Monika Krauss, general manager of KITAB, is pleased at how this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is going. “It’s smoother, more effortless” she says, and the ultimate indicator: very few complaints. In light of the upheavals in the Arab world, and the cancellation of the Cairo Book Fair earlier this year, there was some concern that Egypt would not be able to participate or get its books shipped to Abu Dhabi in time. But in reality, the fair became a haven for books, which Krauss says has always been its goal. This year there are more Egyptian publishers and more books from Egypt than in any previous year. The mood of the Egyptian publishers at the fair is euphoric and contagious, and while there is an insecurity in light of the political situation, with bookstores closing, Krauss is positive for the future. “These movements are motivated by liberty, freedom of speech, and diversity.” Tunisia, she notes, has a literacy rate of 97%. “This is an educated population.”
New to this year’s fair and to the Arab world is the Illustrators Corner. “Cover design and graphics have never been viewed as key in the UAE,” Krauss says, “but now there is a new interest and a realization that one does ‘judge a book by its cover.’”
Also, continuing the tradition of a country chosen as a cultural focus (last year was India), the program has expanded this year with France. This aspect of the fair is a big step toward what Krauss wants the Abu Dhabi Book Fair to be: a platform into culture. “If we show art, that translates into art books,art influencing books, such as The Girl With the Pearl Earring, biographies of artists….” Krauss says.
March 16 was “A Day in France,” which featured illustrator Nicole Lambert, who writes the comic strip Les Triples. The “Reasoning Behind the Creation of the Louvre Abu Dhabi” panel brought together an architect from Jean Nouvel’s firm (the one building the museum) and the curator of the Louvre. It was during a night visit to the Louvre that the children and YA husband-and-wife writing team of Emmanuelle and Benoit de Saint Chamas got the idea for Strom, a saga Krauss calls “ a cross between The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter,” which will be translated into Arabic.
Without naming names, Krauss confides that several ambassadors have asked how they can have their countries chosen as cultural focus . with the success of this year’s program, they will “step into big footsteps.”
The choice of Korea as the market focus is an effort to move into a potentially huge market, especially in children’s literature. The UAE is particularly focused on the exceptionally beautifully illustrated children’s books of Korea. “The UAE is a young country with a young population,” Krauss emphasizes. “And we are bringing together east and west.”
The Koreans, on the other hand, are eager to buy books (no other country’s publishers are more interested in buying rights). Bestseller lists in Korea are dominated by foreign books translated into Korean. Korea, according to Seung-Hyun Moon, who presented an overview of the Korean book market, is one of the top 10 nations in terms of “publication output.” The total market volume is pegged at $3.1 billion and Korea produces over 40,000 new titles a year. Online retail accounts for almost 40% of total book sales, according to Moon, and e-book market sales jumped 26.5 % from 2006 to 2010. Deals should be negotiated over the next few days of the fair, helped along by Abu Dhabi’s grant program, in its third year, that awards $10,000 when a letter of intent is signed at the fair. Each publisher can apply for up to 10 grants. Last year, according to Krauss, there were close to 200 grants awarded.