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M’sia invited to be book fair’s special guest
Published on: Tuesday, November 12, 2019
By: James Sarda

SHARJAH: Malaysia which is Unesco’s choice of World Book Capital next year has been urged by current title holder, UAE, to partake in the yearly Sharjah International Book Fair as Guest of Honour country to further promote its literary and cultural attractions to the wider world.

 “Spain is next on the list (for next year) and there is chance for Malaysia to participate but they must first apply,” said Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) Chairman Ahmed Rakkad Al Ameri, at the Sharjah Expo Centre.

Mexico was the Guest of Honour this year and took the opportunity provided by world’s third biggest book fair to showcase its culture, history, food, literature, artworks, music and films to over two million visitors at the 11-day event.

 The 38th event this year was also graced by several celebrities and icons that included top American comedian and TV host Steve Harvey, Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, Oscar winning Indian filmmaker Gulzar, leadership mentor Robin Sharma, literary giant Vikram Seth and other authors who have sold millions of copies of their books like Mark Manson, Elisabetta Dami, Stephen Ritz, James Clear and Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first hijab-wearing Olympic medallist and Muslim barbie doll.

 The SBA also signed a second joint venture agreement at the fair with Malaysian-based Big Bad Wolf Ventures Sdn Bhd, the organiser of the world’s biggest book sale (Big Bad Wolf Book Sale) to enable people, particularly in the Middle East and Africa regions, to access more books at affordable prices.

 This is to be achieved through Big Bad Wolf Sharjah with the regional branch located at Sharjah Publishing City, the world’s first free publishing zone.

 “It is a win-win for both of us. With this joint venture we are developing a new era in publishing and distribution around the world,” said Al Ameri.

“Through this new joint venture, we will be boosting the circulation and movement of one million books produced in the Middle East and Africa in the next five years,” he said. SBA’s first joint venture was with an American concern, Ingram.

 Al Ameri said the fair, which also set a Guinness Book of World Records with simultaneous book signings by 1,502 authors at a single event, has “surpassed our expectations.”

 He recalled that when it was started by the Ruler of Sharjah and Supreme Council member, His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi in 1982, only 27 publishers took part, so much so that critics dismissed it as a lost cause.

 “Nobody came and everyone told His Highness this book fair will not work.

 “Today it is one of the top three and we also have Sharjah Publishing City. We have Sharjah libraries with over six million content. It shows what we are reaching and how we are reaching the markets.

“We are achieving new goals and targets worldwide while developing the literature industry. Books are a way of developing people just like this year’s slogan ‘open books, open minds’,” he said.

He credits the fair’s success and Sharjah’s global standing today as a leading light in culture and reading in the Arab world to the strong vision of Sheikh Sultan.

 “He knew the value of books. When he became leader, he believed in the path of books,” he said, adding that the UAE is very blessed to have early leaders like founding father late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Dr Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi.

  Asked when the SIBF expects to outdo Frankfurt and Rio de Janerio, Al Ameri said it was not the ranking that matters but in being unique and in enriching content.

 “We are more focussed on developing our programmes to reach its maturity levels like our publishing conference, our librarians conference, the classical book fair, consumer book fair and even developing the cultural ptogrammes.

 “By bringing all these elements together we are strengthening the book fair to be unique. Standing alone and different from the other book fairs around the world.”

 On the threat posed by digitisation to the publishing industry, he does see it affecting the fair, pointing out that the sale of digital books is showing a decline.

 “Now the trend is in publishing is audio books. But we support everything.”

 He also said the Arab response to the fair has been overwhelming with all the states represented at the event, including Kuwait, Bahrain, Mauritania, Somalia, Morocco, Libya and Yemen, among others.

 He said most of the publishers in the Arab world now choose Sharjah for their book launches because of the good media coverage.



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