Having acquired Souq earlier this year it was inevitable Amazon’s interests would turn to the wider MENA (Middle East North Africa) region.
And as 2017 ended it transpired both Amazon and Apple were negotiating with the Saudi authorities to do business in the kingdom.
In Apple’s case negotiations are quite advanced, with a formal agreement expected as soon as February, and an Apple retail store in 2019.
Apple is already the second biggest smartphone player in Saudi Arabia after Samsung.
For Amazon, AWS is where the action is heading, and in fact Saudi Arabia will be the third AWS operation in the Middle East. Amazon’s AWS blog reported back in September that AWS was being lined up in Bahrain and the UAE.
In December Arab News reported that Amazon’s KDP self-publishing option for the Kindle store was beta-testing Arabic-language ebook uploads. Kudos to Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader for being the first of the western industry blogs to break that story, while I was fighting laptop gremlins.
But bottom line is there is no suggestion that Amazon or Apple are interested in the MENA ebook markets at this stage, although Google Play does have several ebook stores across the region – Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – and there are a couple of local players. Kotobi and Yaqut, for example.
MENA is not a major book market player by traditional measures, but as we’ve been exploring here at TNPS, there is plenty of interest in, and buying of, books at the big book fairs and literary events across the region, where literally millions turn out, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on books.
No, that’s no exaggeration. Last year the Sharjah Book Fair in the desert of the UAE received 2.38 million visitors and sold books to the value of $56m.
Both the Algiers International Book Fair in Algeria and the Cairo International Book Fair in Egypt regularly get well over one million visitors each, with the Muscat Book Fair in Oman closing in with 850,000 visitors, and other fairs across the region all attracting huge numbers (the Casablanca Book Fair in Morocco next month is expecting 350,000) of devoted readers.
But while Amazon and Apple look the other way, it’s not just Google Play that is moving in to meet demand.
As previously reported here at TNPS, there are local audiobook players –
and local online book stores –
Saudi Arabia’s online bookstore delivers Jeddah Book Fair orders to your door
and even an Arabic language self-publishing portal.
Hekayh – The Arab world’s answer to Amazon KDP self publishing. In Sweden
It may well be soon that Amazon’s AWS is powering some of these digital book initiatives in the Middle East, but as we start 2018 there seems very little probability Amazon or Apple will be taking any steps to engage directly in the MENA book markets.