The United Arab Emirates imports some $125 million worth of books each year, most of them in English. But the U.A.E. publishing industry has always aimed to be more than a consumer market, and over the past decade it has poured money and resources into its cultural industries.
Taking the lead has been the Emirate of Sharjah, which runs several prominent events, including the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival and the Sharjah International Book Fair, which has become a major hub for rights sales in the region. “In 2016, there were 1,460 rights deals done at the fair, with 140 from Arabic to different languages,” says Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, which administers the fair and related activities.
This spring, Sharjah gets one step closer to reaching its stated goal of becoming “the world capital of books” with the opening of Sharjah Publishing City. The 200,000-sq.-ft. facility will offer administrative and logistical support for those looking to publish, print, and distribute books throughout the world. “There are no restrictions to doing business in the Publishing City,” says Al Ameri. “The idea is that you can set up and open for business in as little as 48 hours.”
As of December, 320 of 380 available offices had already been taken, with three U.S. publishers signed on to participate. Others who have taken space are coming from China, India, the Middle East, South Korea, Turkey, and the U.K.
In addition to publishers, the facility will host editors, translators, printers, accountants, attorneys, and other staff that supports publishing. “In 2017, we expect about 1,500 people working there but anticipate it may grow to as many as 10,000, as all the functions come on line,” Al Ameri says. “With Sharjah Publishing City we hope to attract a diverse and dynamic group of publishers to live and work in the U.A.E.,” he adds.