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August 29, 2019

The UAE’s Manassah platform delivering results for Emirati publishers at the six month mark

Manassah shows how publishers associations can help publishers reach global markets


Back in early February I reported on TNPS about the January launch of the “Manassah” platform – an initiative by the Emirati Publishers Association (EPA) to get Emirati titles in front of a regional and wider audience.

Six months on and we have some news about progress made. The Sharjah City Guide blog reports,

…The platform has already been presented at six local and regional cultural events, representing 66 publishers who participated with 5,000 titles. Through the ‘Manassah’ platform, publishers were able to generate AED 61,350 ($16,370) in sales. In the next few months, the platform is scheduled to participate in the Al Ain International Book Fair and Amman International Book Fair. This is a result of the association’s keenness to support publishers and promote their work at various events around the world and introduce people to the rich heritage of the country.

One of the problems facing publishers in the UAE, as anywhere, is the prohibitive cost of attending book fairs and festivals. Even the biggest and most deep-pocketed publishers have to ration the time and energy put into these events, and for smaller publishers attending even a local event, let alone across borders, may not be possible.

EPA Executive Director Rashid Al Kous, explaining the association was keen on presenting Emirati publishers and their creative output at international platforms, whether they were physically present or not, said,

Through the platform, we introduce intellectuals around the world to the huge strides taken by the publishing sector in the country. It is an opportunity to connect with peers and forge partnerships with international counterparts which will contribute to advancing and diversifying the content.

The blog reports,

Supported by Tilal Properties, the platform is designed to boost the representation and outreach of EPA member publishers who published 20 titles or less due to the high cost of participation at top literary events and exhibitions. The Manassah platform plays an important role in expanding to new markets and generating more sales for the local publishers, which in turn contributes to the development of the UAE’s publishing sector.

Since its launch, the ‘Manassah’ project has given local publishers the opportunity to participate in the Casablanca International Book Fair, Muscat International Book Fair, Al Riyadh International Book Fair. Locally, it assisted publishers in presenting their creative outputs at Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, and the Emirati Book Fair.

It would be great to see this initiative replicated by publishing associations across MENA and beyond.

This post first appeared on TNPS.

Canada's De Marque acquires French online bookstore and reading app

The digital books world is growing by the day. Be part of it.

De Marque is a Canada-based digital books service with a strong focus on digital libraries as well as retail. Up until this week it was fielding a catalogue of over 450,000 titles. Impressive in itself.

But this week comes news De Marque has acquired the Paris-based ebook store Feedbooks and its reading app Aldiko.

Feedbooks brings an additional 900,000 titles to the De Marque catalogue, and gives De Marque a bespoke online ebook store. The Aldiko app has been downloaded to over 2 million smartphones.

You can read the details over at TNPS.

De Marque specialises in Francophone content, and that in itself makes the operation of interest to the many MENA publishers who have French-language titles as part of their output.

But the bigger story here is the very existence of digital books operators like De Marque and Feedbooks that are largely unknown outside their territories, but are part of a vast network of global digital operations bringing ebooks and audiobooks to consumers and profits to publishers that prove a demand for digital content many publishers are oblivious to or unable to engage with.

The global book market is so much bigger than you think. And a lot of it is happening digitally thanks to smartphones and the internet.

If you're not sharing in the action then maybe it's time to rethink the business model and adopt a hybrid print and digital strategy for the 2020s.

As Publish MENA #3 goes live there are 15,617 stories on Storyweaver in 203 languages

The digital advantage in action

Imagine a bookshop for small children with short stories in over two hundred different languages.

Imagine a bookshop where some of the stories are read-along, where the words light up in tune with the words being read out loud by the narrator.

Imagine a bookshop where an author can jump in and translate any story into another language and publish it in the same bookshop.

Imagine a bookshop where there are 10,000 free illustrations and the author can select any to create new stories.

Now imagine every story in the bookshop is free to be read anywhere on the planet.

Welcome to the digital world of open source literature, courtesy of India’s Pratham Books.

StoryWeaver is the largest of a number of open-source platforms dedicated to providing free content in multiple languages, including indigenous languages most publishers have no commercial interest in, aimed at school and pre-school children.

From TNPS:

The stories are invariably short and often the same story translated into numerous languages by volunteers around the globe and made freely available. Artists are encouraged to submit illustrations which can be mix-n-matched by authors to create new stories, and the result is a splendiferous array of creative content that transcends geographical, linguistic and political boundaries.

Needless to say there are titles in Arabic. Kurdish and other MENA languages available, and for anyone willing to participate there’s the opportunity to contribute original stories or translate existing stories into other MENA languages.

All the stories on Storyweaver can be read / listened to on a smartphone. To fully appreciate the significance of smartphone reach across MENA see the next item.

For more about Storyweaver see this TNPS report.

Follow StoryWeaver on twitter: @PBStoryWeaver.

MENA smartphone and internet numbers

Can you afford not to be taking digital seriously?

Smartphones are at the heart of the fast-growing global consumption of digital books, no matter how loudly some publishers and publishing stakeholders decry the devices as the enemy of books and reading.
In June Statista published its latest assessment of the MENA smartphone market.
According to forecasts, more than a third of the world’s total population is using smartphones. 80 percent of today's mobile devices are smartphones, ahead of smart tables and basic phones. 

Today, 60 percent of internet access in the Middle East and North Africa is done through the use of smart phones. This is the smallest share of access worldwide in comparison to other regions.

But don’t let that put you off.  The apparent fall back is due to a handful of countries in MENA being behind the curve, while others have had effective internet access since before smartphones and so laptop access is the norm.
Back to Satista:
The number of smartphone users in the Middle East and Africa almost doubled from 86 million in 2014 to estimated 174 million in 2019. The Smartphone penetration rate in the Middle East and North Africa is the highest in the GCC sub-region, with countries like the United Arab Emirates reaching 99 percent, where users in the United Arab Emirates spend almost six and a half hours daily on their smartphones. 

The smartphone segment as any sector within the ICT industry is prone to fast moving technology and adaption of the consumer. The mobile internet speed technology is a main factor of development. According to forecasts, by 2025 six percent of mobile internet users in the Middle East and North Africa will use 5G technology. However, the adaption will not be homogenous in the whole region. The economic development of the sub-region will be a main factor for the technology adaption. 10 percent of the mobile internet users of the Gulf Cooperation Council sub-region will use according to forecasts %G technology by 2025. While only five percent of North African users will have done the switch at the same time, and none of the users in the peripheral Arab stats will have adapted 5G technology until then. 

The full report is of course behind a paywall, but a few key statistics are shared that will give us a flavour of the digital opportunity across MENA.

  • Number of smartphone users in Saudi Arabia by 2023
21.3 m
  • Penetration rate of smartphones in Saudi Arabia
  • Smartphone penetration rate in UAE
  • Mobile phone subscriptions in Egypt

94 million
To those Statista figures we can add internet user numbers and penetration rates to give a clearer picture, again taking selected countries from the MENA region.

  • Algeria has 25.4 million people online and is at only 59.6% penetration
  • Bahrain with just 1.5 million people online is at 95.9% internet penetration
  • Egypt 49.2 million at 48.7% penetration
  • Iraq 19.9 million at 49.4% penetration
  • Jordan 8.7 million online at 86.4% penetration
  • Kuwait 4.1 million at 98% penetration
  • Morocco 3.7 million at 64.8%
  • Oman 4.0 million at 80.2%
  • Saudi Arabia 30.2 million at 88.6%
  • Tunisia 7.9 million at 67.0%
  • UAE 9.3 million at 96.9%

In each instance we as publishers and publishing stakeholders need to be looking at these numbers as our potential audience and consumer base.

Not everyone who owns a smartphone will be interested in books in any format, let alone digital.

But by definition every person with a smartphone in their hand has the potential to download and read or listen to digital content at any time of day or night.

They can browse a digital book store, make a purchase and be reading or listening to the book within minutes, without leaving the comfort of their home. And savvy publishers will understand that those books can be made available at substantially lower prices than their print equivalents while still making more profit per unit sale than the same book in print.

As we prepare to start the 2020s more and more people across MENA and around the world are reading digitally.

And because of the better choices, the convenience and the lower prices many are reading many more books than they used to.

For publishers the question to digitise or not should not be why would you bother, but how can you afford not to?

Storytel prepares to launch in Colombia, On target for 20 markets this year

Opportunities in MENA.

We covered here last issue the news that the Sweden-based audiobook and ebook streaming service Storytel has reached one million subscribers.

This week came news that Storytel will be launching in the South American country Colombia on September 1, via its Latin America base in Mexico.

For anyone interested in the detail, check out the coverage on TNPS:

Storytel of course has been operational in the UAE since April 2018, and whiie notionally available across the region has not yet set up satellite sites in other MENA countries with localised currency and payment options

No indications from Storytel that that will happen, but my guess is it will, and sooner rather than later. It's a cost-effective way for Storytel to expand its regional reach without the need to set-up a country manager, and that model is especially well-suited to MENA, where the product - audiobooks and ebooks - have a unifying language and can travel well, and where ebooks, let alone audiobooks, are not available in sufficient numbers to justify country-by-country launches.

On which note it's worth bearing in mind Storytel has a partnership with Jordan-based Jamalon - the region's biggest bookstore to sell digital books to jamalon customers.

Storytel also inked  deal with Egypt's El-Shorouk  for 600 titles.

Storytel is just the most internationally known of several operators in the Middle East in the digital books field, such as Kitab Sawti, Dhad and Booklava, and of course there are international retailers like Google Play, available across the Middle East and also Egypt.

Compared with some parts of the world MENA is well-served with digital publishing infrastructure, and that can only get better as we roll into the next decade.

People who buy digital audiobooks buy more print books than people who don’t buy digital audiobooks

That's official from Amazon, the world's biggest online seller of print books and digital audio

Leading on from the previous post about audiobooks, and while Amazon has yet to start taking the MENA book market seriously, it is the world's largest online bookstore, selling both print and digital titles, so when it tells us audiobook lovers spend more money on print books than those who don't buy audiobooks then it's time to sit up and take notice.

And that's not just true of the USA. In France earlier this year a survey of French audiobook lovers found the same thing. 

The TNPS post isn't just about audiobook sales but about how Audible, the Amazon company that deals with the audiobook sector, is signing up Hollywood acting talent as narrators for its original content.

MENA publishers not thinking seriously about the digital audio opportunity could be missing out.

Happy Birthday Dreame. The invisible millions of global digital readers redux

There's much more to digital reading that just digital copies of printed books.

Celebrating its first anniversary, Singapore’s mobile reading app Dreame is another example of the millions of invisible global digital readers outside mainstream publishing.

“Show Your Girl Power” is the topic of to a writing competition to mark the successful first anniversary of the Singapore-based mobile reading app Dreame, owned private equity firm STARY.

For those interested, the competition submissions in which “authors can create their ideal female characters and heroines” are open until November 1, but submissions must be in English to be eligible for the $1,000 cash prize (which will be matched by a $1,000 dollar donation to “a charity supporting women.”

Reflecting on its first year, Dream CEO Samuel Law, noting the app had attracted 10,000 authors “reaching millions of monthly active users”, said,

No progress is made without our authors working on and sharing their creations on Dreame and without the support they receive from their readers.

The press release adds the Dream app,

according to the ranking based on revenue on Google Play and App Store, is among the top three reading apps in countries such as United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, India and top one in Indonesia and Philippines.

Dreame Chief Editor Shaw Suen said,

We have a lot planned for Dreame. For example, writing on the Dreame app and applying for stories to be listed in the “Pay-to-Read” program will be enabled for authors and other improvements concerning the experience of writing and sharing stories on Dreame will also be made. For readers, Dreame will keep optimizing its recommendation algorithm for them to easily find a book to enjoy. At the same time, exciting events will be coming up to reward all Dreame users as well.

Per the headline for this post, Dreame is one of countless mobile reading apps enabling authors and bringing digital reading to millions of digital-first readers outside mainstream publishing, untracked by the stats counters like Nielsen, and accounting for many billions of reading minutes every month.

In June of this year Dreame had paid out more than $100,000 to participating authors delivering content for the premium reading service.

In a press release in June Dreame explained how the app,

allows both new and established writers to get their stories seen without the hassle of securing publishers or struggling to find an audience by collecting, sorting, and tagging stories submitted to the site. Users are then able to easily browse and enjoy thousands of writings based on their personal interests. Especially avid readers may wish to acquire some stories available exclusively at a premium using in-app purchases.

This allows for much greater reader freedom than traditional platforms, all while maintaining a strong discoverability appeal thanks to its impressive reader community.

Stories such as The Alpha’s Daughter (Book 2 in an ongoing series) – a tale wrought with intrigue, mystery, love, and passion – have already amassed well over half a million reads on Dreame alone – proving there is an avid reader-base eager to discover alternative writings that explore non-traditional themes and motifs.

In a related press release in June Dreame parent company STARY explained how the monetization of the app works.

Authors grant the rights for STARY to display their brilliant stories on its platforms, but what does STARY do? Powered by internally developed smart recommendation algorithms, STARY helps authors obtain direct support from readers with its diversified monetization methods, such as “pay-to-read” program, monthly subscriptions, and all-book subscriptions. At the same time, STARY invests heavily in advertising and is always looking for the most suitable channels through which to promote authors’ books. With the exponential growth of new readers arriving at Dreame, steady revenue for authors looks promising.

According to STARY, the “payment and clearing system” consists of three components:

a) Daily Coins Report

It allows authors to keep track of the number coins received from each book listed in the “pay-to-read” program. Through the number of purchases, authors are able to find out which book is well-received, and which may need some editing to maintain support from readers.

b) Monthly Revenue Report

It lists multiple kinds of revenue generated in any single month, including “advance payments”, “signed story payments” and “daily-update payments”, letting authors know where the revenue comes from.

c) Payment Table

This is where authors can get a clear view of net revenue generated and understand how it is calculated based on the type of contract they have signed with STARY.

STARY is also trying to provide more support through its data analysis tools, letting authors know what has been trending on and outside STARY’s platforms, thus enabling them to create or edit their stories to meet the needs of the market. These data analysis tools will also be available to publishers and E-book aggregators who partner up with STARY. During the 2019 BookExpo, many potential partners expressed their interest in STARY’s data analysis tools devoted in its business models. And as of now, nearly one-hundred industry institutions have reached a cooperation intention with STARY.

Untracked and likely unknown to many of the stats counters that tell us how large the global publishing market is, digital-first mobile reading apps make up part of the dark matter of the reading universe, that mainstream publishing is in part oblivious to and in part unwilling to acknowledge.

Impossible to fully quantify, digital-first mobile reading demolishes at a stroke the nonsense propagated by many within and outside the industry who insist smartphones and social media are destroying the reading habit and undermining publishing.

On the contrary, mobile apps like Dreame and Wattpad, and many more like them, are a beacon of hope as we begin the  next decade.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be part of the global publishing industry.

This post first appeared on TNPS on August 24.

Further Reading

We close this newsletter with links to some MENA-related posts there's not been time or space to cover here.

Actually there's just one item this week: 12 Emirati female authors you need to know.

Published on August 28 this post opens:

To celebrate Emirati Women’s Day, we are shining a light on the wonderful female speakers and authors from the UAE that have attended the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in the past few years. Here are twelve of some of the most inspiring Emirati women:

I'm not going to try summarise one or two, because that would mean trying to pick and choose, and every one of these recommendations is worthy of you fullest attention.

Click here to read the full post.

Keep up with the Emirates LitFest on twitter: @EmiratesLitFest

That’s it for issue #3 of Publish MENA - the digital advantage.

The next issue of Publish MENA will be hitting in-boxes Thursday, September 12, and thereafter every other Thursday, alternating with sister newsletter Publish Africa.

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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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