Sharjah: More than 500,000 visitors are expected during the on-going Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), its director said in an interview with Gulf News.
Ahmad Al Ameri said the annual fair has become the world’s sixth largest book expo and the biggest event show in the UAE in terms of visitor numbers.
More than 920 publishers from more than 60 countries are taking part this year. A record 385,000 titles — millions of individual copies — are on sale till November 17 at Expo Centre.
“Last year we had about 500,000 visitors. Looking at the response in the first two days this year, we’ll easily break that number,” Al Ameri said.
Virtually every genre and language is represented at the fair, he said, with hundreds of stalls in five giant halls.
“And it’ll keep getting bigger and better, there’ll always be something new, something different every year. We’re planning to host a very special celebrity guest that 100,000 visitors will want to see.”
He declined to name the personality, only saying the person would be from a country in Asia. “You’ll be surprised, it’s definitely a big name,” Al Ameri said.
Starting out as a single ballroom event in 1982 — of no more than 30 local book shops and regional publishers — SIBF now draws visitors from around the world. Many book lovers, colleges, libraries and other institutions from the GCC, Europe and Africa are repeat visitors.
Indian participation has risen 500 per cent with more than 40 new publishers this year. From Pakistan, the Country of Focus this year, 22 new publishers from a total of 30 are taking part. In addition, there are 24 new countries exhibiting this year.
Al Ameri denied the rise of digital multimedia means a dip in book reading. “It is a digital age, no one can deny that. But the love of books is still there. That feeling of holding a book, that joy is still strong.
“Our aim is to spread a reading culture in the community. People ‘read’ online, yes, but a recent US study shows it’s mostly just regular website visits. The paper book is still popular all over the world.
“E-books are nice, you can carry a whole library in your palm. But how much does an iPad [for example] cost to read them, or how much will you pay for new e-books — that’s also a factor.”
On publishing costs, Al Ameri said translation is the single most expensive hurdle. “That’s why the Sharjah government, under an initiative of His Highness Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi [Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah] is providing grants to translate books into and from Arabic, and between other languages as well.
“This is building bridges in culture and knowledge. It’s a great success story.”
SIBF is organised by the Department of Culture and Information in Sharjah.