20 October 09 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf

Over the past few years, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair has grown substantially, taking on a more professional focus and serving as the platform for visitors and publishing folks within the region to meet and start doing business. One of the driving forces behind the expansion of ADIBF is the belief among foreign publishers that the Middle East represents a relatively untapped market (pun unintended) with enormous potential.

Today’s “teatime” event offered a chance for English-language publishers to get a better understanding of the opportunities in the region, and to demonstrate how valuable it is to attend the ADIBF (and as a publisher myself, I can confirm this).

This may well have been the most well-organized, comprehensive, and useful panel that I’ve attended so far at the Fair. (Not that the others were bad, but damn, this was like consultant-level knowledge.) Each of the presenters were very clear, very engaging, and very practical in their advice.

The difficulties for English-language publishers wanting to enter into the Arabic market are fairly evident, but worth repeating: reading isn’t a fundamental activity in the Arab world, most print runs are very small, and books are considered to be a luxury purchase. Not to mention, the “Arab Book Market” is by no means homogenous, with each country functioning in a slightly different way and applying different censorship criteria. And the Western idea of “distributors/wholesalers” is totally different in the Arab World.

That said, opportunities exist both for trade publishers and educational publishers. On the trade front, the fact that bookstores are becoming more professional—through the opening of Borders, Virgin Megastores, etc., in the UAE—offers sudden opportunities for publishers to get their books in front of readers. Plus, there are a lot of programs in place to promote literacy and encourage children to become readers.

On the educational side of things, there’s even more going on. Every year more and more International Schools are opening in the UAE (and elsewhere). At the present time, more than 450,000 students are being taught in English. Parallel to overall education initiatives, a lot of money is going into expanding and improving library collections. Ministries of Education are spending a lot of money on educational resources and teacher training, and are looking for appropriate materials to use and companies to partner with.

All of this sounds great, and looks good on paper, but to really take advantage of these opportunities and the rapidly expanding Arabic book market, the best thing to do is to learn more about the Arab world and how business is done there, and to start making connections with people in the area. For that reason, attending the ADIBF next March makes a lot of sense.

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