“Publishers need to go digital to stay in the race”

Shares Nahed A. Mahmoud, Manager, Arab Publishers’ Association.


Arab Publishers’ Association (APA) was established in 1962 under the number 1847 (ordinary session number 37), upon the recommendation of the Cultural Committee of the League of Arab States, and re-established in 1995. APA consists of local Arab associations existing in Arab countries, which are equal to 17 associations as well as a number of representatives for the countries that do not have any associations established therein. Nahed A. Mahmoud, Manager, Arab Publishers’ Association shares more about the Association and its activities.

AABP: How big is the Arab book business?

Nahed: Unfortunately, the publishing movement in the Arab world lacks a comprehensive statistical system, but according to Mohamed Rashad, President of the APA, it’s likely to be around 5.5-6 billion dollars, in which general culture books have only about a quarter, given that the bulk of this amount is directed to school books and government publications.

AABP: Brief us about the Arab Publishers’ Association.

Nahed: It is an Arabic, non-profitable professional association with financial and administrative autonomy. The Association has two permanent headquarters: the Presidency headquarters in Cairo and the General Secretariat in Beirut.

We have many cultural and professional objectives, but I’ll mention some of them:

  • To abide by the core values of the Arab culture and civilisation and to protect them against all attempts of sedition, misguidance and violation.
  • To take care of publishers’ rights, protecting their interests and their right to freedom of publication, taking all legal procedures to ensure this, confronting with full force any infringement of intellectual property rights, and working to raise awareness in the conscience of Arab societies of the importance of respecting intellectual property rights and criminalizing attacks on them.
  • To overcome the difficulties facing the Arab book and limiting its circulation between Arab countries, and work to exempt the book from restrictions on control and export, customs duties and others, and reduce the fees for transporting it by mail and shipping.
  • To coordinate Arab Book Fairs sessions, in cooperation with their organizers, to improve the conditions for publishers’ participation in them, and providing facilities and services, so that they can perform their primary role in the success.
  • Work to provide opportunities for collective participation and Arab presence in international book fairs, and to represent Arab publishers in all international forums on publishing affairs, to confirm the presence of the Arabic book and the Arab publisher at the global level.
  • Creating a database on publications, distributors, libraries and exhibitions, and making them available to members, as well as violations of intellectual property rights and creativity rights, after verifying and documenting the correctness of the data.

AABP: How is government promoting readership?

Nahed: There are national projects to support reading through targeted programs such as the “The National Reading Project,” the “Reading Challenge” and many other projects in most of Arab countries. There are media programs to educate parents to develop reading habits for children from childhood, and at the level of the Ministries of Education there is instruction to allocate reading classes and support school and university libraries. There are also competitions and prizes for books for children, teenagers, and adults as well, which motivates publishers and readers together.

AABP: Brief us about your membership.

Nahed: Our members include around 900 Arab publishers, some of them working in foreign countries, and we operate our activities through the Basic Law and the internal regulations approved by APA General Assembly.

We have been supporting our members on many levels, including:

  • Most of the Arab Bookfairs have come to adopt the participation of APA members first, because of their professional reputation.
  • Negotiating with Arab fairs organizers to get a discount to our members, also interfering in cases if they refuse the participation to a member.
  • Investigating intellectual property complaints submitted to APA to adjudicate them and apply legal procedures, and take the decision to prevent the aggressor house from participating in exhibitions, with its name on the black list issued by APA, and to prevent the pirated book from being displayed in fairs, and imposed financial fines in favor of the complaining house sometimes.
  • Cooperating with many Arab projects to encourage reading and publishing by making it a priority to purchase from APA members.
  • Adding an overview of our members, and definition of 100 publications for free on the APA’s website http://www.arab-pa.org/En/shared/Publishers.aspx. In addition, printing and distributing a directory of members’ data during Arab and international Book fairs in both Arabic and English.
  • Organizing conferences that tackle publishing issues and problems on both Arabic and international levels, (the last was the fourth conference hosted by the Tunisian Ministry of Culture on 9-10 January, 2018, entitled “The book and publishing in the Arab World” followed by a seminar for the Ministers of Cultural Affairs in the Arab World on 11 January 2018).
  • Implementation workshops and lectures to develop APA members on content quality or fighting piracy and protecting intellectual property rights.

AABP: What are the challenges faced by publishers?

Nahed: The biggest challenge facing the Arab publishers now, is the increasing of pirated books, which threaten the sale of original books by 30-40%.

Other challenges include reversing books budgets in school and university libraries, and decreased of commercial libraries due to the high cost of investment.

The publishers also suffer due to increasing of shipping costs, customs duties, taxes, book production requirements and lack of regular routes as well as high prices for advertising in the media.

AABP: What are the challenges faced due to Covid-19?

Nahed: All the activities of the publishers stopped due to the precautionary measures. As Arab books fairs were postponed, the activity stopped completely. Unfortunately, there are a large number of publishers who stopped production completely, while few gave up half of the workers, and others began to think about leaving the industry because there were no revenues, either inside or outside the same country.

APA conducted a survey in June 2020, in which 292 Arab publishers from 16 countries participated, the result was 74% decrease in sales during the first and second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period from the previous year. Around 25% publishers said that their production decreased between 50 to 75%, while 24% stopped production completely. Just 1% publishers reported increase, while 2% said it did not affect their production. Therefore, we may find a significant decline in the reality of Arab publishing for this year.

AABP: Tell us something about the sales?

Nahed: In Arab world, still the printed book is popular. Of the total book sales, 85-90% are printed books.

Also, the Bookfairs selling is the most reported followed by bookstore retail, then online. Some also depend on selling intellectual property rights, whether for printing in another country or for translation.

AABP: What is the road ahead next 5 years in publishing?

Nahed: Publishers have to convert part of their activity to an electronic or audio books and marketing through electronic platforms and websites though at the moment, it’s not more than 15-20% of printed books (N.B. this percentage increased with the Covid-19 pandemic). Also, there will be implementation of virtual bookfairs in coordination with Arab bookfairs organizers at the moment.

Arab Publishers’ Association hopes to see greater interest for book industry, the elimination or decreasing of customs duties, and the reduction of taxes, so that publishers can create a good and respectable book for the reader with a fair price, as the book is not like other consumer or luxury goods.

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