x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

New body plans co-operative for booksellers

Publishing group created to improve global visibility for locally produced books.

Visitors walk through the Emirates Airlines International Festival of Literature in Dubai Festival City.
Visitors walk through the Emirates Airlines International Festival of Literature in Dubai Festival City.

The newly formed UAE Publishers Association is looking to form a distribution company to push for better marketing and distribution deals for the country's publishing companies. Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qassimi, the chairwoman of the founding committee, said forming such a co-operative was among the top objectives of the association, which was created this month. "Books are not distributed well in the UAE," she said. "Normally, there's the wholesaler and there's the distributor who markets and sells your book. That doesn't exist in the UAE. Plus, they [the booksellers] take a large percentage from the publishers. Fifty per cent is the minimum."

She speaks from experience, having run her own Arabic-language children's book publishing company Kalimat for the past two years. Sheikha Bodour started the company in response to what she saw as a lack of quality, original Arabic-language children's books, but found that getting them stocked prominently in bookstores was a challenge. "One of the issues we face, being a publisher of Arabic books, is that Arabic books get put aside," she said, adding that in many of the country's popular bilingual bookstores most of the staff are English speaking. "We want to have a dialogue with the booksellers."

So far, the majority of the 23 publishers who have signed up with the association are Arabic-language publishers such as Al Arabia Press and Media, Thaqafa Publishing and Distribution and Al-Kalim Al-Tayyib Bookshop and Recording. Publishing companies must have 51 per cent Emirati ownership to join the association, Sheikha Bodour said, although membership is open to all nationalities. Only Emiratis can be members of the board, to be elected in June. Sheikha Bodour said she expected the number of participating publishers to double by then.

One of the few English-language publishers to get involved in the association is Motivate Publishing, which has been producing books in English and Arabic in the UAE for three decades. Jonathan Griffiths, the general manager of its books division, said that while a distribution company might not make a big difference to Motivate, which already has a big distribution network, it could mean profitability for a small publisher.

"If distributors can help a publisher move 2,000 books, whereas before they would have been selling less than 1,000, it makes their business viable," he said. "We are talking about quite small volumes, and that's the case all over the world." However, he said Motivate joined the group - which has a broad mandate ranging from lobbying for better enforcement of copyright laws to encouraging publishers to seek international audiences - to help the interests of the industry, which hopes to be part of a regional publishing hub.

"There is a view that there is an Arabic book market out there," he said. "So far, it's been centred in Lebanon, and there's been a view about moving it to this part of the world." One way for that to happen is for the group to encourage publishers to market their books globally, Sheikha Bodour said, such as guiding publishers through the sometimes complex process of applying for ISBN numbers, which allow books to be sold internationally.

The association, which provides automatic membership to the Arab Publishers Association and the International Publishers Association, will also send some members to attend courses overseas. "It's such a small industry that people don't think that their books will be published abroad. We want to get people to start thinking internationally." khagey@thenational.ae