International Booksellers Conference (May 16 – 17, 2022)
The first International Booksellers Conference was organised by the Sharjah Book Authority from May 16- 17, 2022 at the Sharjah Publishing City. It was a 2-day event, packed with keynote speakers, panel discussions, networking and matchmaking. The event had more than 250 professionals from around the world and highlighted the vital role of booksellers in the publishing value chain.
Ahmed Al Ameri, Chairman, Sharjah Book Authority said that society development happens with investing in books and as Sharjah is at the heart of the publishing sector with International Book Fair, Librarians Conference, Publishers Conference, Children Reading Festival and the International Booksellers Conference is a natural addition to their portfolio. Welcoming professionals, he further added, “We work on the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah to support the Book Industry and shaping our future.”
Bodour Al-Qasimi, President, International Publishers Association and Publisher, Kalimat Group, emphasised the importance of a reading culture which needs to be supported by a robust national strategy and a strong collaboration between each and every stakeholder. She further highlighted the role of a bookseller and said, “You are not alone, publishers will support you and together we will achieve our goals with collaboration to make the book industry more robust and resilient.”
Connecting the World’s Booksellers- Day One highlights
Simon Littlewood, Event Moderator, said that book markets are diverse and bookshops are communities to promote cultures, it is important to gain clarity on present and future roles, in times of change. The varied panels discussed different key issues relating to current and future trends, digital presence, social media, different business models, etc.
The panel discussion on Digital, E-Commerce & Social Media, shared best practice and case studies for engaging with communities and growing sales through digital channels. Nana Awere Damoah (Booknook, Ghana) pointed out the importance of response time, prompt deliveries and a good after sales service. Giorgia Russo (La Feltrinelli Internet Bookshop, Italy) who joined the conference via a video presentation emphasised the importance of having targets on social media platform and to understand every single user as a potential customer. Mohamed Kandil (Molhimon Publishing and Distributions, UAE) felt Social media is an important platform to communicate and engage with customers along with video content and newsletters. Adedotun Eyinade (Roving Heights, Nigeria) emphasised the importance of data analysis, investing in social media, tracking trends to know behaviour of online customers for better management of books, stocks and networks.
The panel on Stock Curation, Presentation and Customer Service highlighted the importance of staff training, research and being sensitive to one’s environment. Kenny Chan (former Kinokuniya Asia) said, “Every store which we create complements the aesthetic culture of the country.”Sonia Draga (Sonia Draga Bookstores, Poland) described the unique identities of each of her bookstore, along with innovative ways to facilitate events, give customers added value, connect and a reason to enter her stores. Remi Morgan (Laterna Ventures, Nigeria) focussed on personalised and qualitative customer service provided by experienced and knowledgeable front liners.
Trends in International Bookselling was addressed by Jasmina Kanuric of European & International Booksellers Federation who spoke on current trends: growth of online sales and said that for booksellers, a combination of physical and digital is a winner. On future developments, she highlighted the need for upscaling digital presence, building a pipeline of events, fostering local partnerships and reviewing the supply chain. She informed the audience about RISE Bookselling which is a three years EU co-funded programme, aiming to upscale, reinforce and maximise the capacity and resilience of the global bookselling sector.
Day two highlights
Day two started with keynote speaker Nadia Wassef (Author and Bookseller) of Diwan Bookshop which was co-founded in Cairo 20 years ago. She shared her learnings, challenges and opportunities and felt bookshops are an integral part in creation of communities and have their individual personalities.
Session on Working with publishers, authors, festivals and schools highlighted that bookstores are at the heart of a community as they are a destination of knowledge which means building partnerships with publishers,authors, festivals and schools. Gaurav Shrinagesh (Penguin Random House, India) stated that booksellers have a great potential as they know the pulse of their customers. He further added that publishers need to support booksellers which will add value to the entire system. Swati Roy (Bookaroo, India) emphasised the need and role of publishers for collaboration to spread the joy of reading. Lola Shoneyin (Ake Book Festival, Nigeria) felt that online engagement and online community is an important element which adds value to different ways to engage people with the book. Tina Mamulashvili (Sulakauri, Georgia) mentioned the importance of Facebook to reach out to an audience of people who love books.
Session on New business models discussed the diversities, innovations and collaborations having cafes, non-book products, new services and made the audience to think out of the box. Agne Ahi (Apollo, Estonia) described different collaborations they work with book sales in cinemas, special offers to Apollo Club members, in-store promotion to movie related books and other products, along with book signing in Apollo Cinemas. Akshaya Rautaray (Walking Book Fairs, India) enchanted the audience with his experiences of his travelling bookstore and library across 35,000 km and 20 states of India. Hassan Ali (Lightning Source, Sharjah) spoke about role of Print on Demand for booksellers. Keith Thong (UBSM, Malaysia) highlighted innovative ways they reach out to their audience. The session highlighted the need to reach out to children for whom books are a first-time learning experience to keep them coming back for the joy of reading, learning and imagination. And Simon Littlewood summarised, “Collaborating with unlikely allies to come up with a win-win solution.”
Nana Lohrengel, a keynote speaker of UEM Booksellers School (Italy) shared her experiences as the school promotes learning and teaching in all aspects of a bookshop. They bring forth and recognise the level of expertise and professionalism in bookselling.
The professionals attending the event were very delighted for this endeavour by the Sharjah Book Authority to recognise the role and importance of Bookselling and to Emma House who curated the two days event full with knowledge, learning, meetings and connecting with colleagues.