Abu Dhabi Congress Spotlights Arabic Market Growth, Challenges

Abu Dhabi Congress Spotlights Arabic Market Growth, Challenges
Source publishersweekly May 23, 2022

On May 22, the inaugural International Congress of Publishing and Creative Industries was held in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The event preceded the start of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF), which this year takes place May 23–29. The Congress featured a variety of keynote speakers from the Arab, European, and American publishing communities.

The event opened with a moment of silence to honor the late president of the U.A.E, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who died May 14. Dr. Ali Bin Tamim, chairman of the Arabic Language Center, which co-hosted the event, noted that the purpose of the Congress was to support the creative industries and cultural sectors in the Arab world and help them to better communicate with the rest of the world. “The question is how to create and make progress,” whether in publishing or gaming, through translation or in digital environments," he said. “The International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries brings together the most prominent publishers and experts, marking a significant step towards achieving that vision. Reflecting this commitment, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is building a sustainable cultural sector by investing AED 30 billion as part of its strategy to support the cultural and creative industry and empower its key players from all over the world.”

Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association and publisher based in Sharjah, offered an opening keynote speech that praised the progress the U.A.E. had made in developing its cultural sector and said the country was moving toward a new era of development that would be led by the country’s new president, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (who is known colloquially as MBZ). The key is knowing to “ask the right question” because that already gave you “half the answer.” The top priority for publishing, said al Qasimi, was to figure out how to best “change and adapt.” She also touched on numerous activities of the organization, especially the launch of the free IPA Academy, which offers online courses and aims to help “future proof the industry.”

Other speakers included Ann Hiatt, a former executive at Google and Amazon and author of Bet on Yourself (HarperCollins), who spoke about the 70/20/10 “golden rule” of innovation. This entails taking a model for your business which looks at 70% of the work as the core of your business, 20% as adjacent business and 10% as transformational or experimental. Oddly, when the model works to help a company innovate, she said, the profit is proportionally inverse, with 70% coming from the transformational part of the business and 10% from the core.”

Numerous speakers discussed the growing relevance of the Arabic-language book market—which caters to nearly 400 million speakers—to the rest of the world. Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn revealed that Kobo devices will be able to offer Arabic textbooks before the end of the year, while Stephanie Lamprinidi, regional content and expansion manager for Storytel, noted that Arabic was now the second most-spoken language in Sweden, where Storytel is based, and the platform now offers some 8,000 audiobook titles—the highest number of any platform in the world.

 One key panel, titled “Arabic Publishing: Where Are We, and Where Are We Heading?” included Lamrinidi and was moderated by publishing consultant Carlo Carrenho, and also included Sherif Bakr, publisher at Al Arabi Publishing and Distributing; Shereen Kreidieh, general manager at Asala Publishing House, and Rüediger Wischenbart, president and founder of Content and Consulting.

Bakr said that comics was a growing market for his publishing house, which publishes nonfiction and translated fiction. “Initially, I used to think of the 10% as taking risks. However, I later understood that risks could be replaced with welcoming new ideas,” he said, referencing Hiatt’s earlier talk. “I took the risk of introducing new genres, such as comics, in the Egyptian market, and I observed 90% success. Despite the large market, we find a lack of effective communication and an inherent need to fix this gap. Many publishers complain about piracy, but we need to realize that piracy didn’t start recently; it has been there a long time. We can also say that piracy led to the establishment of a digital readership as people agreed to read from screens in order to get to the story. We need to create a system that leads to more profit for publishers when that happens, more publishers will pop up in the market and reduce the communication gap.”

Shereen Kreidieh added: “In the Arab World, relationships hold high value. For any businessperson, building relationships is vital if they want their business to succeed. The publishing process includes many small and special stories, most of them different from each other. Just like readers have their preferences, so do publishers. The 70-20-10 model might not just be the right one for the Arab World, but it offers a lot of scope for experimentation as the market is bursting with ideas. For example, when we talk about children’s books, publishing before the 2000s used to be largely translation. However, today we observe how numerous authors and illustrators are emerging and sharing manuscripts; it is evident that changes are happening in the industry right around us.”

Finally, Wischenbart pointed out: “When we look at the Arabic publishing market, we find it fragmented. We need to focus on three areas of concern—fragmentation of information and distribution, reading education, and respecting the authors and their intellectual property. There is a need for an ongoing permanent platform that caters to these three areas of concern, and that is how we will overcome the fragmentation in the market. When we have different countries on board, we can work together to create a permanent structure that must focus on reading education. We must take inspiration from other countries and other models, but when we focus on the Arabic publishing market, we need to create our own model.”

Other panels looked at the role of social media in the Arab World, opportunities for self-publishing, and the market for adaptation, translation and localization of content for the Arab market.

The Congress is expected to return next year at a similar time.