So, in other news…
The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) new National Law of Reading, announced by UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan and vice-president Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and its pledges to keep books VAT-free, have been warmly welcomed by the international publishing community. Jose Borghino, secretary general of the International Publishers Association, said: “This kind of progressive thinking is very encouraging and shows a deep understanding of the importance of reading to the health of societies and the development of knowledge economies. It will be fascinating to see the effects of this law on life in the UAE.”
The 35th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) closes this weekend and once again, visiting British publishers will have been struck by the different attitudes to libraries. At the same time as the National Libraries Demonstration was taking place in the UK last weekend – to protest library closures and funding cuts – the Ruler of Sharjah, His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, was providing 4 million AED (nearly £900,000) for Sharjah’s public libraries to spend on titles at the Fair. The Book Fair also saw the third SIBF/American Library Association (ALA) Library Conference, attended by librarians from the UAE and the wider Gulf region. Sharjah’s willingness to host this show demonstrates the Emirate’s belief in the importance of libraries to society.
Some visitors to the Fair also had a chance to see Sharjah Publishing City, the giant free-zone complex being built outside the city and described by Sharjah Book Authority Chairman Ahmed Al Ameri as a “United Nations of books”. The hope is to attract international publishers to set up offices here and Ameri says between 140 and 180 have already signed up.
‘Fan retreat’ is a phrase that isn’t widely used in the UK, but it’s a phenomenon in the US that demonstrates how physical events are proving increasingly popular in a digital world. Aimed at ‘super fans’, fan retreats and ‘open houses’ offer readers the sort of experience seen at YouTube events – selfies with a favourite author and that energy and buzz from being in a community of like-minded, dedicated fans. Penguin Random House is due to host one today (11 November) with Lee Child in Durham, North Carolina, with a $30 ticket getting fans a copy of his latest novel Night School and a $60 ticket getting fans access to a private, Jack Reacher-themed, after-reading party. It’s as if the comicon/cos-play/YouTube/Summer in the City-style event – for so long the province of the comics, Sci-Fi and Fantasy worlds – is now spreading out to more mainstream fiction.
Meanwhile, there are broad smiles at PRH’s children’s division in the US. According to data released by Nielsen BookScan at its recent Children’s Book Summit, PRH had a 31% share of the children’s print book market for the year ending 30 June, 2016, considerably ahead of its nearest rival HarperCollins, which had an 11% share. Scholastic is in third place with a 9% share, but this figure is likely to rise given its huge sales of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Good to hear one piece of good news from Iraq. The Union of Iraq Publishers is among five new publisher associations to join the International Publishers Association, alongside the Ivorian Publishers Association (Ivory Coast), the Mauritanian Union for Publishing & Distribution (Mauritius), the Union of Moroccan Publishers and the Senegalese Publishers Association. Outgoing IPA President Richard Charkin welcomed them, saying: “Every year the IPA grows stronger and better able to execute its dual mission of promoting and defending both copyright and freedom to publish around the world.” Dutch publisher Michiel Kolman, Senior Vice President of Global Academic Relations at Elsevier takes succeeds Charkin as IPA President in January.
Finally, to return to Sharjah. In a fractious world, the healing words of Dr Ghassan Salameh, the former Minister of Culture in Lebanon who now teaches at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris, were welcome at the book fair’s opening ceremony. “We see pain on our TV screens and try to forget it,” he told delegates. “But we should reflect what each of us can do to raise the voice of peace and moderation, and call with all our voices for peace and prosperity for them, and use culture rather than guns.” Amen to that.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.