In a year’s time we can have more answers. 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. 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. 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. Will they grow to finally become significant? This is the ultimate test for ebooks and audiobooks. This is their golden opportunity since they have a monopoly on the legal book trade. Two publishers got their comments in late:
Sherif-Joseph Rizk, a partner in Dar al-Tanweer Publishing House, offered a few additional observations:
1. What if we don’t have one. 3. Every industry guru keeps on saying go remote, go digital and so forth. The orders on Kalimat website have almost doubled, but this in no way can overcome or replace book fairs. Obviously there will be few if any book fairs this year. Since there is virtually no government assistance, small publishers and bookstores with limited cash reserves might not make it. Ultimately, that depends of whether customers are willing to go digital. 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. Thus, it is the task of the mainstream publishers to come up with new ideas to get books to people. 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. I just read that Penguin has recorded their authors giving lessons on videos that would be available for school kids, how smart is that? Read the overview on al-Fanar: “Arab Publishers Take a Hit From the Covid-19 Crisis“ Of course that depends on a vaccine/treatment which is uncertain. 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. There are no easy answers just scenarios. 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). Soon we will be on amazon kindle and apple iBooks. 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. 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. What about 2021 and 2022? 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. In addition, the print-on-demand model can now speak out to prove its point. As in all industries, consequences will be a function of the disruption timeline and no one knows how long that will be. 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. 2.