Monday, April 23, 2007

Abu Dhabi Book Fair Bridges East and West

By Edward Nawotka

Originally appeared in Publishers Weekly, 4/23/2007

After a reorganization and relocation, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, held March 31–April 7 in the United Arab Emirates, attracted large crowds and exhibitors from 46 countries—in addition to raising a few Western eyebrows over the number of pirated editions on display. A total of 406 publishers from 46 countries participated at the revamped book fair and organizers estimated some 400,000 people attended, mostly locals there to browse the 600,000 books on display.

Now in its 17th year, the fair took on a radical new look after partnering with the Frankfurt Book Fair last year, moving from outdoor tents in the city center to a shiny new multibillion-dollar exhibition center on the fringe of town. Some Arabic-language publishers grumbled about the imposition of German "efficiency" on the fair, finding the higher fees (up from $45 to $150–$300 per booth) and new antiseptic environs less accommodating than the traditional souk-like atmosphere of previous years.

Scholastic was the only U.S. publisher to have a booth, though translated editions of books by a wide variety of American and European authors were on display—many of them in pirated editions.

Cecile Barendsma, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, roamed the show floor purchasing pirated editions of her agency's authors. She explained that piracy was as much the result of competition as an outright disregard for the law. "I think the Arabic-language market is professionalizing, but it's not fully realized yet. Not all countries have signed the Berne Convention [for international copyright protection]," she said. "[Law-abiding publishers] are up against competitors who don't live by the law. If the author or topic is hot, another publisher will put out an unauthorized edition."

Mohamed Hashem, publisher of Egypt's influential Dar Merit Publishing House and winner of the Association of American Publishers' 2006 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award, agreed, but also placed some blame on Western publishers. "I suppose my typical print run of 2,000 copies is not appealing to [rights holders]," he said, complaining that American book publishers "rarely return my calls or e-mails."

While the Arabic market may be difficult, Barendsma said it still has "strong potential" and is expanding. And she noted that the Abu Dhabi Fair has another up side: "It was a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues and editors from Southeast Asia, China, Pakistan and India, something that is more difficult at fairs like Frankfurt or London."

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