Arab parents will soon be able to read one of the world's most popular bedtime stories to their children in their own language, with The Gruffalo to be published in Arabic for the first time. Eleven years after The Gruffalo's release, Arab children will finally have access to the best-selling book by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler thanks to a deal between Bloomsbury Publishing and the Qatar Foundation.
Bloomsbury, the UK company behind the Harry Potter series, will become the first western publisher to launch a full catalogue out of the Middle East next week when it unveils six new books in Qatar. The catalogue, led by an Arabic edition of The Gruffalo, which has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, is a result of the partnership Bloomsbury forged with the Qatar Foundation in 2008 aimed at promoting the reading culture in the Middle East.
"It's absolutely fantastic because The Gruffalo runs from right to left instead of left to right," said Nigel Newton, Bloomsbury's founder and chief executive. Other books include an English translation of the Arabic work of adult fiction The American Granddaughter by the Iraqi-born Inaam Kachachi, which was shortlisted for the International Arabic Prize for Fiction last year, and Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah, a Palestinian adventure story for young adults.
"They are a mix of Arabic and English," Mr Newton said. "Where the Streets Had a Name is already in English, so we are translating that into Arabic, and The American Granddaughter is already in Arabic, so we are turning that into English. It goes both ways." The English books will be distributed through Bloomsbury's international distribution network, while the Arabic titles will be distributed through the company's sales network in the region.
'We are doing the sales ourselves, through our normal agents," he said. "We cover the Middle East for getting order through Penguin in Dubai. Hopefully you will find them in Magrudy's and other good bookstores." Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing's launch catalogue represents a milestone for the region's publishing industry, which has traditionally suffered from the lack of a fully developed distribution network.
Last year, Random House, the first western publisher to set up offices in the region, quietly put on hold its plans to launch Arabic and English titles out of Abu Dhabi's twofour54 media zone, citing the financial challenges of selling books to the Arab world's relatively small publishing market. The other western publisher in twofour54, HarperCollins, is primarily a regional sales office for its educational books.
Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage attempted to address some of the market's challenges directly by launching the region's first independent regional book distribution company, Abu Dhabi Distribution. Mr Newton said Bloomsbury participated in the research that led to the founding of the company, and that he looked forward to it being up and running next year. "We hope that in working with many other publishers and initiatives in the region that we will make our contribution to expanding the market," he said.