Major western publishers have begun looking to the Middle East as a significant opportunity for growth.
Publishers look for bookworms
Five years after a UN report declared that the Arab world suffered from a "knowledge deficit" caused in part by a low output of books, major western publishers have begun looking to the Middle East as a significant opportunity for growth. In the past month, three major international publishing houses have announced plans to set up shop in the Gulf. The most recent was Bloomsbury Publishing, the British publishers of the Harry Potter series, which earlier this month announced it was launching a publishing house in Qatar. The news came on the heels of the unveiling of Abu Dhabi's media zone, twofour54, which will house Random House and HarperCollins. "I think that to come here is a sign of understanding that things are changing," said Claudia Gehre, the managing director of Random House -Arabia, the first of the publishers to announce plans for the region. "We are working in a historic period, and we are witnessing the shift of economic power to the Middle East." This shift, and the broader global financial crisis, were the main topics of conversation among the booths at this month's Frankfurt Book Fair, the year's most prestigious book publishing event. Perhaps in anticipation, the festival's organisers had a clear, eastward-looking message. -According to the festival's newsletter, China and India are among the book -markets with the strongest growth. However, "the Arabic-speaking countries, with their populations totalling more than 300 million, have hardly been opened up at all by the international book industry and offer a great deal of potential". One of the primary issues that has been holding back foreign investment in the Middle East's publishing industry has been fears about intellectual property rights. -Translations of major international titles are often photocopied and sold without licences in the region. But leaders in the Arab publishing industry have begun addressing the issue head-on. Last week, KITAB, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi -Authority for Culture and Heritage and the -Frankfurt Book Fair, announced a new programme to subsidise by up to US$1,000 (Dh3,674) any rights deals made during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair next spring. Irum Fawad, the marketing and public relations manager for KITAB, said there was "a lot of interest from Arab publishers" following the announcement. The publishers entering the region today say the opportunities outweigh the challenges. Bloomsbury's new venture, launched in partnership with the -Qatar Foundation, is designed in part to reduce its reliance on revenues from the concluding Harry Potter series, and in part to promote -reading culture in the Middle East. "We are going to be publishing up to 50 books a year in English and 50 books a year in Arabic," said Nigel Newton, the chief executive of Bloomsbury. Within these titles, the publisher is hoping to replicate the success of its author Khaled Hosseini, whose books The Kite Runner and A -Thousand Splendid Suns are among the best sellers in the Arab world. The venture will employ between 10 and 12 people in an office in Doha, and release its first titles in early 2010. It will publish fiction, non--fiction, children's, educational, academic and reference books. The deal with the Qatar -Foundation came about partly because the publisher was already working with a separate entity in Qatar on a financial encyclopaedia due out in October of next year, Mr Newton said. HarperCollins, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, plans to introduce its reading scheme for children in the region and create a range of Arabic dictionaries in -English, French and Hindi. Meanwhile, Random House Arabia has been on the ground in the -Middle East for a year, although the full extent of its plans were only revealed at the media zone launch earlier this month. It plans to publish titles in both Arabic and English, with an emphasis on bringing Arab talent to a wider audience. "I wish that everybody who comes here and sets up a brand is open to find a way of publishing in Arabic, of learning, of returning what you receive," Ms Gehre said. "We are not here to know better. We are here to learn and contribute." firstname.lastname@example.org