Sharjah Book Authority uses Zoom to offer a digital platform for Arab publishers as Covid-19 drives the MENA digital transition

The inaugural session of the Sharjah Publishers Club will take place on Zoom on September 9, with topics including innovative marketing techniques and how publishers can leverage social media platforms to drive their businesses.

Moderated by Dr Emad Eldeen Elakehal, founder and director of the UK and Egypt-based Ibiidi Publishing, and with the main speaker Egypt’s Magdy Mohamed Abdalla Ibrahim, Chairman of Mahy for Publishing & Distribution, the virtual event will unsurprisingly have a focus on the role of the Sharjah International Book Fair, which will run this year from November 4-14 and will be the first in-person Arab book fair this year since Muscat.

The Publishers Club, sponsored by the Sharjah Publishing City Free Zone (SPCFZ), will provide,

Virtual discussion sessions, which will highlight emerging opportunities and industry-wide challenges, and bring industry professionals on a unified platform to present effective solutions for both common and unique issues being faced by businesses since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak.

The press release quotes Faisal Al Nabodah, General Coordinator of the Sharjah International Book Fair’s Publishers Conference, as saying:

The Publishers Club virtual initiative is inspired by the Publishers Conference organised annually by Sharjah Book Authority on the sidelines of the Sharjah International Book Fair, which brings together a wide spectrum of publishers and industry professionals on one vibrant platform. Here, they exchange knowledge and expertise and discuss strategies to advance the sector globally. SBA is keen to continue these efforts through the Publishers Club by taking advantage of the technological possibilities available to us today, and offer a digital platform for all publishers to voice their concerns about the most important issues facing their businesses as well as the industry as a whole, expand their network, and bring to the table practical solutions which will help the industry in the current circumstances.

The digital focus will come as no surprise to those who saw the IPA interview with the Arab Publishers Association in July, when the IPA’s Secretary General José Borghino e-sat-down with the Arab Publishers Association’s Secretary General Bachar Chebaro to discuss the impact on Covid-19 on Arab publishing.

Chebaro reported that an 80% fall in print sales during regional lockdown was in part alleviated by a 30-35% increase in digital sales, saying:

Once the pandemic started it was hard to cope with all the changes, but due to the need of survival the members started shifting more and more to digital and audio book formats. Even the publishers who did not have digital books started to turn their books to digital and audio formats. Moreover, more online sales and home delivery occurred during this period of time with majority of publishers and employees working remotely.

Read the full interview here.

It’s too soon to know just how the Sharjah International Book Fair will pan out this year and to what extent it will be a hybrid in-person and virtual event. Traditionally Sharjah is one of the Arab region’s biggest literary events, attracting over 2 million visitors, and Sharjah will be understandably keen to keep the momentum going, within the realm what is safe to proceed with.

But Sharjah, like the rest of the United Arab Emirates, is no stranger to digital, as the virtual publishing club platform would suggest, and we will likely see more digital initiatives from the UAE as we move closer to the Sharjah event and as we begin the countdown to the 2021 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which is the biggest trade event in the Arab publishing world.

As the organisers of the Abu Dhabi Book Fair said in late 2019, as they prepared the 2020 book fair that was later tragically cancelled,

Digital publishing is the future and we seek to embrace it wholeheartedly.