x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ketabi e-book store offers budding authors big break

The developer of an Arabic e-book service is to offer budding authors a novel deal - the chance to get paid for their work.

Ahmed Hemdan, CEO of OTS (Fruit Apps) showcases the Kitabi e-book app being developed for the BlackBerry 10 in Arabic. Photo courtesy Optimal Technology Solutions
Ahmed Hemdan, CEO of OTS (Fruit Apps) showcases the Kitabi e-book app being developed for the BlackBerry 10 in Arabic. Photo courtesy Optimal Technology Solutions

The developer of an Arabic e-book service is to offer budding authors a novel deal - the chance to get paid for their work.

Traditional publishing is a notoriously difficult industry and many writers struggle to get their books into print.

But a Saudi Arabian-based application developer says its Ketabi e-book store, an app that can be downloaded to mobile phones and tablets, will soon offer a self-publishing service to undiscovered writers.

"Many people would like to publish their content, but if they go to the traditional publishing industry it takes a long time, and is costly," said Ahmed Hamdan, the chief executive of Optimal Technology Solutions.

His company is behind Froot Apps, which has developed five mobile applications including a jokes app as well as the Ketabi Arabic e-book application.

Ketabi, which means my book in Arabic, can be downloaded on Apple devices, and is set to launch on BlackBerry and Android handsets in the future. The e-book store currently features about 350 titles, and Mr Hamdan says it has attracted about 300,000 downloads of individual books.

Ketabi does not feature best-selling novels, instead focusing on lesser known authors and non-fiction titles such as educational books.

Some books are charged for, while others are free and supported by advertising. "We plan to launch 1,500 titles during the first year," said Mr Hamdan.

Books are currently selected by Ketabi to feature in its store. But next year a self-publishing tool will be launched that will allow authors to upload their books directly to the application, said Mr Hamdan.

All books will be checked for suitability before they are made available via the application. When they do go live, authors will be paid on a revenue-share basis for each download, he said.

Narain Jashanmal, the general manager of Jashanmal Bookstores, said the market for Arabic e-books had been relatively slow.

"Commercially, I'm not aware of any major Arabic publisher pushing e-books."

Mr Jashanmal said his company was also developing an e-reader application, through which books would be available for download on mobile phones and tablets. "The opportunity for a local player is to offer a compelling and wide selection of books."

But unlike Ketabi, Jashanmal's e-reader app will not initially feature Arabic titles, Mr Jashanmal said. "There is a very limited ecosystem for Arabic e-books at this time."

The Jashanmal e-reader was initially conceived as a physical product designed to rival the likes of Amazon's Kindle. But Mr Jashanmal said he decided to launch the service as an app available to download on other devices.

"We're not doing any hardware any more," he said. "It's challenging to be able to bring hardware to the market - it moves too fast."

Mobile applications are a growing business in the Middle East, said Mr Hamdan. He said Froot Apps plans to launch other apps, with its revenues coming from paid downloads and advertising.

"We are targeting one million unique users in the first year in the Middle East and North Africa, and up to 10 million within the first three years," he said.

bflanagan@thenational.ae