the Arab markets extending across North Africa and Arabic widely spoken down the east coast, and the Sharjah focus on African development goes hand in hand with development of the Arab markets beyond the core Middle East.

All told we’re looking at a market population of well over 1.5 billion people, and the focus on digital offers exciting prospects for the entire region.

Across Africa and the Middle East (excluding Iran) there are a total of 635 million people online, and by 2030 that will be closer to 1 billion, with Africa alone expected to have 800 million internet users by 2030.
Those numbers should be posted above the desk of ever author and publisher in MENA.

Sharjah Int. Book Fair attracts 2.5 million. Algiers Int. Book Fair "only" pulls in 1 million

Arab book fairs snapshot

Given Sharjah is also the UNESCO World Book Capital 2029-20 it perhaps won’t come as a complete surprise that there were a lot of people at the UAE’s biggest literary event. But in fact the fair this year attracted fully 200,000 more visitors than on any previous occasion, clocking 2.52 million visitors in total – equivalent to a quarter of the UAE’s population.

Meanwhile the Algiers International Book Fair, which ran the exact same dates 5,000 km away on other side of MENA in Algeria, disappointed with “only” 1.1 million turning out. Last year it was 2.2 million.

Here just to note that, with 3.6 million visitors between them, these two fairs alone decimate the faux narrative that Arabs don’t read.

And the Sharjah event is only the second largest literary event in the Arab world.

Bookmate partners with telcos in Bulgaria and Serbia. Introduces Bookmate Plus in Azerbaijan

Digital in action around the world

Despite headquarters in London, Bookmate is probably best known as a Russian ebook subscription service, but in fact its reach is much wider, and it includes audiobooks and podcasts in its portfolio.

Bookmate recently expanded its presence in Azerbaijan with a new package, Bookmate Plus, in partnership with the country’s leading telco Azercell.

Bookmate has been in Azerbaijan since 2015, and marked its third year with the new Bookmate Plus package, launched in October 2019, offering a catalogue of one million titles to Azerbaijan consumers, although it’s not clear how many of those titles are in the Azerbaijan language.

In summer 2019 Bookmate partnered with telco Telenor Serbia to expand its presence in the country. Bookmate has been in Serbia since 2017, but the new deal with Telenor brings 1 million ebooks and 60,000 audiobooks into play, although at this time only 3,000 titles are in Serbian.

This week comes news of another Bookmate partnership, this time with Telenor Bulgaria.

With just 200 Bulgarian language titles Bookmate and Telenor will both be relying on the value of the English and Russian content to pull In subscribers.

A small country like Serbia isn’t going to add massively to Bookmate’s bottom line on its own, but with Bookmate targeting strategic partnerships with telcos to maximise reach in small markets, the cumulative impact of Bookmate is telling.

While territorial restrictions means not all countries and territories have access to all titles, Bookmate fields a catalogue of 12 million books (ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts, comics) across 15 languages and claims to have 6 million readers.

In the Middle East digital subscription is already well established in the audiobook sector, and we can expect audio and ebook subscription to gain momentum across MENA in the new decade.

Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh International Book Fair unveils new logo for 2020

Arab book fairs snapshot

Having clocked 1 million visitors for the first time in 2019,  the Ministry of Culture intends to keep up the momentum in 2020, when the next fair is scheduled for April 2-11.

The new logo, a press announcement explained, expresses,

the identity of the fair and the significance of the city hosting the event.

The logo takes the name of Riyadh and draws it in the form of stacked books in a library in the colors of the official logo of the ministry.

These elements have been combined into a single template that reflects the spirit of the fair.

Here’s how the 2019 logo compares.

Registration for the 2020 fair is open until January 22.

The Riyadh International Book Fair is the largest cultural event in Saudi Arabia, and one of the largest in the Middle East.

While the book fair attendance demonstrates the keen interest in books in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi digital books market is still in its infancy. But with internet penetration at 93%, and 31.8 million people online, the country is on par with Canada (33 million online), which Statista attributes a 2019 ebook market value of $686 million.

We can safely expect Saudi Arabia’s digital books market to expand rapidly in the next few years. Savvy publishers within the country, within the region and globally will be watching closely for import and export opportunities as well as developing provision of home-grown content for the Saudi market.

UAE’s Emirates Publishers Association debuts at 7th Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair

Arab publishing abroad

The Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair has quickly risen to be the pre-eminent children’s books event in Asia, and in November 2019r welcomed the Emirates Publishers Association in an official capacity for the first time (although its third attendance).

In a press release marking the official debut it was announced that the Emirates Publishing Association (EPA) had held,

a series of meetings with leading Chinese publishing houses to explore avenues of cooperation in translation, printing, distribution and copyrights, and identify key opportunities available for Chinese publishers in the UAE’s book market.

EPA sponsored the participation of two UAE publishers at the book fair, to achieve the organisation’s vision of facilitating the entry of UAE publishers into global markets.

Kalimat Group (KG), publisher of over 400 books, held meetings with several publishers from China and the Asia-Pacific region to discuss avenues of cooperation and expansion in these vibrant markets keen on new content.

Dragon Publishing and Distribution marked its debut at the event with the launch of four science and science fiction books translated from Chinese into Arabic. (These included) Laughing Cat Diary, a bestselling short-story collection that sold 70 million copies across China.

EPA Executive Director Rashid Al Kous said,

We seek to give Emirati publishers access to broader horizons, enabling them to enhance their presence, exchange their expertise with international publishers and further enhance cooperation with renowned publishing institutions. We also aim to promote the consistent growth of the UAE’s book market, and the valuable opportunities it offers to make it a hub for books, creativity and intellectual products in the Middle East and the world.

SVOD streaming service StarzPlay partners with Asiacell to target the lucrative Iraq market

Can Storytel Arabia, Booklava, Dhad and Kitab Sawti be far behind?

When it comes to the Arab digital books market the field is surprisingly competitive, with Dhad, Booklava and Kitab Sawti among the competitors to relative newcomer Storytel Arabia.

In 2018 Dhad raised an undisclosed sum in additional funding from Raed Ventures, Vision Ventures, 500 Startups and Saudi angel network Oqal.

And that in turn came hard on the heels of a $6 million investment into Kitab Sawti by Bonnier Ventures, Paltel Group, Kaaf Investments and others.

But thus far the focus is on a handful of the wealthier MENA countries – UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait – and a meaningful pan-Arab service has yet to emerge. That’s something we’ll likely see long before this new decade is over, but at this early stage in MENA’s digital books evolution there simply isn’t the pan-Arabia infrastructure in place to make this happen.

When it does happen it’s most likely telcos will play a central role, which brings us to the headline of this post – the deal struck late December between Starzplay, a video streaming service, and the telco Asiacell, with a focus on the Iraqi market.

Of course, digital video is an easier package to sell than digital books, so no surprise that video arrives first, but will digital books be far behind?

Divest yourself of any notion that Arabs aren’t interested in books. TNPS headlines like these tell a very different story:

And for digital books, tapping into these book-loving millions should be relatively easy. In the core Middle East we start 2020 with 175 million Arabs online, and when we look at the North African Arab markets we can add another 123 million internet users.

In Iraq, Asiacell already reaches 14 million consumers, and we start 2020 with 20 million Iraqis online, even though the country has yet to reach 50% internet penetration.

Iraq provides an exciting opportunity for publishers and digital books operators, and the Starzplay-Asiacell deal may be the wake-up call needed to start expansion.

StarzPlay VP of sales and business development, Raghida Abou-Fadel, said:

One of our objectives as a business since we launched in the region was to establish a clutch of partnerships with telecommunications providers so that we could offer the best value deals to customers, with flexible payment options through existing mobile contracts.

This latest partnership with Iraq’s Asiacell underlines our commitment to this strategy, offering enhanced customer service through hard bundled packages for subscribers. We’re also pleased to announce our continued penetration of what is a fast growing and important consumer market as we progress in achieving our expansion plans across the Middle East and North Africa region.

Given the recent funding maneuvers by Storytel – and given Storytel’s long history of global expansion –  
we must consider Storytel the most likely candidate to step outside the comfort zone of the UAE, but I wouldn’t rule out any of the others.

If not this year then next, but a pan-Arabian digital book market is just a matter of time.

1-million subscriber digital streaming service Scribd brings in $100 million revenue in 2019

Digital in action around the world

Despite many publishers deliberately avoiding the all-you-can-eat digital books subscription model, the US-based service Scribd is set to record revenue of over $100 million this year, which goes some way to explaining the $58 million investment Scribd received (see next item)..

Scribd started 2019 by announcing it had over 1 million subscribers.

Scribd CEO Trip Adler hasn’t yet shared how many new subscribers have been added by end 2019, but has said that the company had seen “steady and consistent growth,” and that 2019 revenue would top $100 million, compared to $75 million in 2018.

Among the new developments this year was Scribd moving into original content production, and the expansion in Mexico.

Trip Adler notes that 2019 saw the 2018 pattern of audio performing better than ebooks on the platform by hourly consumption, but we should be cautious of reading into that a fading interest in ebooks.

Rather, there are two factors at play here:

First, digital subscription removes the price friction of expensive audio, so unsurprisingly audiobook lovers flock to such platforms.

Second, reading ebooks is something that can only be done under certain conditions, while audio has much wider engagement potential. For example, you cannot read an ebook while driving a car, mowing the lawn or jogging round the block. All can be done while listening to an audiobook. Meaning there is more time available to consume audio than ebooks.

But both formats have enormous growth potential, around the world and of course across the Arab markets of the Middle East and North Africa, and digital subscription offers the best way to reach the largest possible audience.

The latest $58 million investment in Scribd is a vote of confidence in the global subscription model, not just the company

Digital in action around the world

We stay with Scribd for the next story, as the US-based global subscription service picked up $58 million in new funding to expand its international footprint. While the MENA region has not been specifically identified by Scribd as a target region, it will be worth reading the following analysis from TNPS to understand the prospects for the Arab publishing.

Back in 2015, when first Entitle then Oyster closed in quick succession, it looked to many like the “Netflix for books” subscription model had no future. Or at least, none outside Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

At the time, Wired said,

The news comes as a bit of a surprise—Oyster was one of the major players in the e-book subscription space along with San Francisco startup Scribd and Amazon, which offers all-you-can eat reading through Kindle Unlimited. Unlike Amazon, however, Oyster had the backing of the Big Five publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—who offered their books on the service (adding) The Big Five also work with Scribd.

Okay, so we can argue about just how surprising was the Oyster closure. Having to compete with both Scribd and Kindle Unlimited in a US market where publishers preferred to sell per unit was always going to be challenging. The only domestic advantage Oyster and Scribd had over Amazon was the engagement of most of the Big 5.

But Scribd also came to the table with an international base that Oyster (and initially Kindle Unlimited) did not, which would have helped Scribd balance the books.

Whatever the detail, Oyster closed, Scribd seemed to be struggling, having to limit its “unlimited” access, and for a while it seemed to many like the subscription model experiment was doomed to failure.

Fast forward to 2019 and Kindle Unlimited is reported (no confirmation from Amazon, so we should be wary of this figure) to have over 10 million subscribers worldwide (meaning in the handful of KU-enabled countries).

Whatever the actual figure it seems safe to say Kindle Unlimited is big, but don’t be too hasty in writing off the other players.

Scribd began the year announcing it had one million subscribers.

Sweden’s Storytel mid-year hit the same milestone.

And other digital books players – Poland’s Audioteka and Legimi – and Brazil’s Ubook –

are also understood to have over a million subscribers each.

Kobo’s own subscription service Kobo Plus is already in the Netherlands and Belgium and doing rather well, and is set to expand into France at any time.

Even Africa is not immune. Earlier this year YouScribe announced exciting new interest in subscription digital books on the continent.

Globally digital book subscription services are proliferating regardless of the studied indifference of the big western publishers, and in doing so completely undermine the popular narrative in some quarters that ebooks are yesterday’s format.

Still not convinced? I could list myriad more examples (Bookmate, LitRes, Skoobe, 24 Symbols, BookChoice, etc) of subscription services defying conventional publishing wisdom (which as so often is the case is at odds with what consumers want) but let me mention just one more here:

Epic! is a US-based children’s digital books subscription service that copped $30 million in new funding earlier this year to boost further it’s 1.7 million paying subscriber base.

Per the links above, Ubook has also had a cash injection and has an IPO imminent and Legimi has an IPO lined up.

And then there’s Storytel, which in 2019 fixed itself a $50 million credit facility for further expansion, and in January 2020 announced it expected to be in 40 markets by 2023.

Which all brings us neatly back to Scribd, that, having recently launched a dedicated operation in Mexico.

has a deal with Spectrum Equity to inject $58 million into the company to,

support growth and product innovation, enhance operations, and further the company’s mission to change the way the world reads.

Founded in 2007, Scribd launched what it claims is “the world’s first (digital) reading subscription service in 2013, a year before, and very much laying the groundwork for Kindle Unlimited.

Today, while fielding a million paying subscribers, Scribd also sells content and offers content sharing, pulling in,

more than 100 million unique visitors every month and readers have spent a total of over 190 million hours reading on the platform.

The press release noted Scribd has nearly doubled its employee numbers, and in addition to its San Francisco HQ now has offices in New York, Phoenix, Toronto, and Amsterdam.

There’s not too much detail at this time about how that $58 million will be deployed, but this statement from CEO Trip Adler sets the tone.

We’re excited to partner with Spectrum Equity, a firm with deep expertise in high growth subscription businesses, as we prepare for the future. By partnering with the world’s best publishers of all types of content, Scribd has introduced a first-of-its-kind experience for readers, while unlocking a new revenue stream for the publishing community. This funding will enable us to continue to operate sustainably and efficiently while accelerating our growth, product innovations, content acquisition and continued investment in our employees.

For Spectrum Equity, Managing Director Pete Jensen said,

As a differentiated content library, including robust user-generated content and ebooks and audiobooks from top tier publishers, Scribd is poised to be the leading online subscription reading service for consumers across the globe. Spectrum has been fortunate to be a part of successfully scaling several digital content businesses, and we look forward to partnering with Trip and the entire management team to help make Scribd a part of readers’ everyday lives.

To the many publishers and authors still on the fence about how global digital subscription, and how the model can bring new opportunities, I leave you with this sobering thought:

As we say goodbye to 2019 there are 4.5 billion people online around the world. Just 312 million of them are in the USA – that means the USA makes up less than 7% of the world’s internet users.

It's time for Arab publishing to take its place at the digital table and get a share of the action.

Qatar’s Doha International Book Fair returned in 2020 having missed 2019

Arab book fairs snapshot

The 30th Qatar International Book Fair coincided with the 2020 France-Qatar Year of Culture, so France had a strong presence in Doha this month.

Usually the Doha International Book Fair would be in December 2019, but as reported at TNPS back in June, there was no 2019 event as the fair had been pushed back to a regular January date for the foreseeable future.

Under the Patronage of HH the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, the event opened January 9 at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre (DECC).

The Doha fair, which had as its slogan "Do you then not contemplate", inspired by a verse from the Holy Quran, had 31 countries represented, including Belgium and Australia for the first time.

31 countries are participating in this edition of the Doha International Book Fair with the first time participation of Belgium and Australia, and return attendance of USA, Japan, Palestine, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, and Syria among others. Some 335 publishing houses are represented in total.

Qatar has some political issues beyond the scope of this essay that have long hindered international participation at the Doha International Book Fair, but the government spokesman was keen to stress the event was open to all, "including publishers from the blockade countries (but that) no participation application has been submitted from publishing houses from these countries, although there were books for authors from them sold at the exhibition."

The Doha International Book Fair finishes as this issue of Publish MENA is being prepared to go live,. Hopefully I'll be able to bring an overview of the event to the next edition.

The Arab region is rapidly awakening to the possibilities and opportunities digital offers Arab publishers, and with Doha’s internet penetration amongst the highest in the world, at 99.6%, this tiny country of 2.7 million people is ripe for digital disruption in the publishing sector. 

Qatar’s 30th Doha International Book Fair Last Minute Update - 320,000 visitors in 2020

Arab book fairs snapshot

As this newsletter is about to go live the Doha International Book Fair twitter account - a treasure trove of insights into the event - announced the closing numbers.

319,937 visitors.

215,840 books were sold.

226 events and workshops were laid on.

685 schools participated.

37 schools took part in the"Do You Then Not Ponder" competition.

170 children from the aforementioned schools - both boys and girls - competed.

147 children's booths were at the 2020 Doha Fair.

There were 800 booths in total at the Doha International Book Fair.

335 publishers took part.

Publishers from 31 countries were present.

Follow the Doha International Book fair on twitter: @DIbookfair

Khaled Lotfy: International Publishers Association Calls for Presidential Pardon

MENA's reptuation is irreparably harmed by the all too frequent imprisonment of authors and journalists

From a press release by the International Publishers Association:

Khaled Lotfy: International Publishers Call for Presidential Pardon
Geneva, Tuesday 14 January 2020

On 24 December 2019, the Egyptian Military Court of Cassation, following 11 postponements, finally rejected Egyptian publisher Khaled Lotfy’s final possible appeal against his 5-year prison sentence for publishing an Egyptian edition of Uri Bar Joseph’s The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel. Only a Presidential pardon can now free Khaled Lotfy from prison.

Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee said: It is incomprehensible that Khaled Lotfy can be imprisoned, not only for publishing a book, but for publishing a new version of a book that was already available. His only chance of freedom is a Presidential pardon, and we implore President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to release Khaled so that he can be reunited with his family.

Khaled Lotfy received the IPA’s Prix Voltaire in May 2019. He was sentenced by a military Court in April 2019 to five years in prison for spreading rumours and revealing military secrets as a result of publishing a cheaper, Arabic language, Egyptian edition of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel. The book was originally translated into Arabic by the Lebanon-based Arab Scientific Publishers and had been available in Egypt as a relatively expensive import. It was also turned into a successful Netflix film under the title The Angel, and is available internationally, including in Egypt. Around 2000 unsold printed copies of the Egyptian edition were destroyed by Lotfy ahead of the military trial.

In Khaled Lotfy’s speech, read out by his brother at the Prix Voltaire award ceremony in Seoul in June 2019, he stated:

"I thank God who made me choose the most humane profession in history, a profession which enables me to help share and spread culture, while at the same time both creating and above all raising awareness."

At the IPA General Assembly in Frankfurt in 2019 he also said.

"Since nearly two years my life, the life of my family, of all the people around me and everyone who loves me has stopped for no reason. I wish for an end to that. I want to see “Tanmia” and my young girls grow up together at the same time. I want to get out of here."

Read the press release in full here.

Ameer Hamad wins Qattan Short-story Award, Co-Wins Poetry Prize

Reflections on discovering Arab literature as a non-Arabic speaker

Not having had the privilege of learning Arabic (I’m British – my generation were brought up believing English was the only language you’d ever need) I’m ever grateful for the daily dose of English-language insights into the Arabic literature scene that is the website ArabLit, run by Marcia Lynx Qualey, and the cornerstone of my day-to-day knowledge of the Arab literature matters.

Take for example the news that Ameer Hamad (a contributor to ArabLit Quaterly) had collected $4,000 for winning the Qattan Foundation’s 2019 Young Writer of the Year award in the short-story category, and shared the prize with Taghreed Abdel Al in the poetry category.

The awards are open to Palestinian writers aged 23-35, writing in Arabic.

From ArabLit we learn that,

Mowafaq Abu Hamdiya took the novel category for حصرم مر (Sour Grapes):

Taghreed Abdel Al co-won the poetry prize for her collection العشب بين طريقين (The Grass Between Two Paths), which she shares with Ameer Hamad’s بحثت عن مفاتيحهم في الأقفال (I Searched for Their Keys in the Locks). Hamad also won the short-story category with his جيجي وأرنب علي (Gigi and Ali’s Rabbit).

The poetry judges, ArabLit reports, 

considered 32 collections composed by young Palestinian writers from around the world. Several other collections were commended, including one by Kamel Muhammad Kamel Yassin, Alaa Mamoun Odeh, Hiba B’irat, and Ahmed Abu Awad.

The jury of the novel prize,

looked at 27 different novels, and also commended novels by Fakhri Taha, Sarah Abu Ghazal, Hana Osama Salman Ahmed, Omnia Abu Swireh, and Mustafa Akram Mustafa Badr.

The short-story category judges,

considered 26 collections and commended Ameer Hamad’s great promise. They also commended collections by Shorouk Muhammad Doghmash, Hiba B’irat, Alaa Mahmoud Odeh, and Amr Naim Al-Masry.

More about the Qattan Foundation here.

Read more, and subscribe to ArabLit, here.

Tunisian Book Fair draws big crowd for Tunisian content

Not to be confused with the Tunis International Book Fair

While western publishing partied over the Christmas and New Year break, some 200,000 were expected at the Tunisian Book Fair.

The 2nd National Exhibition of the Tunisian Book ran December 19 through December 29, with 15,000 titles from 70 Tunisian publishers. 200,000 visitors were expected (no updates as yet) – more than double the attendance at the Tunis International Book Fair which happened earlier in the year.

With the slogan The Book Is Life, this year’s event includes outreach to prisons and hospitals.

Explained festival director Imen Boukhobza,

This has been a concern for us as directors of the festival and it was fruitful as we received encouragement from the ministries. It will consist of three meetings in prisons to discuss issues that prisoners can relate to.

Mohamed Salah Maalej, President of the Union of Publishers, concurred:

The book helps give life for patients in the hospital. Books are therapy to help with many illnesses. Also, hosting literary meetings in prisons will give hope to them and this time we will have writers in prisons and hospitals to talk to them and to benefit from the exchange. We learn from them and they learn from us.

The talks will provide hope and energy and the writers will have deep insight into the lives and circumstances of prisons and patients.

Addressing the role of the fair in publishing generally, Maalej said,

The presence of 70 publishers in Tunisia is important because they are publishing and are productive. Some publishing houses publish 150 books per year. Such a partnership between writers and publishers helps Tunisian books compete on the inferential level in the Arab world.

We have publishers who distribute books outside of Tunisia successfully. In this context, we devoted a professional workshop for these issues. As publishers, we struggle with many issues like the lack of markets for books, which is why fairs like this event play an important role in the absence of libraries in the capital and in the regions.

The National Exhibition of the Tunisian Book wass just one of countless literary and publishing events around the world happening as the western publishing industry media joined western publishers in the long seasonal break.

A pertinent reminder that, as we start the 2020s, publishing is not just global, but a 24/7 365 days a year business that will continue regardless of our own calendar events where we may be.

IPA acquires “Exclusive Global Transport Partner” in Emirates Airlines

As Hugo Setzer and Bodour Al-Qasimi reposition the IPA as the champion of the emerging book markets this partnership will help enormously

Emirates Airlines in November became the official partner of the International Publishers Association as, in the words of the joint IPA-Emirates Airlines press release,

the Association ramps up its international programme of events.

The agreement will see Emirates play a vital role in bringing key stakeholders together at IPA’s flagship events such as its 33rd International Publishers Congress, being held in Lillehammer in May 2020. and future Regional Seminars planned for Marrakesh, Morocco and a first ever Seminar in Latin America to be announced soon.

I’m not normally inclined to quote press releases extensively, but this is unusual enough and significant enough to warrant doing just that:

The agreement follows Emirates sponsorship of the IPA’s Regional Seminars in Nairobi, Kenya and Amman, Jordan. The ground-breaking seminars reached hundreds of publishing professionals from the two regions as well as being the focal points for meetings between the IPA and African and Arab publishers’ associations. The Regional Seminars have underlined the potential of digital technologies, and young, dynamic entrepreneurs in the region to overcome many of the challenges of traditional publishing while also presenting an opportunity to bring a diverse range of voices and stories to the wider world.

Hugo Setzer, IPA President said: Emirates has been a valuable sponsor of our Regional Seminars in Nairobi and Amman and we’re delighted to be able to work with Emirates further to build bridges between the international publishing community and grow the love of reading around the world.

Adil Al Ghaith, Senior Vice President Commercial Operations for Gulf, Middle East and Central Asia said: “Emirates is proud to support the International Publishers Association and their work to grow the publishing ecosystem around the world. With Emirates’ extensive network, the IPA will be able to touch an even larger audience to build capacities, foster greater cultural dialogue and exchange of ideas. This sponsorship, along with our support for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, is also in line with Emirates’ objective to support events and organisations that enrich the lives of people in the communities that we serve and support culture and arts.”

Dubai’s International Content Market expects deals worth $200 million

Exploring the cross-over relationship of publishing and other content

Saudi hip-hop artist Qusai did the voice-over for the Will Smith role in the English-language original of Spies In Disguise, the animated movie that opened December 24. Lebanese television presenter Raya Abirached and the hosts of Arabs Got Talent joined him for the recording in the Egyptian capital Cairo at the Al Masreya Media studios lead by dubbing director Tarek Ebeid.

Qusai said about his new role,

As soon as I was approached to voice the character played by Will Smith in the original version, I felt an immediate connection. Lance Sterling is an incredible character with humour and wit and I really wanted to do the role justice.

The film is smart, funny and hugely entertaining and I can’t wait for audiences in the Middle East to watch it.

The news came as the Dubai International Content Market (DICM) marks its second and final day.

Held at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel Conference Centre in Dubai, the 2019 DICM had over 500 participants from more than 50 countries including from South America, UK, Russia, Turkey and MENA, with a strong lineup of regional and international exhibitors, buyers and speakers.

DICM offers brands in the global and regional media, entertainment and content landscape, an annual platform in Dubai to explore the local market, gain entry and expand their footprint in the most lucrative markets of the MENA region.

The organisers have reported 850 pre-scheduled meetings with potential business deals worth over 200 million dollars anticipated.

The UAE media market is estimated to be worth $2.2 billion, and while the focus here is on film & TV the potential for both domestic and overseas publishers can hardly be understated.

Traditionally MENA (Middle East North Africa) has been seen as a backwater for publishing and of little interest, with production and distribution challenges outweighing the potential benefits.

But as we kick off the 2020s publishers need to abandon  pre-2010s thinking and embrace the new paradigm that is the digitally-driven Global New Renaissance where no part of the planet if off-limits and every country is a gateway. That is to say, an opportunity for publishers both to introduce content and to export content back to their domestic shores.

MENA’s digital books infrastructure is still weak right now, but that will change quickly over the next few years as Arab publishing and book retail catches up with other media in a one-language region of over 400 million where over 200 million are online.

Moscow: Sheikh Zayed Book Award “Russian – Arab Cultural Dialogue” seminar

The UAE leads move to smooth Russo-Arab cultural relations

In December the Sheikh Zayed Book Award organised a seminar in Moscow in hand with the Institute of Orientalism of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Titled “Russian-Arab Cultural Dialogue” the seminar aimed to bring together Russian and Arab culture as part of a wider remit to bolster bilateral UAE-Russia relations.

Attended by the Emirates Ambassador to Russia, the Special Representative of the Russian President in the Middle East and North Africa, the Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Authority for the Arabic language, and the Secretary General of the Sheikh Zayed Award, among many other dignitaries.

Russia will be Guest of Honour at the 30th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in April 2020, while the 2019 Moscow International Book Fair had Sharjah as its Guest City.

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi debut set for February as global interest grows in the Arab book markets

After a long gap, the Hay Festival returns to the Middle East

Backed by the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance, the first ever Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is set for February (25-28), culminating in a celebration of the “greatest living Arabic poet”, Syria’s Adonis.

From the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi website:

In Abu Dhabi, the festival will host internationally acclaimed authors and thinkers including: Nobel Laureates Ahmed Galai and Shirin Ebadi; Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat, winner of the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction; Jokha Alharthi, winner of the International Booker Prize; the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction winner Muhammed Hasan Alwan; award-winning poet and novelist Tishani Doshi; and many more.

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will also invite diverse voices to tell stories, sampling the best of contemporary international and Arab literature, including poets from the UAE’s vibrant spoken word and slam poetry scene. Conversations will take place in Arabic or English, and all sessions will be live translated into Arabic and English.

Since 1987, Hay Festival has attracted over 4.5 million visitors to 125 events in thirty venues, including three forays into the Middle East – although curiously only in Lebanon’s capital Beirut.

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi has lined up just shy of 100 events for the four day programme, with over 20 nationalities and 7 languages represented, and as the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi website explains,

The programme reflects the diversity of communities in Abu Dhabi itself, including writers from all around the Middle East, North Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, China, Nigeria and Europe. A vibrant programme for schools will welcome over 70 local schools, inspiring and entertaining thousands of local students aged 7-16 years in Arabic, English, Hindi and Tagalog.

Arabic literature past and future will itself be a subject for conversation, including Ahmed El Shamsy on how print culture transformed Islamic intellectual tradition, and panel discussions featuring representatives from Sharjah World Book Capital, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Abu Dhabi’s longest-running book club Al Multaqa, The Department of Culture and Tourism, Sharjah Book Fair and UAE publishing house Kalimat.

Follow the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi on twitter: @hayfestarabic #HayAbuDhabi20.

Jeddah International Book Fair pulls in 441,000 visitors, taking total to 2.7 million over the past five years


And it's only half the size of the Riyadh International Book Fair.

The 5th Jeddah International Book Fair was the last major Arab book fair of 2019, and ended the year in style, drawing a crowd of 441,369 booklovers over ten days – an average of 44,000 per day, just missing the 2018 record of 475,000 visitors.

Prince Mishaal bin Majed, Jeddah governor and chairman of the fair’s Supreme Organizing Committee, said that over its five year duration the Jeddah International Book Fair has seen 2.7 million visitors in all.

Earlier this year the Riyadh International Book Fair set a new visitor record, clocking over 1 million visitors, joining the ranks of Baghdad and Muscat and, this year, Algiers, although Algiers is usually a 2-million visitor show, like Sharjah.

If you’re new here and this comes as a shock, given the widespread misconception that Arabs don’t read, spare a thought for the Cairo International Book Fair in Egypt, which is by visitor numbers the largest literary event in the world.

The Cairo International Book Fair starts this month. More on that event in the next issue of Publish MENA.

Further Reading


A curated selection of MENA stories that didn't quite fit the remit of Publish MENA but were too good to ignore

The Intersections of Poetry and Politics in Saudi Arabia.

Poetry plays an important, although sometimes contested, role in public speech in contemporary Saudi Arabia.

Read more over at ArabLit.

First major English language deal for Algerian-French writer.

One of the most critically acclaimed contemporary Maghreb writers, Nina Bouraoui, who was born in France but spent most of her childhood in Algeria, is to be published by a mainstream English language publisher for the first time. Viking in the UK has pre-empted World English Language rights in Bouraoui’s autobiographical novel All Men Want to Know which was a bestseller in France for JC Lattès when it was published in 2018.

Read  more over at Nasher News

Minister of Culture announces details of Cairo International Book Fair.

Under the auspices of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Dr. Enas Abdel-Dayem, Minister of Culture, announced in a press conference the details of the 51st Edition of Cairo International Book Fair, which will be held from 22 January to 2 February at Egypt Center for International Conferences and Exhibitions .

The fair will host the State of Senegal as a guest of honor , choosing Dr. Gamal Hamdan as the figure of this edition.

Read more over at Nile TV International.

Leri Price Wins Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

A new accolade for Syrian author Khaled Khalifa as well as for his translator Leri Price, the Banipal Prize brings new attention to the tragedy of the Syrian civil war.

Read more over at Publishing Perspectives.

That's it for this edition of Publish MENA


The next issue of Publish MENA will be out in approximately two weeks


In 2020 the TNPS-StreetLib newsletters including Publish MENA will evolve as we move forward, with more local news items, more in-depth analysis and some special editions.

I'll try keep to a roughly bi-weekly schedule, but local conditions and global trade developments will dictate the actual timing.

I'm Mark Williams, Editor-in-Chief of The New Publishing Standard. On behalf of Giacomo D'Angelo and the team at  StreetLib, thanks for being here.

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Publish MENA is a bi-weekly review of the MENA publishing scene across all formats, but with an unashamed tilt towards the digital opportunity unfolding.

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