23 March 09 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair blog.

Bachar Chebaro, general manager of Arab Scientific Publishers and Secretary General of the Arab Publishers Association, kicked off this year’s professional program with his presentation on “News from the Arab Book Market.” As a member of the younger generation that’s unfamiliar with the history of the Arab book market, this was invaluable, providing a very interesting overview of the state of publishing in the Arab world.

There were a few major themes that Chebaro drew on throughout his speech: that Lebanon and Egypt were the two “publishing hubs” of the Arab world, that distribution (especially across borders) is a huge problem, and that copyright infringement is another massive problem (and is related to the aforementioned distribution difficulties).

Unfortunately, there aren’t any reliable statistics about publishing in the Arab world. ISBNs haven’t been assigned properly, books haven’t been sent to a central recording office, etc., and as a result all figures are approximate and inexact. That said, Chebaro used data from neewlafurat.com (the largest Arab online bookstore) to compare production among a number of countries and across a few subjects.

In terms of production by country, Lebanon and Egypt were the two leaders, with Lebanon producing 3,121, 4,165, and 3,330 books over the years of 2006, 2007, and 2008, and Egyptian publishers bringing out 3,016, 2,960, and 2,310 titles over that same period. (In contract, Syria brought out 889, 886, and 1,170 books during that same three-year time period.) The importance of Lebanese and Egyptian publishers is even more evident if you look at the recent shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Although the six finalists hail from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Tunisia, five of the titles were published by Lebanese publishers and the sixth by an Egyptian house.

According to Chebaro, the influence of Egyptian and Lebanese publishers can be attributed to the more advanced distribution systems in both countries. There is no “mega-distribution” system in the Arab world, so getting books across borders and into other countries can be quite difficult. Addressing this is one of the main priorities of the Arab Publishers Association, and could go a long way in cultivating a larger audience for some of these works (Chebaro lamented the fact that the print run for most Arab books is between 2,000 and 3,000 copies for the whole Arab world and its 340 million plus inhabitants) and in solving some of the region’s piracy issues. The way Chebaro described it, in place of an international distribution system, there exists a network to pirate best-selling books and academic texts, bringing these titles to other parts of the Arab world sans copyright agreements.

This is a big issue for the Arabic publishing world, and in fact, at last year’s ADIBF, a number of publishers weren’t allowed to exhibit because of known instances of copyright infringement. The number turned away this year is apparently much lower (due in part to past rejectees opting not to reapply), and to encourage a greater awareness of copyright issues, this year there’s a special “Focus on Rights” session and a $1,000 subsidy offered to publishers who negotiate and purchase rights at the fair. (More on this tomorrow.)

Going back to figures for a moment, in terms of publishing categories, there were 7,230, 7,080, and 5,910 books written originally in Arabic and published across the Arab world in 2006, 2007, and 2008 respectively. In comparison, there were 1,480, 1,880, and 1,650 works translated into Arabic came out over that same time period.

In terms of translation, the subsidy programs from the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation and Kalima that are responsible for at least some of these titles published in translation. According to Chebaro, most translation are academic, techincal, and scientific works, but there is a more recent movement to publish novels, children’s books, philosophical works, and current affairs titles. Of course, Chebaro pointed out that translation should go both ways, both into and out of Arabic, but that typically there are more translations into Arabic than out of it.

Overall it seems that in spite of the problems, there’s a great opportunity in the Arab world. There is a strong interest in continuing to translate more foreign works into Arabic, and there are a lot of interesting books to be uncovered. And as the distribution system continues to develop (maybe e-books could play a role in this?), the book market should continue to expand.

Comments are disabled for this article.
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

Read More >

The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

Read More >

Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >