To ADIBF and beyond

<p>So it was my last day at the ADIBF yesterday and time to do a final tour of the stands to find out about how everyone&rsquo;s 2009 experience has been. From newcomers to old timers, Arabic booksellers to UK publishers, comments were overwhelmingly positive about a busy event that seems to be getting more professional and productive by the year, as it continues to transforms itself from book bazaar to book fair.<br />
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As discussed yesterday the educational market currently looks to provide the biggest opportunity for UK publishers. Philip Garratt, business director, education and children&rsquo;s division at Oxford University Press, who is heading up a small stand here, along with reps from the company&rsquo;s sales and marketing office in Dubai, agrees, explaining the market is &quot;a major growth area for the company&quot;. With this his first time at the fair he says it has provided a great opportunity to meet face to face with the companies that OUP already uses to distribute its English-language educational titles. He explains that developing personal relationships with people out here is crucial to good trade.<br />
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Business has been good at the fair for Garratt, with several Arabic rights deals for children&rsquo;s and schools titles already confirmed and others in the pipeline. He intends to sign at least four letters of intent, as part of the Spotlight on Rights subsidy programme&ndash;which according to fair organisers has already had 100 applications. What he is most impressed about here is the government&rsquo;s willingness to spend money on education, including books, even in times of recession. &quot;From our experience schools in the Gulf spend approximately 10 times more per student [on resources] than in the UK.&quot;<br />
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One of the bookshops/distributors/wholesalers (one company tends to cover all these functions) that OUP works with in Abu Dhabi is called the Al Mutanabbi Bookshop. As part of a Kitab-organised tour, I dropped by the company&rsquo;s stand, which is full to the brim with books for sale, and spoke with owner Dawood Salabbai. The business, which he set up 30 years ago, has its headquarters in Dubai, with 6 outlets across the UAE, out of a total 19 shops across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He claims it has the largest collection of books in the region and says the key books it sells are medical and computer titles in English, explaining that families, in the Gulf, even if they do not have much money, always want to educate their children and that &quot;English is the common language that unites; it is something we need to learn.&quot;<br />
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Another player in the Arab educational books world is Bloomsbury Qatar. Last year the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development approached Bloomsbury, based in the UK for educational resources, which led the company to look at the feasibility of the Arab market. On the basis of its findings, it set up a new business in Qatar, announcing the launch at last year&rsquo;s Frankfurt Book Fair, with the aim of starting up an English and Arabic publishing programme, initiating projects to develop reading and writing amongst children both for education and pleasure, and helping to educate locals about publishing. Five months on it is still early days, but Dr Kathy Rooney, m.d. and Mohanalakshim Rajakumar, reading and writing development manager, who were both representing the company at the fair were enthusiastic about their progress, having set up World Book Day for the first time in the country in time for celebrations on 23rd April, for which they have published a dual-language edition of <i>The Selfish Crocodile</i>.<br />
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On an entirely different mission at the fair, is Harlequin Mills and Boon, which famed for its saucy romance novels I have to admit I was quite surprised to see promoting it its books in the Middle East. But, it turns out, after I spoke with Emma Skilton, export account executive for the company that there is a pretty good export market for selected Mills and Boon titles. &quot;We have to send a sample of each title a month in advance to the book ministry to be read and certified. Of about 50 titles sent each month, only about three get rejected, which is normally to do with the cover or book title. We are selling in about 3000 units a month, with relatively low returns, so we are doing well.&quot;<br />
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I attended one of the highlights of the fair&rsquo;s professional programme in the afternoon, entitled &lsquo;Business Potentials of Digital Publishing&rsquo;. During the few days I have been here, it was interesting to see how little e-books and other digital products have been discussed&ndash;when that is always the key topic of conversation at European events. But the session, which featured Ramy Habeeb, owner of the first Arabic language e-book publishing house, Kotobarabia.com, proved that there are digital opportunities and developments happening in the Arab market. However, discussions showed that digital progress is much slower than in Western publishing and there are a number of obstacles to overcome to change this. Dalia M. Ibrahim, vice president and publishing director of Nahdet Misr Publishing &amp; Printing in Egypt&ndash;the Arabic publishers of the Harry Potter books&ndash;summarised them in her presentation: a lack of digital content, piracy and fear of it, people using the internet in the Arab world for socialising rather than looking for meaningful content, and relatively low rates of internet usage. <br />
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Launched towards the end of the day, was Beirut39, a project created by the Hay Festival to celebrate the Beirut Unesco World Book Capital 2009. The initiative will see four well-respected literary figures select 39 of the best Arab writers under the age of 39, taking into account public nominations, and selections from publishers and literary critics. The list will be unveiled at the Beirut Festival in September, with a follow-up Beirut39 Festival scheduled for 4th to 7th March 2010, where the authors will take part in a series of public events.<br />
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In my last press briefing of the fair, I caught up with the key organisers including Claudia Kaiser, general manger of Kitab, Juergen Boos, president and c.e.o. of the Frankfurt Book Fair and Jumaa Abdulla Al Qubaisi, director of ABDIF. Kaiser said that 2008&rsquo;s fair had improved vastly on 2007, but that this year the fair has made an even greater leap, with 32% rise in visitors and a successful cultural and professional program. Al Qubaisi agreed, noting that the Frankfurt Book Fair had played a big part in helping the event to become more professional and further bridge the gap between different nations and cultures in the publishing world. He was even more optimistic for 2010&rsquo;s fair: &quot;Next year, we will see a revolution.&quot;<br />
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With talk on the years ahead, Kaiser, who will be returning to Germany after her impressive stint at Kitab, introduced us to her successor, Monika Krauss, formerly an in-house lawyer for Prestel in Germany, who will formally take over in May. <br />
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A number of new initiatives and aims were also discussed, including a bigger focus on rights next year, with the idea of a rights centre being mooted. Al Qubaisi, also talked of a new library project which will see 15 new branches open across Abu Dhabi in the next five years, with at least one mobile library and one fixed branch scheduled to be ready by the next fair. In the longer term, the group&rsquo;s ambitious aims include the development of a comprehensive catalogue of publisher&rsquo;s titles, the introduction of a pan-Arabic ISBN system, and the use of print-on-demand in the Arab publishing market. Boos summarised ABDIF&rsquo;s mission statement: &quot;Much the same as the Frankfurt Book Fair, we want to cater to the needs of our publishing community, stimulate reading and generate attention to literature.&quot;<br />
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I am now heading home from the sun (not that I saw any of it!) but a blog of the final days of the fair can be found on the fair's website at <a href="&quot;http://www.adbookfair.com&quot;">http://www.adbookfair.com,</a> and I will be writing a feature to round up all of the issues addressed at ABIDF 2009 in <i>The Bookseller</i> on 3rd April.</p>