How e-books and audiobooks are expanding options for consuming Arabic literature

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From Arab News:

  • While many Arab readers prefer the printed book, others say ebooks and audiobooks save time, space and money
  • Growth of digital-literature market evident in production of 8,000 Arabic-language audiobooks in 2022 alone

DUBAI: As technology advances, bookworms are finding more options to consume literature than just through the printed word. Though e-books in Arabic are far fewer in number than those in English, publishers and translators are working to bridge the gap.

In 2018, Amazon announced Arabic-language support for the Kindle e-reader, opening the door of literature to a much larger audience.

From novels to self-help books, biographies to poetry and more, an increasing number of Arabs are finding affordable means to gain knowledge in e-books and audiobooks. Yet, reading a printed book is still the most favored option for the vast majority.

“Honestly, I don’t think there is a problem of reading books in the Arab region as some might think, as much as there is a problem in selling books,” Salah Chebaro, CEO of Beirut-based Neelwafurat, told Arab News.

Neelwafurat, one of the biggest online bookstores in the Arab world, is a word merging the two Arabic names of the Nile and Euphrates rivers.

The bookstore sells printed books from Arab publishers to different cities around the world. It boasts a stock of 15,000 e-books for sale that can be read through the iKitab application, as well as 800,000 printed books.

. . . .

“When you look at the number of the pirated books that were downloaded, they are in the millions,” Chebaro said in an online interview from the Lebanese capital. “People like to read, but they don’t like to pay to read.”  

However, “the predicament for publishers, distributors and bookshops in the Arab world … is in shipping (books) and other logistics related to the geography of the Arab region.”

For instance, the cost of shipping a consignment of printed books weighing a total of 2 kilograms from New York to Los Angeles in the US is roughly the same as, say, sending it from Cairo to Amman.

Saving on shipping costs is among the main factors behind the increasing popularity of e-books in the Arab region. Other factors include saving the space needed to store and carry around print books, as well as the speed of buying a book online, which can be finalized in the blink of an eye.

While some continue to maintain their preference for the printed word, reading on gadgets has many advantages. Yemeni-British Dhuha Awad, a creativity facilitator based in Dubai, says she likes the dictionary function in digital English books.

“I can type the word I am looking for, and the gadget will display all the lines that have that word (in the digital book). Also, I don’t need to carry the book I am reading with me all the time,” Awad told Arab News.

Her library consists of roughly equal numbers of digital and printed books, and she uses the e-book format to further save time and physical space. “If I like a certain book and want others to read it, I make sure I have it in paper. But if I am not sure, I will buy the digital format first,” she said.

. . . .

The growth in the e-books market in the Arab region is led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, Ali Abdel Moneim Ahmed, digital publishing consultant with Liberty Education in the UK, Egypt, and UAE, said during a panel discussion at the Sharjah Publishers Conference on the sidelines of the 2022 edition of the UAE’s Sharjah International Book Fair, held every November.

Link to the rest at Arab News

2 thoughts on “How e-books and audiobooks are expanding options for consuming Arabic literature”

  1. Wait, isn’t this the Saudi paper? I would have thought ebooks and audio books were popular over there because it’s easier to route around the damage of censorship. I kept wondering why the OP wasn’t mentioning that, but it makes sense now given the source. Is it really that the people don’t want to pay for books, or is it that they can’t get the books unless they pirate? Everyone remembers the U.N. report on how few books are translated into Arabic; even the OP mentions the lack of publishing:

    Only a million books have been published in the Arab region in the past five decades, according to data shared by Chebaro with Arab News.

    Emphasis mine. Few books published, and yet there’s all this pirating of books. Even granting the excuse of shipping costs — really? — this suggests the piracy is a supply issue, not a demand issue. I mean, how much is shipping a factor if the relevant nations have publishers onside who can handle reprint / translations? Or partnerships with publishers in different countries, e.g. Rizzoli? I also suspect the pirates are probably reading other languages, again given the lack of translations into Arabic. I’m just skeptical the pirates are being cheap and thieving in this case, which is how Chebaro makes them sound. In a regime where access to knowledge is actively restricted, I’m biased to siding with those who are trying to overcome those barriers.

    • I lived there for a long time. English books were readily available at bookstores, but there was a limited selection. Many bookstores had English sections larger than Arabic sections.

      However, that was in the Eastern Province where the oil is found, and where a lot of Expats are also found. Cultural restrictions were less than in other parts of the country. Riyadh was more restricted, Mecca/Medina off limits to Expats, and Jeddah more open.

      When Amazon started up, we jumped on it. One could order anything from Amazon, and we never saw any obvious tampering with the packages. I could order a book and have it in a week. However, every book I brought back into the Kingdom was inspected by customs. The only time I ever had a problem was returning from London with the Playbill for a live performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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