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Google was directly challenged on the final day of the Sharjah International Book Fair’s Publishers Conference.  Speaking at a session in piracy, Adel Zaini, founder and CEO of Lebanese publisher Dar Al Khayal, said: “I accuse Google of helping the pirates and highjackers.  It is on Google that you can find the illegal downloads and the unofficial sites.”

Of course, he wasn’t suggesting that Google is directly involved in piracy itself, rather that it wasn’t doing enough to take down illegal sites.  Although Google wasn’t there to defend itself, the tech giant would argue that it is like the game Guacamole – as fast as you take down one site, another pops up.

Perhaps surprisingly, Zaini described pirates as “like a colleague to you, a publisher too– except that they have no ethics”.

Joining on a patchy Zoom link from Nigeria, Lawrence Aladesuyi, country manager, Nigeria, for Cambridge University Press, said that some progress had been made in tackling the problem and that containers containing pirate books were being seized at ports and some pirates had received jail sentences.  But, as Kennedy reiterated, it is clearly an ongoing problem – as he put it, “the only certainty in an uncertain world at the moment”.

Kennedy’s Avicenna Partnership represents academic publishers in the Middle East and North Africa, and he said the situation with piracy was particularly difficult in Egypt, Jordan and Syria.  He described a situation in which private universities find it cheaper to buy pirated copies for their students, with the original publishers – and the books’ authors – losing revenue and royalties as a result.

Other observers point out that sometimes the pirated copies can be of better finished quality than the originals – a difficult area for publishers to address.

“One way of tackling piracy is to try and get accreditation for these private universities removed,” Kennedy said.  “These universities may receive accreditation from prestigious bodies like Oxford or Cambridge, and if you can get that removed because they are not respecting intellectual property, that is one route.  But it is not always successful.  You can also approach the commercial personnel at the embassies and raise it with them.”

The final day of the publishers’ conference also saw a session on audio, an area that thankfully piracy does not affect – largely because it is often the celebrity themselves who are narrating their own book.

Attending her first Sharjah International Book Fair – and her first visit to the United Arab Emirates – Stacy Creamer, vice president of Audible Content Acquisitions and Development, gave a whistle-stop tour of the Amazon-owned giant’s growth and success.  Among its bestselling titles is Michelle Obama’s Becoming and Creamer remembered someone at Frankfurt saying “When Michelle Obama told me her story….and it was then that I realised the special quality of audio: that it is as if the author themselves is telling you their story personally”.  Cream believes the intimacy that audio allows is very powerful.  “It is like having self-dev’ coach in your ear.”

Nathan Hull of Norway’s Beat Technology talked about the audio production platform that it offers publishers, “cutting out the middleman – sorry Stacy,” and promised a run of new territories for the company in the New Year.

Joining from Sweden, Sebastian Bond, co-founder and CEO of Kitab Sawt said that audio allows publishers “to expose your backlist much more, and introduce new areas to your customers”.

And everyone agreed on one point, succinctly made by Creamer.  “It is not an option not to be in audio anymore,” she said.  “If you are not in audio, you are doing a disservice to your authors.”