The Arab publishing industry faces major challenges, reveals a study issued by the Arab Publishers’ Association (APA) in mid-2021.
The study on the state of publishing in the Arab region from 2015-2019 showed that publishers suffered from counterfeiting, piracy, and declining sales, which threatened the Arab publishing industry until many publishers had to either reduce the number of annual publications and the number of workers in publishing houses or stop temporarily.
Also, many Arab book fairs were cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, which was an important outlet for book distribution that the publishers lost.
Another APA study revealed that book fairs represent 53% of book sales annually.
In a statement to Qatar News Agency (QNA), Secretary-General of the APA and Executive Director of Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press (HBKU Press) Bachar Chebaro affirmed that great challenges are facing the publishing industry in the Arab world that require urgent action to preserve the rights of authors and publishers and increase book sales, which are currently experiencing a sharp decline.
Chebaro stated that the challenges facing the publishing industry in the Arab world and the whole world are great and perhaps the most important challenge in the Arab world is that the publishing industry lacks two basic lines from the beginning of the profession to its end.
He explained that the Arab society lacks a literary rights agent, who is like a corporate lawyer, and he is the one who transmits the book, with his relations, from one language to another, as well as from one country to another.
Also, it lacks a distribution company, he added.
He pointed out that there is no book distribution company at the level of the Arab world, and that there is currently distribution within countries and is linked to newspapers.
In this regard, he noted that an APA study showed that book fairs represent 53% of book sales, stressing the importance of fairs and the necessity of holding them.
He added that book fairs play a role in strengthening relations between publishers, authors, and researchers, and not just selling books individually to the readers because this is the function of the library.
To meet these challenges, the secretary-general demanded establishing a website in co-operation between the APA and Arab governmental cultural institutions, and in each country, there would be an office and a modern printing machine.
So, the reader enters the site and chooses his desired book and prints in his country, thus reducing the burden of storage on publishers and delivery is via semi-instant mail.
On the possibility of APA taking over this proposal, he said that the Association can indeed, but it needs support from governments because it needs an accurate and practical programme, places to place printing and execution devices, and a group of employees to perform the tasks, and with time, publishing will be strengthened in this way.
On the APA role in facing these challenges, which were revealed by its study in 2021, Chebaro said that the APA brings together national federations and it is the mother of the trade union movement, and it had a role in Arab fairs, especially in the Gulf, such as exempting Arab publishing houses from fees or reducing them, as happened in Doha, Sharjah, Riyadh, and other fairs.
The association also has an Intellectual Property Committee that follows up on matters of piracy, counterfeiting, and imitation.
There is a special committee for fairs and co-ordination is carried out so that the Arab fairs do not conflict.
He pointed out that there is cooperation between the APA and the Qatari Publishers Forum, which is an APA member and has an important role, and there is continuous communication.
Representatives of the APA participated in the Doha book fair recently.
Chebaro revealed that following the election of the APA Council on Sunday, a meeting will be held to prepare an action plan for the new session to meet the challenges of Arab publishing.
In a statement to QNA, the owner and director of Rosa Publishing House Dr Aisha Jassim al-Kuwari said that the publishing process in the Gulf region is modern compared to other Arab capitals, and perhaps the most important challenge in the region is printing, as it is still the most expensive in the world, therefore, the publishing industry is not profitable.
She added that the profit may be in the long run, and whoever enters this field must realise that he is investing in knowledge and building minds before investing in financial resources.
Dr al-Kuwari stressed that the Gulf region has readers, but the success of the publishing industry needs a broad base of readers because publishing includes various sectors and disciplines of literature, science, knowledge, books for young people and children, as well as translated books, to satisfy all tastes in reading.
Concerning her experience, she said that this is still a new experience in Qatar that started in 2017, it was the first publishing house in its true sense, the first exhibition started with 20 titles and reached 128 titles during the last exhibition, 80% of which are by authors from Qatar.
She pointed out that there are still many challenges in publishing in Qatar, expressing hope for an advanced cultural publication with solid content that enables us to face these challenges.
For her part, an Algerian publisher Dr Asia Moussaoui said that the most important problems related to this industry are the decline in interest in reading, lack of interest in the book as the most important source of knowledge, reliance on the culture of titles, and the spread of electronic or paper piracy, which threatens the book industry in most Arabic countries, urging Arab countries to intervene to prevent this piracy, as well as the free circulation of Arab books.
She pointed out that among the most important challenges are the high prices of paper and shipping globally and the decline in the purchasing power among citizens in many Arab countries with the decline of school libraries and other challenges that make Arab governments a major role in promoting the publishing industry.
The APA is scheduled to hold its regular general assembly on Sunday, on the sidelines of the activities of the 53rd Cairo International Book Fair.
The meeting will discuss the report of the Board of Directors of the APA on the work of the 2019-2021 session and the election of a new board of directors for the 10th session of the APA 2022-2024.
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