Sharjah aims to offer new opportunities for publishing world

With print-on-demand company Lightning Source Sharjah, the emirate aims to be a global centre for publishing

Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority. Photo: Sharjah Book Authority
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The Sharjah Book Authority hopes to revolutionise the publishing industry in the Middle East and North Africa, after teaming up with Lightning Source, one of the world's biggest print-on-demand companies.

Lightning Source Sharjah opened in the emirate's free zone, Sharjah Publishing City, in November, making it one of the first major print-on-demand and distribution facilities in the Middle East.

At The London Book Fair, one of biggest trade shows of the year, both parties have been making their case to hundreds of international publishers and promoting their services.

In a Wednesday panel session, titled The Future of Book Supply, David Taylor, senior vice president for international content acquisitions for Lightning Source's parent company, Ingram, described how the enterprise can fast-track the delivery of books, produced on paperback and with an option for hardback, to readers and retailers across the Middle East and the Gulf.

“The distribution model in the region is not as advanced or capable as we enjoy it in North America or Europe. So what we built there in Sharjah Publishing City is a print-on-demand model.

“This means books can be manufactured on demand and sold to a retailer when there is an order for it,” he says.

“The difference now is that, where before, you wanted a book from the US it would have taken two to three weeks, now there is the option of ordering it from Lightning Source Sharjah and you will get it in three days.

“If you think about the impact this will have on the supply chain in Sharjah, it is quite transformational.”

Sharjah Book Authority chairman Ahmed Al Ameri says the UAE's geographic location is strategically placed to serve markets well beyond the immediate region.

"How we promote Sharjah Publishing City within the industry is that we are the new China. We are the hub for the whole Middle Eastern and African market,” he says.

“Sharjah has also become a hub for distribution because it is cheaper to print in Sharjah and ship it to the UK than printing it in China, or in India, because of the flow of ships and airplanes.”

Porter Anderson, editor-in-chief of trade publication Publishing Perspectives, said the print-on-demand model could be the ideal method to help Arabic publishing houses hard hit by the pandemic.

"One of the things I discovered when talking to Mohamed Rashad, the president of the Arab Publishers Association, is that when the pandemic hit that region, they lost almost 27 per cent of publishing houses," he says.

"They were mostly the small, independent publishers because they were not ready to make the digital transition.

“So what we are talking about here, print on demand could help save these publishers. Because now you have a facility in Sharjah that can print and move the books out.”

There are some caveats, according to Taylor.

He views the print-on-demand method as more suited for backlist titles, an industry term for older books available from a publisher, as opposed to recently published “front-list” titles.

"If you are a publisher and you are producing a front-list book and you are highly confident you can sell a thousand copies, then you should print a thousand copies and sell them,” he says.

“But then you should eventually move it to print on demand to capture some of the residual consumer demand, which generally exists for any title you can practically think of.”

Updated: April 08, 2022, 9:30 AM