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The Book Market in Algeria [ADIBF 2010]

Over the next day and a half, while everyone watching basketball I’m going to repost a number of the things that I wrote for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The ADIBF is the premiere professional fair for the Arab world, thanks in part to an arrangement with the Frankfurt Book Fair. Everyone involved with the ADIBF is amazing, and the events, opportunities, meetings, etc., are all really interesting. And being able to see Abu Dhabi and Dubai is fascinating in and of itself.

For the first time in ADIBF history, the Book Fair organized a special “Market Focus” day to highlight the publishing scene and literary culture of Algeria. With good reason—although the Algerian private publishing industry is relatively young, it’s growing rapidly.

The key event in this one-day Focus on the Algerian Book Market was an overview presentation by Yassar Arafat Qana from the Algerian Ministry of Culture, who provided a great amount of data and information ranging from the history of publishing in Algeria, to ambitious new initiatives that are currently underway.

One of the most startling facts was the rapid growth over the past few years in the number of titles published in Algeria. In 2005, 2,265 total titles were released. That dropped slightly in 2006 before leaping up to 3,762 books in 2007. This is due in part to the fact that Algeria was the Arab Cultural Capital in 2007 and poured a great deal of money and resources into the publishing industry. To be more specific, this resulted in the publication of 1,221 books. What’s interesting though is that the number of titles produced remained at this level after the Arab Cultural Capital had moved on, with 3,955 books coming out in 2008 and over 4,900 in 2009.

A high percentage of these titles were schoolbooks—the one sector of the publishing market that isn’t open to private industry—but there were signficant increases in other sectors as well. It’s worth noting that although there are four National publishers, there is a huge number of private publishing houses in Algeria, with more than 560 officially registered and about 120 currently active presses.

The 130-year French occupation of Algeria played a large role in both the stunting and the development of this healthy publishing culture. One lasting impact is the bilingual book culture, with titles being published both in French and in Arabic. On the flipside, Hachette’s monopoly (more or less) of the publishing industry hindered the development of both public and private presses for many years. This dominance of the market was especially felt in the schoolbook market, which may be one reason that in 1964, when Algeria created its first National Publishing House, it closed off the textbook market to private houses. Another date worth noting is 1989, with the vast majority of private publishing houses coming into existence after the new constitution was adopted.

Although there’s been a huge growth in the number of books being produced over the past 20 years, distribution remains a big obstacle. Bookstores are starting to develop in the area, but the Algerian market is subject to a lot of the same challenges found in other countries in the Arab World. But the creation of a National Book Center will definitely make a huge difference in the creation, publication, and promotion of Algerian literature.

One of the most impressive and ambitious new initiatives undertaken by the National Book Center is the national library program. Implemented in 2004, the goal is to build 1,562 libraries and reading areas across Algeria’s 1,541 municipalities by the year 2014. Hundreds have already been built, including 30 more in 2010, and it sounds as if the NBC will reach its goal.

And it’s incredibly important to solve the distribution system. Not just to encourage the futher development and professionalization of the Algerian publishing industry, but to serve a voracious reading public. And if you don’t believe that Arabs are interested in reading, check these figures from the Algerian Book Fair, which has been taking place every Oct/Nov since 1988: more than 1 million visitors attended last year’s fair, with over 120,000 coming each day to visit the 320+ exhibitors (over 190 from outside of Algeria) and look at the 138,000 books on display. I’d be surprised if an American book fair could reach those numbers, but regardless, this is proof that Algerians are readers, and it bodes well for the future development of the Algerian publishing industry.

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