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Sharjah International Book Fair will revive pandemic-hit industry: Publishers

Afkar Abdullah /Sharjah
afkarali@khaleejtimes.com Filed on November 1, 2020
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Demand for eBooks and audio books surged during the pandemic.

Panelists of the opening session of the Publishers Conference are placing their trust in the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) for the revival of the industry.

“We hope SIBF 2020 will bring some relief to our publishers. Let’s hope Sharjah will be the starting point for publishers to get back to business,” said Sherif Bakr, Director, Dar Al Arabi for Publishing and Distribution – Egypt, during a discussion titled ‘Global publishing spotlight: Surviving and thriving during a pandemic’.

“Egypt suffered a huge hit as a series of regional and international book fairs were cancelled since early March, the main selling windows for local literary merchandise. This meant either very little or no sales at all for our publishers since Muscat International Book Fair 2020,” he explained.

Demand for eBooks and audio books surged during the pandemic, said Sherif. “We’ve sold eBooks and audiobooks; many publishers who did not have websites have now created them to connect with readers and other stakeholders. They also started to work on digital marketing, began to understand that it’s not just about posting titles online – it is much more. The highlights for the local market have been the sales of audiobooks and the new job opportunities have been created as a result of this pandemic.”

Books matter regardless of our circumstances, said Lisa Milton, Executive Publisher, HQ and Mills & Boon (UK). “One of our strongest focus areas being adult trade publishing, the biggest challenge always is discoverability. Previously, we have pushed this agenda through bookshops, journalists, radio, fairs and literary festivals, etc. With the onset of the pandemic, however, we lost many of these platforms – had to move away from broadcast sales to dialogue platforms on social media to connect with our readers and continue our quest for discoverability,” she said.

“Getting books into the hands of the readers is pivotal, and is what will keep your business going, she added.

Sharing the ongoing challenges faced by the French book industry since the first nationwide lockdown was imposed in March, Nicolas Roche, Managing Director, BIEF – France, said: “It was very difficult for us to work until May. Between June until now, we understood the pandemic better, worked around it, sales picked up and we did quite well. We looked forward to resuming a full relationship with the reader, but we are faced with uncertainty once again. While November and December are two months that usually witness sizeable book sales, we are not sure if the trend will continue this year. Ultimately, what we need is solidarity. We need to be able to meet again, for real — not only for B2B meetings, but meet readers during fairs and speak about our projects. I look forward to that day.”

Meanwhile, Ravi DeeCee, CEO, DC Books – India, opined that during the pandemic, readership has grown in India. “We’ve seen a major revival of reading throughout our nation; people catching up on decades of reading during the 45-day lockdown. Mid-February, we were absolutely sure that a lockdown was looming upon us. Our digital and eBooks department braced for this unprecedented event, and we announced free download of books for a single day in March. This resulted in 100,000 free downloads in a day’s time. We requested our state to keep the book shops open during the lockdown phase, when only groceries, pharmacies, and essential services were allowed to operate. They agreed, allowing some book shops to sell, few days a week, which brought us sales at a time we least expected,” he added.

afkarali@khaleejtimes.com

Afkar Abdullah





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