From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges facing the development of the Arabic language book market?
The Arabic language book marketplace has an incredibly rich history. The market has also faced unique challenges, from ongoing issues with distribution and logistics to struggles with piracy. In today’s marketplace, publishers in the region are challenged with growing their lists with a pan-Arab publishing model in mind, while simultaneously building the capacity to access international markets through translation and foreign rights, multi-market marketing, new sales channels, and global distribution.
The competition for people’s time and attention is also greater than it has ever been, especially in the Arabic language market with their emphasis on entertainment through various video formats. But it’s exciting to see that literacy rates in the Gulf Region are increasing (the overall regional illiteracy rate is now 15%, which is on a par with the global average). And during the pandemic, we saw on a global level that books have continued to matter. People around the world are still turning to books, not only for education and inspiration, but also for entertainment.
Do you see growth opportunities for Penguin Random House in the Region?
Absolutely. Penguin Random House has an exciting opportunity to help foster the fast-growing publishing ecosystem here, from increasing readership to publishing local voices to building on-the-ground partnerships that will help us better understand the needs of the market. The online market in the region is growing, and the ability to reach more readers through online sales provides a platform for future growth. We also see opportunities to expand our existing English language sales in the region as the marketplace continues to expand.
Beyond the Gulf region itself, Penguin Random House also has significant distribution in countries with a large Arabic language population. Gaining further insights around reaching these readers will be immensely valuable. As always, it is vitally important for us to first listen to the market and look at the data to ensure we’re in the most relevant places for consumers in the region to discover – and ultimately buy – more books.
What can Arabic language publishers and publishing professionals do to accelerate their engagement with the rest of the world?
At its core, publishing is a relationship and value-driven business. It always begins with authors and ends with readers, but direct engagement with international editors, literary agents and marketing professionals as well as international sales and distribution groups are a key part of engaging with the rest of the publishing world.
Technology has also made it possible to connect with colleagues across the world in an instant, and Covid has opened a lot of doors in terms of normalizing virtual events and meetings. At the same time, in-person events like the International: Sharjah International Book Fair, which I’m very much looking forward to attending, are still hugely important. There are more opportunities than ever for us to collaborate and learn from one another.
What are you most looking forward to experiencing in Sharjah?
This is my first visit to Sharjah. I was deeply honored to receive an invitation to the book fair. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Gulf region by experiencing its rich culture firsthand, including a visit to the House of Wisdom Library.
If you were to recommend two or three books to attendees at the Sharjah International Book Fair to read, for professional or personal development, what would they be?
I would recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear—a favorite around the world and current bestseller in the UAE market—as a practical manual that will help you improve a little bit every day. I also highly recommend Think Again by Adam Grant and Start with Why by Simon Sinek.