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Guts, dreams and a mother's prayers: Booksellers narrate success stories in Sharjah

Professionals from publishing world meet at first International Booksellers Conference in Sharjah



by

A Staff Reporter

Published: Thu 19 May 2022, 4:48 PM

We had guts, dreams, and our mother’s prayers, but what we didn’t have was a warehouse, inventory or a business plan,” Egyptian bookseller Nadia Wassef. said at the International Booksellers Conference in Sharjah, while recollecting the unconventional beginnings of popular bookstore chain Diwan.

A bookstore with a café at its heart on the banks of the Nile river, Diwan with books in Arabic, English, German and French, grew fast, opening 10 outlets across Cairo run by a strong workforce of 150 employees. “We were a commercial space where we didn’t practice commerce,” noted Wassef narrating how Diwan survived the global pandemic.

The second and concluding day of the debut edition of the world’s first International Booksellers Conference organised in Sharjah, opened with the inspiring story of the brave and passionate bookseller from Cairo, who set up shop with her sister and a dear friend.

During the event organised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) on the sidelines of the ongoing 13th Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF), the owner and co-founder of Diwan, a pioneering chain of modern bookstores in Egypt, told the 385 booksellers and publishing professionals in the audience that the main reason behind the success of Diwan is because the bookstore was raised and developed like a living entity with a unique identity and personality of its own.

“While determination, experimentation and resilience helped us, what was critical to our survival was the unique identity Diwan had created in its 20 years of existence,” noted Nadia, strongly emphasising to the audience that “as booksellers, we need to know who we are and what we stand for because if no one knows who you are and what you represent, then you will not be able to capture the customer’s attention.”

How booksellers can build solid partnerships with publishers, authors, festivals and schools?

Continuing with its overarching theme of exploring ways to streamline industry efforts to advance the book business ecosystem regionally and globally, one of the discussions witnessed a diversity of publishing ecosystem players from India, Nigeria and Georgia sharing insights on how they support booksellers.

Tina Mamulashvili, managing director of Tblisi-based Bakur Sulakauri Publishing, who also runs close to 10 bookstores in Georgia, noted: “Booksellers are our biggest customers. We support bookstores by publishing special newsletters, marketing materials like bookmarks and shopping bags; we prepare the displays for our new launches sometimes and even design bookstore windows”.

Lola Shoneyin, who wears many hats as a publisher, a bookseller and the organiser of the popular Ake Book Festival in Nigeria, said her experience as a secondary level teacher was invaluable to her career in publishing. “The way we work with publishers is that when we organise the Ake Book Festival, we take authors on school visits. We also take books as gifts to distribute to school children after negotiating the maximum discount with publishers to be able to give as many books as possible to students.”

For Gaurav Shrinagesh, CEO, Penguin, Random House India & South-East Asia, publishers can be ready to add value to booksellers only when they truly understand who they speak to and who are their target audiences. “As booksellers, you have the greatest opportunity of truly knowing your customer,” he told the booksellers in attendance.

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Co-founder of India’s first multi-city international children’s literature festival, Bookaroo, Swati Roy, said the idea for the festival was born from their independent bookstore, Eureka’s success in getting children together for storytelling sessions and other cultural activities.

“In five years, we realised that it was possible to take these activities to a festival level,” she said, adding that much of Bookaroo’s success comes from the support it receives from publishers and other bookstores. “We work with publishers to create the festival programme; we work with booksellers well in advance to make sure book stocks for the festival are all ready to be brought in. Even for our bookstore, all events we curate are done in collaboration with publishers.”


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