The pandemic has changed the publishing landscape significantly, forcing much of the industry to become more familiar with digital tools for networking, sales, and marketing. In Changing Trends in Publishing: Addressing the Fear of New Technology, a panel considered the Arabic publishing industry’s relationship with technology. The panel featured Mariam Alobaidli, corporate communications director, Emirates Publishers Association; Tamer Said, managing director, Kalimat Group and Lina Chebaro, of Neel Wa Furat, the most prominent online bookstore in the Middle East.

"The pandemic made it clear that a digital solution was necessary for us all," said Said, who noted that digital distribution of titles allows for greater access across all 22 Arabic-speaking nations. "That said, it is not easy. The Kindle and many of the major platforms do not natively support Arabic, so getting our titles onto those platforms can be very challenging. I just don't understand why they can do it for Chinese, but they cannot do it for Arabic."

Chebaro said that Neel Wa Furat sell Kindle ebooks and offers some 5,000 titles in all. "Our biggest competitor is piracy," she said. "Nearly every book published in Arabic is available as a PDF online. It is a shame and it makes no sense that a company like Google won't take these down. We know they can do it, but they are unwilling or refuse. It is costing us a lot of money." Piracy is so perfasive, that is has prevented publishers from embracing digital formate. "Most publishers feel that least when a pirate has to print a book, they are incurring some expense," said Said, who echoed Chebaro's frustration with large technology companies. "I don't understand why the Arabic-speaking countries don't get the same level of attention and service that other countries do. We are here and want to work with you," he said.

Do other different regions around the world treat technology differently? And has publishing in fact embraced all that technology can offer to bring stories and content to readers in many ways? Digital publishing will be the focus of a series of seminars titled Back to the Future—10 Years into Digital Publishing on March 22, which will look at the development and success of several digital publishing providers over the course of the past 10 years. These include Wonderz, a digital app platform from Germany; SkyShip, a Canadian kids entertainment company; and Piboco, a multimedia book production company based in Denmark.

Among the fastest-growing segments of children's publishing are graphic novels, comics, and manga. Sales are booming and the fair will offer several areas related to comics. One new feature is a new Comics Corner, which will provide networking sessions to help foster collaboration among comics creatives, a discussion with educators about how to integrate more comics into curricula, a look at two decades of kids comics publishing in Italy, and two decades of comics publishing around the world.

The fair’s International Conference of Independent Children’s Bookshops on Thursday, March 24 will also focus on comics and graphic novels, and will include several panels with booksellers and comics store owners. These include Huang Yujiao from PageOne in Beijing, China; Dulia Lengema, a bookseller from Congo who lives in Belgium and runs a pop-up bookstore focused on books from the Africa diaspora; Anna Giulia Moraro of Giannino Stoppani Children's Bookshop in Bologna; and Molly Olivo, buyer at Barstons Child's Play in Washington, D.C.