With internet penetration at only 52% it’s easy for publishers to dismiss Egypt as an online backwater best left to those willing to face the challenges of print distribution in a country where “Arabs don’t read”. But the numbers tell a very different story on both counts.
As the world’s biggest literary event year after year after year the Cairo International Book Fair is used to talking numbers in the millions, but amid Pandemic restrictions the 2021 event saw fewer than half the 2020 in-person footfall, and well below 2019 and past years’ numbers.
At which point take a moment to ponder that: with 1.7 million people passing through the gates a book fair in Africa was down 50% on the previous year.
Understandably some people were uneasy travelling to Cairo, or put off by the idea of big crowds if they lived nearby. Travel from overseas or overland neighbours posed even more challenges and risks. And the event had been postponed from a pleasant January climate to a scorching July climate. No wonder people stayed away.
But the event’s organisers – the fair is a joint effort by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and the Egyptian Book Authority (GEBO) – had contingency plans, and the fair that took place between 30 June and 15 July at the Egyptian International Exhibition Center was a hybrid one allowing visitors beyond Cairo and beyond Egypt to participate online for the first time in the fair’s history.
But many chose to be there in person anyway. On the second-to-last day alone over 91,000 people were at the fair.
Per the press statement,
The 52nd session of the Cairo International Book Fair, which concluded on Thursday (July 15), received 1.7 million visitors.
Sectors of the Culture Ministry sold more than 160,000 book copies.
The exhibition’s digital platform saw 225 million hits while and the numbers users registered reached nearly one 1.6 million.
The platform exceeded 270,000 virtual tours and saw over 1.5 million book views online.
1,218 publishers from 25 countries were at the event.
All of which makes the 52nd Cairo International Book Fair a success by any measure, and almost certainly the biggest in-person event anywhere in the world since the Pandemic began.
With internet penetration at only 52% it’s easy for publishers at home and abroad to dismiss Egypt as an online backwater best left to those willing to face the daunting challenges of print distribution in a country where “Arabs don’t read”.
But the numbers tell a very different story on both counts.
Egypt is not just, year after year after year, host to the world’s biggest book fair, but also now hosts the world’s biggest virtual book fair.
Don’t be so surprised. That 52% internet penetration equates to 54.7 million people online – the same as Italy.
The global book market. It’s so much bigger than we think.