The Sheikh Zayed Book Award hosted last week a seminar entitled Building a Digital Ecosystem for Knowledge, exploring digital impact on the publishing sector. Moderated by Saeed Hamdan Al Tunaiji, Director of Publishing at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), the seminar was attended by HE Abdulla Majid al Ali, Executive Director of the Dar Al Kutub Sector at DCT Abu Dhabi, HE Rashid Al Kous, Executive Director of the Emirates Publishers Association, Dr. Abdulsalam Haykal, Executive Chairman and Founder of Haykal Media, and Salah Chebaro, Chief Executive Officer of ‘Neel wa Furat.com’.
In his opening remarks, HE Abdulla Majid al Ali, Executive Director of the Dar Al Kutub Sector at DCT Abu Dhabi, cited a number of successful DCT Abu Dhabi initiatives: “We’ve had new and unique experiences that yielded great results, such as turning Louvre Abu Dhabi into a virtual museum, for example, and the large number of virtual concerts and activities we have broadcast to a wide audience through DCT Abu Dhabi’s digital channels.” His Excellency additionally mentioned the Kalima project reading activities, and the awards ceremony of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, which was broadcast online for the first time, garnering over two million views across different online platforms.
H.E. Rashid Al Kous, Executive Director of the Emirates Publishers Association, discussed the publishing sector, commending the unprecedented progress made in the industry by the Emirates Publishers Association, culminating in a major leap in the number of publishing houses in the UAE from just 15 publishers in 2009, to 175 at present. Moreover, His Excellency mentioned the Emirates Publishers Emergency Fund – an initiative by Her Highness Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan al Qasimi, Founder and President of the Emirates Publishers Association – that seeks to support Emirati publishers whose businesses and operations were negatively impacted by the current crisis.
Addressing the digital transformation readiness of the Arab publishing sector, Salah Chebaro of ‘Neel wa Furat.com’ said: “Digital publications currently represent 10% or 15% of total published works in Arabic, which can be attributed to both financial and technical factors.” He pointed out initiatives aiming to bolster Arab digital publishing, most particularly that of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which works closely with Arab publishers and authors in order to build a feasible model for digital publishing.
Dr. Abdulsalam Haykal, Executive Chairman and Founder of Haykal Media, suggested that the Arab publishing sector is neither mature nor stable enough to sustain itself, stressing that “publishing is an industry just like any other, and it requires a set of factors in order to succeed, such as planning, investment and legislation.” Dr. Haykal further discussed the way technology has transformed distribution, and that a book can now be released globally through online platforms with one click, which Haykal believes is an unprecedented opportunity for distribution.
Following that, the discussion moved to address the problem of piracy, and how it undermines building feasible profitable models for digital publishing. HE Rashid Al Kous talked about the efforts and coordination between Emirati authorities aiming to address this problem, while Salah Chebaro reasoned for the potential of digital platforms where books could be rented for a monthly subscription.
Affirming this, Dr. Abdulsalam Haykal supported developing an ecosystem that appealed to investors and talents alike, pointing out the never-before-seen emergence of the ‘subscription culture’ in the Arab world, by which people are happy to pay for content through video and music streaming platforms.