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Small publishers reveal COVID-19 lockdown survival tactics at Sharjah summit

bodour-publishers-conference-2021-1635773366831 IPA President Bodour Al Qasimi (centre front), Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah (second from right) and other attendees at Publishers Conference at Expo Sharjah Centre on November 1 Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: The COVID-19 lockdowns saw independent publishers innovate to survive, heard the ‘Publishers Conference’ at Expo Centre Sharjah on Monday.

The three-day conference comes ahead of the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), to be held November 3 to 13 at the same venue.

On Monday, the conference’s second day, independent publishers revealed their lockdown survival tactics during a session.

The session was attended by Bodour Al Qasimi, President, International Publishers Association; Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman, Sharjah Book Authority; Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature; and publishing professionals.

Moderated by Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, Publishing Perspectives, the session titled ‘The Independent Publishing Boom: Generating Book Sales’, turned the spotlight on creative ways independent publishers reached out to readers during the pandemic.

Michel Moushabeck, Founder of US-based Interlink Publishing, revealed how a quick adaptation to new business models saw the company mark an eight per cent increase in sales in 2020.

Reaching out to readers

He said: “We shifted focus early on during the pandemic towards expanding our direct-to-consumer sales which helped us stay afloat. Our newsletters with book recommendations resonated with our readers, and we engaged with people and non-profits in our community to support worthy causes. In addition, author talk sessions on Zoom democratised the book tour experience, allowing us a wider audience outreach.”

‘Wake up call’

Khalid Al Nassri, publisher of Milan-based Al Mutawassit, which focuses on contemporary Arabic literature and poetry, described the pandemic and subsequent lockdown as a “wake-up call”.

Recalling how a poetry night he organised on Zoom attracted a 10,000-plus audience, he said: “The lockdown was a time for introspection but also a time to seize opportunities to amend our publishing processes and adapt it to the new situation. We continued to publish books even if it couldn’t reach the reader – as a symbolic gesture to show that we must all carry on.”

‘Decolonising African literature’

Moderated by Angela Wachuka, Co-Founder and Partner, Book Bunk, Kenya, a session titled, ‘Decolonising Our Stories: The Growing Influence of African Authors’, explored the concept of ‘decolonising’ African literature as it enters new markets.

The session featured three Africa writers whose works are being translated into Arabic by UAE-based Kalimat Group.

Petina Gappah, Zimbabwean author of Out of Darkness, Shining Light, hailed the move by Kalimat, saying:“This is exactly the kind of decolonisation we need – we need to decolonise the languages we think are important; and decolonise publishing centres we assume are more strategic.”

Calling on African writers to not give up on their publishing rights, Lola Shoneyin, author and director of Nigeria’s Ake Arts and Book Festival, said: “For decolonising to work and for Africa to become empowered as a market, we need to retain our rights as writers. It is with this in mind that we launched One Read, a virtual book club that enables our people access to books authored by African writers.”

Ancient tradition

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Kenyan author of The Dragonfly Sea, said: “African writing is a 1,500-year-old feat – it is not ‘emerging’ now.”

african-session-publishers-conference-sharjah-2021-1635773364757 Session on African authors at the conference Image Credit: Supplied

Describing how global media networks are looking to Africa to satiate the need for diverse content, she said: “The new generation is not limited by old cartographies; through them we find new places of shared imagination, shared values and shared curiosities. The shift in interest towards the Swahili seas lends itself to a vibrant energy that makes new ideas and stories possible.”

Incentives for 1,500 publishers

During the upcoming SIBF, Sharjah Publishing City Free Zone (SPC Free Zone) will be participating with an array of attactive business set-up packages and incentives on offer from SPC Free Zone to over 1,500 publishers from around the world who will have a presence at SIBF 2021.

Salim Omar Salim

Salim Omar Salim, director of SPC Free Zone, said: “SPC Free Zone provides investors with an integrated business environment featuring advanced services, incentives and state-of-the-art infrastructure. We have stayed abreast of Sharjah’s strong and rapidly growing economic environment and shaped our offerings to ensure businesses who set up operations in the first-of-its-kind free zone in the world are able to benefit from our competitive advantages and also expand regionally. The SPC Free Zone is one of the brightest examples of the key role played by the emirate to advance the Arab book market.”


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