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?
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.
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.
$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?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.