This post is also available in: العربية

Older publishers, or publishers with a more rigid, traditional outlook, need to change or risk being left behind or going out of business, Lebanon’s Tarek El-Bolbol, CEO of audio publisher Booklava, told delegates at the International Publishers Association Middle East Seminar in Amman, Jordan.

“The only way for older publishers to survive is to work with new entrepreneurs – otherwise they’ll wake up and find that Amazon just ate the whole cake,” he said, to spontaneous applause.  “There are two mentalities around – the old and the new.  And it’s not necessarily about age – you can have some young publishers thinking in a traditional way.”

He was speaking at the session on The Role of Technology in Overcoming Illiteracy and Promoting a Reading Culture.  Interestingly, when moderator Nour Al Hassan, founder and CEO Jordan’s Tarjama asked how panellists saw the future of print, he didn’t rule it out.  “I think we’re all hybrid consumers now.  Sometimes we want to read a book, sometimes we want to read a magazine.  I think print is going to stay, but we’ll have to write for different formats.  We need to be aware of the world which surrounds people now, like Netflix and Wattpad.”

Elizabeth Wood, senior director of publishing and innovation at Worldreader which provides ebooks for mobiles in sub-Saharan Africa, came down on the side of digital “much as I would like to see more print”; and Rama Kayyali, CEO and founder of educational publisher and resource provider Little Thinking Minds said the important issue was access.  “It’s when the children are able to see the content.  Physical books are not easy to come by in the region.”

Returning to his theme, El-Bobol concluded: “Publishers need to get out there and re-skill themselves.  I would like to see top graduates work in publishing, not go straight to Google.  Why does this happen?  I think it’s partly the old leadership of these companies.  Or perhaps they are family owned and there is no career progression.”