This is an exciting time for Sharjah-based publisher Kalimat. In April at Bologna Children’s Book Fair it was named the best publisher of the year in Asia and shortly afterwards at London Book Fair it announced a joint venture with UK publishing house Quarto.
Kalimat’s founder Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi (below) says the partnership with Quarto came about after she met c.e.o. Marcus Leaver a year and a half ago at Frankfurt Book Fair. “He wanted to learn about the Arab world so he came to Sharjah Book Fair and it was a natural progression from there."
Al Qasimi was keen to collaborate because "I wanted to do something different, to explore new genres and opportunities. It's part of growing Kalimat organically.”
A couple of cookbooks have already been picked out for venture and Kalimat will start publishing and distributing under the joint KQ imprint in 2017. Al Qasimi says that Kalimat is also currently working on a partnership with another UK company.
Al Qasimi’s desire to grow and experiment is clear. Last year, Kalimat launched a new imprint to publish books for adolescents and adults, called Rewayat. She says the expansion to a new audience has been "interesting” and explains the reasons for the move: “We want to publish exciting books, we don't want to be like other publishers”. At the same time, she adds: “We're taking it one step at a time, we're selective about the books and authors we publish."
Kalimat is also selective in the books it chooses to translate into Arabic. Al Qasimi explains: “When we buy books to translate, it's a delicate balance - we look for stories to interest Arab children”. She cites the White Giraffe series by Lauren St John as a “success story” for Kalimat’s translated books. “It's about a new culture but there are universal themes. It has been picked up by the Ministry of Education to use in schools.”
When it comes to the books that foreign publishers acquire from Kalimat, Al Qasimi says its series on Islamic explorers and scientists does well in Europe. “These are some of our most translated titles. Publishers like the illustrations and the fact that it comes from an authentic source which means it's fact-checked.”
Kalimat’s books do particularly well in in Turkey and Malaysia. Al Qasimi believes this is because “we publish diverse, cultural, universal books that suit their cultural scenes so they buy our whole list”. She adds: “Publishers from other countries only choose books that might work in their markets but we've sold rights in countries including Italy, Sweden, the UK and Canada.”
Kalimat is also interesting in its approach to digital publishing. Although Al Qasimi acknowledges that “people here prefer print as there is a high value on the physical book”, digital publishing is “picking up”. Kalimat publishes all of its books in physical and digital format as “we think both are important and we want to provide parents with both options”. Kalimat’s Horouf imprint, a digital education platform that is interactive and aimed at pre-school children, has “done well in schools and with parents”.
Al Qasimi hopes to roll it out across UAE schools for different age groups. She says: “It's a fun way of learning Arabic, there's more room for innovation in digital”.
Despite its expansion, Al Qasimi is clear that she does not want Kalimat to lose its core vision. “I started Kalimat because my daughter complained she had no interesting books to read. We publish child-centric books. I want children to have fun reading them, there's no message or teaching in them - it's about enjoyment."
As such, she says experiences such as Sharjah Children's Reading Festival are “priceless” because “we are primarily a children's publisher and will always see ourselves that way and this is a chance to meet direct customers and get feedback from children and parents, which helps us refine our list.” She is positive about the festival, saying “it's growing every year in terms of visitors”.
She is also excited “as a publisher and as president of the Emirates Publishers Association” for the creation of the new Sharjah Book City.
“I feel it will enhance our industry and help us with issues we face. Sharjah is central in the world so this is a good location. We know people who have already signed up to be part of it.”
She adds: “There is big progression in this part of the world, lots of publishers are moving here. It will be exciting to have a big conglomerate of publishers here. We can learn from each other and be a community.”