Sharjah: A new page is turning in the long-standing literary relationship between the United Kingdom and the UAE, said UK publishers attending the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) on Thursday.
As the inaugural Guest of Honour at this year’s book fair, members of a UK trade mission team attending the book fair told Gulf News that the gesture by Sharjah organisers is a signal of a growing cultural exchange of all things literary between the UAE and the UK.
The UK trade team of publishers, authors and media companies is being led by the UK’s The Publishers’ Association and The London Book Fair.
Philip Parham, British Ambassador to the UAE, welcomed the hospitality from book fair organisers noting that the “UK physical book exports to the UAE are currently worth over £37 million (Dh178 million) a year. We welcome this chance to strengthen further this commercial partnership between our countries.”
Parham said, “UK publishers attending SIBF will meet counterparts from the emirates and beyond, forging new global collaboration in rights sales and exports.”
Gerry Ritchie, international trade adviser, Department for International Trade (DIT) London Region, said the “value of the UK book market is almost £3.5 billion and exports are growing rapidly, approaching 50 per cent of that value, with the UAE being one of the fastest-growing markets for UK publishers.”
Emma House, deputy chief executive of The Publishers Association, gave the Sharjah International Book Fair high marks amid meetings on the second day with publishers and authors from both countries.
“We’re very happy with the trade mission so far; we think people will go away having met many people and building new relationships,” House told Gulf News at the Britain’s stand at the Sharjah Expo Centre.
Jacks Thomas, director of London Book Fair, thanked Sharjah for its warm hospitality and said the Guest of Honour designation for the UK is evidence of a cultural exchange that is growing between the two countries.
“For us to be the first Guest of Honour opens new channels of distribution; it also allows us to bring books from the Arab world home to the UK. British readers are very open to books from other countries,” Thomas told Gulf News.
Jade Robertson, international publishing director with Austin MacAuley Publishers, said the London-based firm has recognised the UAE’s book market as a critical stepping stone to increased exposure in the Middle East.
The firm is so enthusiastic about the UAE market that it will soon open doors to its new offices in Sharjah Publishing City, Robertson said.
“We’re one of the first UK book companies in Sharjah and we plan to nurture old relationships and build on new ones as well,” she said, adding that the book fair is a critical venue to connect within the industry.
“It’s important to get our brand out there, to show our titles and interact with our readers.”
Ben Glover, director, sales and marketing, Rowman & Littlefield International, agreed that the Sharjah book fair is an opportunity for academic professional publishers to touch base with their peers.
“One of the things that tells me how the Sharjah book fair has grown in five years is more people are coming here for business. Sharjah has really become a maturing market. For small publishers, we can have very good meetings with book sellers, retailers and wholesalers.”
David Roche, executive chairman of BookBrunch, an online firm that serves daily news and views trending in the publishing sector, said the Sharjah book fair is an important event on the global book industry calendar.
The book fair also reaffirms the future of reading for next generations, Roche said.
“Sharjah’s leadership and its emphasis on the importance of reading is amazing. To see children running around here as if it were Disneyland is an incredibly positive thing to witness,” he said.
Sharjah International Book Fair runs until November 11 and is the third largest event of its kind in the world.
Reading is popular in UAE
Sharjah: Popularity of reading in the UAE has been tangibly demonstrated in a first survey conducted in 2015, according to the Arab Reading Index.
The UAE was ranked as the fourth best-read country of 22 Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.
The average UAE reader spends 57 hours reading 24 books per year, 18 of them in Arabic language with the remaining eight books in foreign languages, said the index.
In the UAE, 81 per cent of 5,400 survey respondents said they believed “reading is an essential need in life” and a further 86 per cent agreed that “reading doesn’t end with graduation”.