Chapter and verse on the book business

This years Abu Dhabi International Book Fair will see discussions on legal issues in an attempt to make the regional publishing industry more professional.

March 9, 2008 ABU DHABI, UAE
Mohamed Rafat, 25, an Egyptian sales person for the University Bookshop unloads Arabic language books before the open of the 17th International Abu Dhabi Book Fair at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Center.  The University Bookshop is putting 25 thousand more titles on the bookshelf than last year in expectation of greater sales. PHOTO: Nicole Hill / The Nation
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ABU DHABI // The idea is, simply, to "create a new buzz" around books. And events planned for the 19th annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair should help to achieve this goal, organisers say. To be held from March 17 to 22 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the book fair this year is seeking to improve professionalism in the regional publishing industry by expanding its workshops and panel discussions to include legal issues such as copyright, piracy and intellectual property.

Networking between writers, publishers and licensrrs will also be promoted in the hope that deals can be made over the course of the fair. "Boosting business and getting more people into books are the dual goals of the [fair]," said Claudia Kaiser, the general manager of Kitab, who also said the bar needed to be raised in terms of the professionalism, quality and profile of writing and publishing in the Middle East publishing industry. Such issues will be addressed at the fair.

The organisers, a group called Kitab, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and the Frankfurt Book Fair, say the most important aspect of the six-day event will be the networking opportunities it provides and activities aimed at solving the licensing, copyright and cross-jurisdictional problems that have plagued the publishing industry to date. Publishing European and North American books regionally has hitherto been a challenge, specifically in connection with piracy, and organisers say they are linking publishers with licensers through events at the fair that should help small publishers expand and address the lack of a specific forum for Arab publishers to share information.

Participants in the event include Raja Alsanea, author of Girls of Riyadh; Amitav Ghosh, known for his internationally acclaimed novels Sea of Poppies and The Hungry Tide; and Simon Kuper, whose anthropologic approach to sports writing earned him the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 1994. Kitab recently launched the Arab Publishers' Syndicate through which they hope to raise industry standards by the sharing of ideas among regional players in publishing..

All licensing deals agreed at the fair will be partially subsidised by Kitab, in a move it hopes will strengthen professional relationships. Among the highlights of the fair is the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards, which received more than 600 entries from 26 countries, and for which winners have already begun to be announced. Baqer Salman al Najjar, sociologist and professor at the University of Bahrain, won the prize for best contribution to the development of the country for his book The Strenuous Democracy in the Arabian Gulf. Members of the awards council said Dr al Najjar's analysis of "archaic" relations within Arab states as well as comprehensive research into democratic societies in the Gulf made his work stand out.

Yousef Waglesi, who has published numerous books and articles about literary discourse and analysis, was awarded the young author of the year prize for the book The Intricacy of Terminology in the New Arab Discourse. Workshops at the fair will be geared to more esoteric branches of publishing as well, namely education. Kitab said it was among the most popular events, with 500 delegates expected, including teachers, principals and authors. An antiquarian book fair aims to generate interest in the history of publishing, showcasing volumes from around the world.

Ms Kaiser, Kitab's general manager, expects the number of participants to exceed those of the 2008 fair, when 482 publishers from 42 countries attended. The most important thing to come out of the fair, Ms Kaiser said, would be to "inspire, engage and appeal to all sense and ages; create a new buzz around books".