In the “Ofuq” periodical report on the Arab Thought Foundation, the Arab Registry monitored the presence of 52,900 searches for cookbooks, outperforming all types of books! Publisher Nermin Rashad (The Egyptian Lebanese Publisher) turned to this negative bias and said, “After the pandemic, we increased our contact with e-reading clubs, but due to their being limited to a specific pattern and ignoring important books in history, philosophy and science, we decided to focus on our pages in order to ensure interest in publications in all their diversity.” “.
If we accept the concept of the philosopher Marshall McLuhan that “the world has become a small village” thanks to the digital development, then libraries no longer need multiple walls and floors, but rather have become the size of the palm. Just a small device that stores thousands of books, or just an app used by millions with the push of a button.
The phenomenon of Arabic applications and websites is relatively recent, including the website of the Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation (Digital Knowledge Center), which provides more than seventy thousand books, characterized by richness and diversity, as well as the Arabic Digital Library, which is a project launched by the King Abdulaziz Public Library, and includes thousands of books, manuscripts, and audio-visual materials. We also have the “Hindawi” library, which was launched in 2007 and seeks to “form the largest Arab library”, stressing that it is “non-profit”, but does not refuse to donate, and its visitors doubled from two million visitors in 2019 to more than five million in 2021.
To date, it has succeeded in publishing thousands of titles and acquired the free electronic publishing right of Naguib Mahfouz’s works. It advertises as “most downloaded”, implying most read, but the site itself lacks a read counter that shows download times. Twenty-seven books are the most downloaded, including Selim Hassan’s Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Ibn Battuta’s Travels, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, The Prophet by Gibran Khalil Gibran, The Days by Taha Hussein, Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche and Magdalene. Al-Manfalouti and “One Thousand and One Nights”. It’s a varied menu leaning towards the classics, which means the good old is still to come.
As for the “Abjad” application, it is not free, but with a monthly subscription, and does not allow downloading, but rather reading on the screen. Saudi Arabia leads the application visitors, with more than 280,000 readers for the year 2021, followed by Egypt, with 128,000. The books published in it doubled from three thousand in 2019 to eight thousand in 2021, representing about 70 publishers.
When browsing “Most Read” in the “Novels and Stories” category, “I Loved You More Than I Should,” “In My Heart is a Hebrew Female,” “The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafak, and “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho appear. Among the Arab classics are “Magdoline” by al-Manfaluti with 44,000 readers, and “Awlad al-Hartna” by Mahfouz with 20,000 readers, and Gibran Khalil Gibran’s two books, “The Rebellious Spirits” 29,000 readings, and “The Broken Wings” 12,000 readings, while the average readings of most books do not exceed 500. Once.
On the impact of applications on the publishing market, Nermin Rashad says, “We are basically a paper publisher, so at first the material return from the applications was not remunerative, but with its success the returns doubled and became acceptable. We made sure to have our books on most platforms such as (Amazon) and (Abjad). With the paper crisis, we felt that printing a book of 500 pages would not be within the reach of the average reader, so we contented ourselves with publishing some of our books electronically, designing their covers and titles, then uploading them without issuing a paper copy, which is what happened, for example, with the novel (Don’t Turn Off the Sun) by Ihsan Abdel Quddous because it Huge, even though it’s our bestseller.”
The audiobook is suitable for readers while traveling or hiking. And there are those who prefer to relax and listen to make an effort to read, so international and Arab platforms have worked on developing audio content, including “Dad”, which was founded by Manal Al-Amiri in 2014 and reached 16,000 users in 2017. Story Tel is considered the largest marketer and producer of audiobooks in the Arab world, and its demand increased in 2020 and 2021 by 400 percent. The Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation launched the “Masmoua.com” project in 2017.
Journalist Eman Ali is one of the most prominent voices in audiobook projects, and about her experience she says, “The audio book is a very thriving industry, and unfortunately we started years behind the developed world. The idea started with providing services to specific audiences such as the deaf, dumb, and blind, and then expanded to many categories with limited time.” Reading and the prevalence of the listening culture among new generations, or reading summaries for those who want to know the content of any book in minutes.
Iman added, “Companies contract with the paper publisher, and the authors’ contracts now provide for audio book recording and publication. For me, the issue is an additional profession, and my role as a reader or narrator is under a contract with the company, not with the publisher or author.”--
Paper books are exposed to piracy through forged copies sold for half the original price, or electronic copies are circulated without legal support. Therefore, a few weeks ago a conference was held in Brussels, sponsored by the European Institute for Epistemological Studies, to discuss the publishing crisis in the Arab world. Piracy was considered a crime that causes fatal damage to the publishing movement, and theft of the author’s efforts and publisher’s rights.
The Brussels Declaration called on those dealing with “Social Media” to refrain from piracy of books and to denounce those who do so, in addition to proposing popular editions that suit the low purchasing power of the Arab public and activating intellectual property rights laws similar to what is happening in the West.
Despite her positive vision, the publisher, Nermin Rashad, acknowledges the decline in their book printing rates from 150 books per year to 50, and considers the electronic solution to be very good, but the main problem is related to piracy, which harms the publishing process in all respects. She stated that the head of the Arab Publishers Union, Mohamed Rashad, had sought for years to activate intellectual property laws to prevent piracy and counterfeiting. He met amicably with some of these forgers and offered them a higher percentage of the profits, on the condition that the books are circulated within a legal framework, but they did not comply because they obtained – from forgery – greater profits without burdens.
According to the report of the Arab publishers, the phenomenon of piracy increased from what it was in 2019 by 160 percent in 2020 and by 240 percent in 2021, and no Arab country is excluded from it, but the best countries in confronting the phenomenon are Kuwait, the Emirates, Qatar and the Sultanate of Oman.
Lack of transparency
All the current phenomena of the Arabic book, such as electronic proliferation, applications flourishing, audio books, and piracy all come together under the banner of “absence of transparency”, which makes any talk about readability inaccurate. The report of Arab publishers points out to the absence of accurate statistics, unlike the situation in developed countries, which carefully monitor the volume of sales of the electronic and paper market.
The most important question is not related to the reality of the decline of the “paper” book and the rise of the electronic, but rather to the integrity of the electronic tools. Is the reading counter sufficient to prove the merit of a book? Isn’t what is happening through “Social Media” crude propaganda, and implicit directives to certain names and addresses? Is it a “cultural play” to hide a paid commercial operation?
Any analysis of the Arab book market, its spread, readability, property rights, piracy losses, application profits, publishers’ and writers’ returns, all of this requires a database that is not available, and transparent standards that have not yet been achieved. Therefore, it is not possible to predict the future of the Arabic book at the present moment, but it is certain that it is going through a transitional phase that may change the map of writing and its priorities, the quality of prominent writers, the methods of publishing and publicity, and the nature of the readership segments.
There are those who read what is happening with a positive eye towards the development of the publishing industry and interest in marketing, and this is not a defect, especially as we are talking about a population of more than 400 million people in the Arab world. It is good to reach them through any technological or advertising method, instead of just distributing a few hundred. from printed copies.
While those who look suspiciously at the hidden activity in the corridors of “Social Media” fear the implicit directives, the blind bias of writers who are not good, the absence of serious books due to the floating of entertainment books, and the vulgarity of creativity with its commodification, often the most popular is not the best as a creative and intellectual value. Do you think we have finally reached a “market” publishing that is financially and propaganda popular, but it is against value and creativity?