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The global book business is in good health, Dominique Raccah, CEO of US publisher Sourcebooks, told delegates at the start of the Publishers Conference ahead of the Sharjah International Book Fair Publishers Conference which opens on Wednesday (30 October).

“The global book business is healthier than it has been for 50 years,” she said.  “We expected digital to gut our business like it did the music industry and newspapers.  But it didn’t happen.  Books are different.  Twenty-five percent of books are given as gifts and as we all know, digital books make poor gifts.  The growth of physical children’s books has been noticeable too.  Literary rates are growing around the world, and that’s good for business, for democracy and for our evolving planet.”

It was an optimistic start to the ninth publishers conference and 38th Sharjah International Book Fair which will see more than 560 publishers from 81 countries.  The session at which Raccah spoke was on the future of the global publishing business and some of her fellow panellists were equally optimistic.  Elliot Agyare, president of the Ghana Publishers Association, said that the twin forces of digitisation and globalisation had helped level the playing field “and makes it easier to reach far-flung territories.  Africa has the fastest growing spread of mobile telephony for example”.

He praised the efforts of Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, founder and head of Kalimat publishers in Sharjah, UAE, to look outwards to continents like Africa, and this theme of diversity and inclusion was picked up by Peter Dowling, immediate past president of the Publishers Association of New Zealand.  He began by giving a traditional Maori greeting – “a welcome from my country to all of yours” – and noted how publishing in indigenous languages had become more important.

“Bilingual and multi-cultural publishing has grown in recent years.  We have found that when we publish children’s book in Maori and English we sell more copies.  The interest in Maori has grown in the last few years, but it dates back to the Seventies when they began to reclaim and embrace their culture.  The challenge for us is to be able to provide enough material.  Other languages like Tongan and Samoan are all under threat.”

Jade Robertson, international publishing director of Austin Macauley Publishers – one of the first houses to take space in Sharjah Publishing City, the emirate’s free zone for publishers – banged the drum for social media and reeled off a string of stupefying viewing figures for Instagram, You Tube and the like.  She also said that Amazon as a paid advertising platform is important and noted that, while she primarily published in English and Arabic, “Spanish is growing too”.

The session concluded with a statement from Agyare with which everyone on the stage – and in the room – could agree.  “People are interested in stories.  They don’t care where they come from.  Our future as publishers is to be format neutral.”