DC Books: Taking Indian books to Middle East through SIBF

As DC Books gears up to celebrate 50 years in 2024, here’s a story of the pioneering work they have undertaken to distribute books in multiple languages in the middle-east. They have single-handedly worked in this part of the world to create a thriving book reading economy. Just the sheer number of book fairs, book seller meets and discussions going on in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai is a testament to the spadework DC Books has put into developing these markets.

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Neeta Gupta has been working towards creating publishing connectivities across different languages and cultures for over two decades. She is the co-Founder of the Publishers’ Exchange, a group of Indian Language Publishers, and the chief editor of Anuvad, the Bhartiya Anuvad Parishad’s quarterly journal on translation. She used to be the publisher at Yatra Books and is now the Publishing Director at Tethys Books. She is also a part of the executive committee at the Ashoka University’s Centre for Translation.

DC Books was established in 1974 by late DC Kizhakemuri—freedom fighter, social activist, writer-publisher and the man who took books to the masses. The publishing house is known for introducing debut writers who went on to achieve critical acclaim and became some of the most celebrated writers in Malayalam. DC Books has also published many Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer prize winners, Jnanpith and Sahitya Akademi award winners in Malayalam translation, including renowned authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Paulo Coelho. The countdown to DC Books’ yearlong Golden Jubilee Celebrations kicked off on 9th September 2023 at Kottayam in Kerala.

In a freewheeling conversation, CEO Ravi DC shares his experiences and learnings with Neeta Gupta.

Neeta: When did DC Books first enter the UAE market?

Ravi: DC Books started working within the UAE market in the mid 80s. At that time our aim was to cater to the Malayali diaspora living and working in the region. The books were prohibitively priced as the distributors were charging very high margins. That was when some young distributors approached us to represent DC Books in the UAE. In 2008 we entered the UAE market with a store in Karama, in Dubai.

Neeta: What were the early years like?

Ravi: In the early years. DC Books focused mainly on the diaspora. It was a huge opportunity to be able to sell our wide selection of titles at affordable price to a hitherto untapped market.

Initially we approached Kerala Associations across UAE, and other communities and Friday gatherings to promote our books. We worked closely with the Indian Consulate and gave away books at labour camps and other similar places to build reader loyalty.

That same year we participated in the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF). This was an eye opener. Since our participation was widely publicized through Indian media in UAE—via radio, television and print newspapers—our inventory got sold on the second day of the fair. Until then SIBF was mainly an Arab Book Fair. The fair organisers were also quite excited to see the huge turnout to buy books from India.

The very next year, the then Director Ahmed Al Amiri (and present Chairman)of Sharjah International Book Fair asked DC Books to work with them to turn around the fair to attract wider audiences and reach out to international communities living in UAE and other parts of the Middle East.

Neeta: How did you convert the Middle East into an avid reading and writing geography—with so many literary festivals and book fairs in each emirate?

Ravi: Sharjah is known as the cultural capital of Middle East. The ruling family of Sharjah has always been supportive when it comes to promoting reading. DC Books worked with the SIBF team to ensure that student communities from different Emirates in UAE attended the fair. We organized events with major authors from across the world to interact with the readers in the region.

Authors were also ferried to many schools across UAE for student interactions. Another important factor was that most of the teachers in these schools were from India and knew DC Books, so it was easy to convince them of the necessity of books and reading. We have invested almost a decade and a half in building these crucial relationships with the students and teachers. This paid off over the years when hundreds of thousands of youngsters became dedicated readers. This, however, would not have been possible without the generous support of the ruling family of Sharjah in promoting reading.

Neeta : Apart from Malayalam books, does DC Books also distribute English language books in the UAE?

Ravi: Apart from distributing Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and Arabic books, DC Books is also a major distributor for English language books in the UAE. Our middle east distribution company DC Current Books LLC is one of the largest seller of English Books in UAE. We sell English books published in India and from all the major English language publishers from across Europe, USA and elsewhere.

Neeta: What have been some of your major learnings from this market?

Ravi: Some of our major takeaways from the region is that there is a hunger for good content and books, especially from children. In the past decade or so the UAE has been investing heavily in building reading awareness programs in schools, colleges and with the general public. They have been hosting book fairs both at the school level and for the general public.Many author interaction sessions also take place throughout the year with authors from India. Many local associations hold book fairs during festivals and community events. Be it children or adults, the UAE loves bibliodiversity.

Neeta: Apart from the major book fairs,are there popular bookstores in this region? And what about their library culture?

Ravi: UAE has a few major bookshop chains catering to English speaking community. Apart from Kinokuniya (with the largest collection), Magrudy’s, WHSmith, Borders are some of the main retailers of books in UAE.And over the years, right up there with some of the biggest and best we also have our very own DC Books store too.

Neeta: How has Indian participation increased at Sharjah?

Ravi: Until about eight years ago UK had the maximum representation at the Sharjah International Book Fair. But over the last few years, Indian participation has grown to more than 100 stalls. This has been a direct result of our efforts in opening up this market to Indian book sellers not only through our distribution company, but also by encouraging them to visit the fair and participate independently as well. Understanding the market has been the key to succeeding in the Middle east. We have also handled cross-cultural issues with panache and diplomacy.

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