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MENA Publishing in the 2020s

September 28, 2019

MENA Publishing in the 2020s

Obstacles and opportunities in the Arab book markets.

By TheNewPublishingStandard.com and StreetLib.com, in conjunction with the International Publishers Association Amman Middle East Seminar.


September 28, 2019

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  1. MENA Publishing in the 2020s Obstacles and opportunities in the

    Arab book markets 'a fresh perspective' In conjunction with the International Publishers Association Amman Middle East Seminar
  2. The International Publishers Association (IPA) and the Union of Jordanian

    Publishers (UJP) are hosting the first of its kind Middle East publishers’ seminar in Amman. The seminar will take a fresh look at the publishing industry in the region and worldwide to answer the pivotal question — How can reading change the course of history?
  3. Introduction - Giacomo D'Angelo, CEO StreetLib The IPA Middle East

    Publishing Seminar marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of the global publishing market, as we say goodbye to a decade of disruption and change and prepare for a new decade where disruption and change can only accelerate still further, driven by digital. For this reason we make no apology for the digital slant in this overview of the Arab book markets as we take a fresh look at the region, with the intent not to rehash the existing problems we all know about, but to identify the new opportunities as publishers, authors and consumers adapt to the new paradigm where smartphone- based digital consumption is no longer a novelty but a way of life.
  4. Introduction - Mark Williams, Editor-in-Chief TNPS While the IPA Seminar

    in Amman has a focus this year on the core Middle East markets, we've addressed the wider Middle East North Africa Arabic-language market for this overview, and have placed the Arab markets in a global context, looking at the unprecedented opportunities a hybrid print and digital business model brings to the region's publishers, authors and consumers. We are witnesses to, and participants in, a Global New Renaissance, digitally driven and quite unprecedented in human history, in which the Arab Renaissance is an important component. There's never been a more exciting time to be an author, publisher or booklover.
  5. The Global Book Market was worth $143 billion in 2016.

    The good news? 71% of that was outside the USA. Rest of the World 71% USA 29%
  6. The Arab book market is valued at just $1bn-$2bn. Only

    $1bn-$2bn? Well, we all know Arabs don't read, so maybe that's not so surprising. But hold on. If Arabs don't read, how is it many Arab countries have literacy rates well over 90%? How is no less than three Arab cities have been UNESCO World Book Capitals this century? How is it many of the world's biggest book fairs are in the Arab world? We'll return to the nonsense that "Arabs don't read" shortly. The bad news?
  7. That $1bn-$2bn figure? The sad truth is we simply don't

    know for sure how big the Arab book market is. There is no effective collection of production and sales statistics regionally, or even in most countries. And what we think we know is often contradictory. But first back to the numbers
  8. For example, the Sharjah Book Authority in 2016 estimated the

    entire Arab book market to be worth $1bn. Yet in 2018 the Saudi Publishing Authority claimed the Saudi publishing market alone to be worth $1.3bn. Other estimates attribute a value of $184 million to the Egyptian market and $234 million to the UAE market. The bottom line is, we just don't know. What we can be certain of, and should be excited by, is that there is plenty of room to grow.
  9. Especially if we set aside the nonsense that "Arabs don't

    read" and instead start thinking positively about the Arab book markets. Here's a few thoughts to begin with.
  10. Fact: three Arab nations have been elected UNESCO World Book

    Capital this century: Alexandria, Egypt 2002 Beirut, Lebanon 2009 Sharjah, UAE 2019
  11. Fact: many of the largest book fairs in the world

    are in the Arab markets. 6 Arab book fairs attract over one million visitors each. C airo (w orld's biggest book fair) Sharjah A lgiers R iyadh B aghdad M uscat 4 million 3 million 2 million 1 million 0 million Muscat Cairo Algiers Sharjah Baghdad Riyadh
  12. And while we may not know just how big the

    actual Arab book market is, we do know how big the Arab market itself is. With 447 million people, the Arab market encompasses more than 20 countries and is just shy of the population size of the European Union (460 million). The Arab market has more people than the USA, UK and Canada combined.
  13. Such a large market begs the question why publishing is

    not already flourishing across the MENA region. Culture and politics play a part, of course. We cannot ignore the fact that many MENA countries have strict censorship laws that, however well-intentioned, stifle creativity and inhibit domestic and foreign investment. Further, literacy rates vary wildly across the region. While some countries are among the best in the world, others are not doing so well.
  14. 0% 25% 50% 75% 100% Jordan Qatar Kuwait Saudi Arabia

    UAE Tunisia Iraq Egypt Morocco Yemen 97.8% 83.9% 97.8% 81.8% 96.2% 79.3% 94.3% 74.0% 67.1% 66.0% Sample Arab nations literacy rates
  15. But perhaps more importantly, the Arab MENA countries straddle some

    of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet, making effective and affordable production and distribution of books challenging. No wonder the traditional paper & ink publishing model has struggled to provide cost-effective solutions to growing the book markets of the Arab lands.
  16. But this is 2019, not 1999. Digital publishing and digital

    reading has arrived, and elsewhere around the globe is transforming publishing industries. And it will do so in the Arab markets too, as Arab publishers embrace digital.
  17. At which point many Arab publishers will be saying, "Fair

    enough, but let's give it another ten years. No-one in MENA knows what the internet is. Egypt is still only at 49% internet penetration. Iraq is only at 49% internet penetration. Sudan is only at 31% internet penetration. There's absolutely no point digitising our books any time soon." Time for a reality check.
  18. In Year 2000 Egypt had just 400,000 people connecting to

    the internet. In 2019 the number of internet users in Egypt is 49.2 million, and the country is only at 49% internet penetration. That's 49 million people in Egypt that could be downloading digital books.
  19. In Year 2000 the United Arab Emirates had just 735,000

    people connecting to the internet. In 2019 the number of internet users in UAE is 9.3 million, with 96.9% internet penetration. That's 9 million people in UAE that could be downloading digital books.
  20. In Year 2000 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had just

    200,000 people connecting to the internet. In 2019 in KSA there are 30.2 million Saudis online. That's 30 million people that could be downloading digital books.
  21. No space here to do a breakdown of internet users

    for every MENA country. Just to say that across MENA there are in 2019 over 220 million Arabs online. That's 220 million Arabs using a device that they could be consuming digital books on. If the books were available digitally, that is. Population 2019 Internet users 2019 500 million 400 million 300 million 200 million 100 million 0 million
  22. A key part of the 2019 IPA Middle East Seminar

    in Amman is how digital can help transform the region not just by making more books available for those who do read, but by boosting literacy across the MENA region to bring the pleasures and rewards of reading to more people. The Seminar has many excellent speakers who will be discussing the potential of digital to transform education sector.
  23. In doing so digital opens up potential sales and revenue

    streams simply unimaginable even ten years ago. Not least because it brings new consumer demographics into play. Non-readers and reluctant readers, for example. This study is to show the global potential of digital - its ability to penetrate with ease where the traditional paper and ink, bricks & mortar infrastructure struggles.
  24. It's not true Arabs "don't read", but Arabs would read

    more if... they were offered free books to get them started and hook them on reading. they were offered a better choice of books. they were offered affordable books. they were offered books in the language they speak at home. they were offered comics and graphic novels. they were offered books they could listen to.
  25. Under the traditional publishing model none of those are viable

    options at scale across the MENA region. But all those options are viable pretty much anywhere on the planet with the digital model. Digital changes everything.
  26. Statista reports that in 2017 in the USA the trade

    EBOOK market alone saw 266 million unit sales and was worth $1.02 billion. Statista's 2019 forecast for the entire US ebook market is a valuation of $5.487 billion. At which point a reminder the Arab market is bigger than the US, UK and Canada combined.
  27. Digital library supplier Rakuten OverDrive delivers ebooks and digital audiobooks

    to consumers in the US and globally, including the UAE. In 2018 OverDrive saw 277 million digital book downloads. That's 750,000 every day. 185 million ebooks and 88 million audiobooks were borrowed from OverDrive libraries in 2018.
  28. Tiny Singapore - population 5.6 million - was among 65

    libraries worldwide that saw over 1 million digital book downloads. In Canada - population 33 million, less than Saudi Arabia - 5.6 million digital books were borrowed from the Toronto library in 2018.
  29. In 2019 Storytel operates in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland,

    Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, India, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Italy, Mexico, Bulgaria, Singapore, Germany, Brazil and Colombia. It will launch in South Korea shortly. Storytel has over 1 million subscribers paying each month to download ebooks and digital audio, despite not being in the US or UK, considered the most advanced digital markets.
  30. In China ebooks and online literature are big business. In

    2017 the Chinese media giant Tencent spun off its digital reading arm China Literature in an IPO worth $1 billion. Today China Literature even has its own film studios.
  31. There are countless more examples, but let's address the BIG

    problem with all this. We're talking about the whole world. What's this got to do with Arab publishers? Why should Arab publishers be excited by all this?
  32. This map of submarine cables shows how the world is

    internet-connected in a way unimaginable at the start of this century. This in turn enables telcos to build the infrastructure to deliver mobile connectivity to all parts of the world. It means much of the planet has simply leap-frogged the era of landline and dial-up and gone from no landline telephone service to smartphones and 4G almost overnight. Not least across MENA.
  33. Arab publishing, with some notable exceptions (Jamalon, Dhad, Kitab Sawti,

    Booklava and Storytel Arabia spring to mind), has yet to wake up to this opportunity. For those still partying like it's 1999, here's the reality of internet connectivity in 2019 that many in publishing are oblivious to.
  34. Statista forecasts the New Zealand ebook market will be worth

    $37 million in 2019. New Zealand has an online population of just 4.1 million.
  35. All these MENA nations have more people online than New

    Zealand. Syria 6.3 million UAE 9.4 million Israel 7.0 million Kuwait 4.2 million Yemen 7.9 million Lebanon 5.5 million Jordan 8.7 million Tunisia 7.9 milion
  36. Statista forecasts the Australia ebook market will be worth $89

    million in 2019. Australia has 21.7 million people online. Iraq is close behind, while Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all have more. Iraq 20.0 million Morocco 23.7 million Algeria 25.4 million Saudi Arabia 30.2 million Egypt 49.2 million
  37. Today 56% of the world is online. 4.5 billion people.

    Slice: 4346561853 56.1% Slice: 3406921356 43.9% Online Not yet connected
  38. Taking smartphone growth, improved telecom infrastructure and falling internet prices

    together it's no surprise some forecasts suggest a total of 6 billion people will be online by 2022. 7.5 billion by 2030.
  39. Year 2000: 393.5 million people online Year 2019: 4.5 billion

    people online. Year 2030: 7.5 billion people online. Year 2000: Year 2019: Year 2030: 7,500,000,000 5,000,000,000 2,500,000,000 0
  40. Of course, it doesn't matter how many people are online

    if nobody reads in these countries. And if we rely on historic data based on a handful of sales outlets in a handful of countries, and let urban myths about who does and does not read inform our publishing strategies, little will change. But what if we take a step back and look at the clear evidence that, across the world, including across MENA, people love reading!
  41. In a 2018 study of global reading habits the USA

    came in at # 22. The top five? India Thailand China Philippines Egypt
  42. And most of the others in the top twenty might

    raise eyebrows in the international publishing community. Saudi Arabia? Venezuela? Indonesia? Argentina? Aren't these publishing graveyards?
  43. We shouldn't be surprised. In many of these nations, MENA

    included, the biggest cultural event in the country is a book fair. The Algiers International Book Fair attracted 2.2 million visitors in 2018. Sharjah pulled in 2.3 million. Cairo beat them both - by a long way! Across MENA upwards of 15 million people will attend book fairs this year.
  44. This year Saudi Arabia's Riyadh International Book Fair drew a

    crowd of 1 million visitors for the first time. Iraq's Baghad International Book Fair crossed the 1 million mark too. Oman's Muscat International Book Fair marked its second year with over 1 million visitors.
  45. Big Bad Wolf operates out of Malaysia. It specialises in

    eleven day flash sales that run 24/7. It buys remaindered English-language books from (mainly) US and UK publishers and takes container-loads of them to sell at discount in countries where English is not the first language. Countries like the United Arab Emirates. In October Big Bad Wolf will be taking 3 million books to Dubai for the second year running.
  46. People are devouring books the world over, including MENA. Yet

    ebooks and digital audiobooks are widely unavailable. This is publishing's biggest opportunity and also its biggest obstacle. The message here is clear.
  47. Can we rely on the big ebook retailers to help

    us embrace this global opportunity?
  48. Apple has 51 global ebook stores, but many are just

    placeholders. Apple's ebook expansion ground to a halt years ago. There are no Apple Books stores in MENA. There is no evidence Apple plans to re-ignite its global ebook strategy.
  49. Google Play has 75 global stores that include some MENA

    countries, but again, many are just placeholders. There is no evidence Google Play plans to re-ignite its global ebook strategy.
  50. Kobo is global, but not as global as it likes

    to think. Most global readers are sent to the US international store where books are territorially restricted and US-priced. There are few localised payment options. There is little evidence Rakuten is willing to fund Kobo's global ambitions further.
  51. Rakuten OverDrive is cause for hope, but again Rakuten is

    not much interested in the truly global ebook markets. While OverDrive has grown its global reach (China, UAE, Singapore, Sweden, Rwanda, and most recently Germany) it is mostly passive growth. OverDrive content is too expensive for many emerging markets to engage with.
  52. Yet as Storytel has shown, when audiobooks and ebooks are

    made available in countries Amazon and co. deems not worthwhile, and when content is offered at affordable prices, consumers are eager to partake. Storytel launched in the UAE in 2018.
  53. With digital the international book market has the potential to

    become truly global in a way quite unimaginable under the print-only traditional model. But publishers have to be adaptable. And publishers need to be willing to explore new pricing strategies and new delivery models, sometimes on a market by market basis.
  54. The subscription model, digital libraries and telco-enabled digital reading are

    what will define the emerging markets in the next decade. Storytel has shown that with the subscription model less can be more. Outdated analogue thinking about what a book is worth has no place in the next stage of the evolution of global publishing. Often the choice will be as simple as x% of something against 100% of nothing.
  55. Publishers need to embrace the gateway audio and translations opportunity

    in the emerging markets, and especially short-form audio and podcasts delivered via a subscription model. International content delivered to emerging market consumers. Locally-originated content produced by international publishers. Indigenous language content. Locally produced content with diaspora appeal that can be delivered globally. Locally produced content repackaged for the international markets.
  56. As we start the 2020s digital offers Arab publishers opportunities

    to reach domestic, pan-MENA and global consumers barely conceivable even ten years ago. Not as an alternative to print, but as a complimentary format to print. It's not an either/or debate.
  57. From content creators to librarians to educationalists to the creative

    industries like film and television. Just look at the way books are driving TV and film production globally. Digital is an opportunity not just for publishers but for a raft of industries that revolve around publishing. Digital publishing will not just benefit Arab publishers, creators and consumers but will power the global economy.
  58. It was only possible to touch briefly on these topics

    here. We are more than happy to develop any of these themes for further discussion.