Arab writers will extend the reach of their words after the region's first independent distributor of Arabic books is launched. Abu Dhabi Distribution (ADD) is to be launched by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), it was announced at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair yesterday. The company will address the lack of a robust system for distributing books across national boundaries, one of the biggest problems facing the Arabic book industry.
ADD, which will be funded and owned by ADACH, will start operating next year and will have five years to turn a profit. "In this region, we don't have a book distribution system," said Dr Axel Goehler, the managing director of the Hamburg-based Newmex Consulting, part of the team that will run ADD. "A lot of the culture is lost." Dr Goehler's team conducted a six-month study of the Arabic publishing industry and found that only 2 per cent of those involved in it were satisfied with the way it works.
Arabic authors face physical hurdles to selling books on a massive, regional scale, but ADD aims to break them down as a business-to-business service provider and an intermediary between Arab publishers and regional distributors, with the goal of becoming the market leader in the MENA region. As it stands, all distributors in the region are tied to book shops, publishers, or both. The company will be based in Abu Dhabi with sales offices in cities including Beirut, Jeddah and Amman. So far, it has signed up 30 publishers representing between 40,000 and 50,000 titles, Dr Goehler said.
They include major players such as Dar Al Moualef, Librarie Orientale and Hachette Antoine, all based in Lebanon, and Jarir Bookstore, based in Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, it aims to built a database of between 150,000 and 200,000 Arabic titles, Dr Goehler said. Initially, these will be sorted according to the international standard book number (ISBN), but he added that "we are thinking about creating our own registry number besides ISBN".
There is no central database where book buyers can go to find a comprehensive list of all titles published in the region. Self-published authors will be able to participate, Dr Goehler said, as the company will offer a range of services, from money collection to physical distribution. "The publishers are a really important part of this," he said. "The publishers are really the main players." While ADD would not be the region's first attempt to create a system similar to that of more developed book markets, it is the first one to have the strong financial backing that such an endeavour requires, Dr Goehler said.
"There have been attempts to create a distribution network before but they underestimated the complexity of the task," he said. "This project in the beginning is not going to be profitable. But ADACH is willing to sponsor this for a number of years." The team will only run the company in the early initial phase, Dr Goehler noted. "Our role will be the starting team, and then we will hand it over to be run as an Arab company."