Frankfurt Book Fair 2004 (6,800 exhibitors from 111 nations)

Reply Fri 17 Sep, 2004 07:26 am
The Arab world is Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2004. 22 members of the League of Arab States will present themselves with a diverse literary and cultural programme.

Link to Francfurt Book Fair 2004

Link to the Website of the Arab World, Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2004

And as Frankfurt prepares to celebrate Arab literature, Brian Whitaker deconstructs US claims of a Middle East 'knowledge deficit' in the Guardian:

Reading between the lines

Monday September 13, 2004

The most eye-catching exhibit at the Beirut book fair a few years ago was a mock gravestone adorned with a vase of shrivelled flowers and labelled: The Arab Reader. The practice of reading, writing and publishing books in Arab countries may not actually be dead but it is far from well.
At the annual Frankfurt book fair, the world's most prestigious publishing event, Arab books are usually tucked away in a corner and treated as unworthy of much attention. This year, though, when the Frankfurt fair opens on October 6, the Arab world will take pride of place. Besides Arab books on display, there will be exhibitions of Arab culture, showings of award-winning Arab films, and readings by prominent Arab writers and poets.

The idea behind this, Volker Neumann, the book fair's president, explained at a press conference last June, is to promote dialogue and mutual understanding between cultures. A fine sentiment, but there has already been some anxiety in the Arab media about the sort of impression it will make. Will the exhibition be good enough? Will it reflect authentic Arab culture, warts and all, or will it concentrate on those aspects that find favour in the west?

Arab books became a political issue earlier this year when the Bush administration launched its "greater Middle East initiative" and blamed low output of books for a "knowledge deficit" in the Arab countries. ("Knowledge", in this context, is defined in western terms and automatically excludes such things as memorising the Qur'an or knowing how to milk a goat.)

"The Greater Middle East region, once the cradle of scientific discovery and learning, has largely failed to keep up with today's knowledge-oriented world," the US said in a working paper for the G8 summit. "Arab countries' output of books represents just 1.1% of the world total."

The working paper did not see fit to mention that this figure, which has been much quoted subsequently, is 13 years out of date and almost certainly wrong. It was plucked from an old Unesco report relating to book production in 1991 - probably an untypical year for publishing in the Arab world (and certainly for Iraq and Kuwait) because of the Gulf war.

As the UN noted last year in its Arab human development report, "there are no accurate statistics on the actual amount of book production in the Arab world". The report explained that tracking the publication of Arabic books is "very difficult" because many are published without registered numbers.

This suggests that any official figures are likely to be an underestimate, perhaps even a gross underestimate in view of all the pirate editions that are printed in the region without respect for copyright.

Regardless of how many books are actually published in the Arab world, a more relevant question is how many are worth reading. What do they contribute by way of useful knowledge, understanding or the spread of new ideas? All these qualities will be essential if reform in the Arab world is to have any hope of succeeding.

One very common criticism is that modern Arabic books, taken as a whole, are particularly unchallenging in their content. Inevitably, this is a subjective view but, even after allowing for some notable exceptions and recognising that a lot of rubbish gets published elsewhere in the world, there are plenty of reasons for thinking it's a fair complaint.

Some of the blame can certainly be pinned on Arab regimes and Islamist movements for stifling ideas that don't conform with their own. Arab interior ministers put far more effort into suppressing literary work than culture ministers put into encouraging it and Islamists harass authors that they disapprove of - as when they tried to have Nawal el-Saadawi, the Egyptian feminist writer, compulsorily divorced from her husband.

Though the stultifying effect is undeniable, adversity does sometimes give writers the fire they need to produce great work, and censorship can even boost sales. Adama, the 1998 novel by the Saudi writer Turki al-Hamad (an eye-opening tale of sedition, sex and alcohol in the conservative kingdom), was banned by several countries including Saudi Arabia and collected four religious fatwas. It became a bestseller within a month.

While it may be generally true, as the Arab human development report suggests, that creative activity needs "a climate of freedom and cultural pluralism" in order to flourish, this is not by any means the whole story. There are many far more mundane problems that hamper book publishing, too. "For Arabs, buying a book is like buying perfume," said Andre Gaspard, co-founder of Saqi Books, which publishes in both Arabic and English. "A book is a luxury in Lebanon, Syria, Morocco and Egypt."

Book buying also seems to be declining among the young. A bookseller quoted by the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper last week said most of his customers were in the 30 and above age category. "Among those, there is only an elite who would pay a large amount of money to buy a book," he said. "People here would much rather prefer spending such an amount on an outing or a new outfit."

Another bookseller in Beirut suggested high prices drive people to photocopy books rather than buying them. "Lebanese university students never buy books because they can't afford them," he said. A non-fiction book written in English that sells for $20 or £12.99 in the west can be sold in translation in the Middle East for no more than $8, Mr Gaspard said. If the price is higher, people simply won't buy it. This means it is less likely to be an economic proposition for publishers. The paper and printing costs for English and Arabic editions are virtually the same but the Arabic edition, besides having to be sold at a lower price, carries the extra burden of translation costs at around $14 per page.

Some Arab publishers use cheaper production methods but this can result in books that drop to bits or need to have their pages slit apart with a knife. People don't trust badly-produced books, Mr Gaspard said. Some also cut corners by paying their translators as little as possible - not a good policy if the result is gibberish. Mr Gaspard recalls once attending a dinner party where a guest sat scribbling between courses, hurriedly finishing off his Arabic translation of a book on structuralism.

The high cost of books in relation to Arab pockets is one factor, but another is the lack of libraries which, in the west, can account for as much as 70% of a book's total sales. There are some public libraries in the Gulf, but few elsewhere. Lebanon used to have one but it closed in 1975 because of the civil war and hasn't reopened. University libraries, another important potential customer, tend to shy away from controversial books, Mr Gaspard said.

Illicit photocopying, almost on an industrial scale, hits the sales of academic books in particular. While taking a course at a Jordanian university some years ago, I found the campus bookshop mostly deserted. But a shop just across the road from the main gate had several photocopiers going full tilt. Borrow a textbook from someone else and a couple of hours later you could have your own copy, bulky and crudely-bound but a lot cheaper than the original.

The general level of book sales is so low that an Arabic novel is considered successful if it sells 3,000 copies - in which case the lucky author earns royalties of about $1,800 (£1,000). At that rate, nobody can seriously hope to make a living from writing novels in Arabic.

This, as well as political conditions in the Middle East, may help to explain why so many Arab novelists live abroad and write in other languages such as English, French or (in a few cases) German.

The American G8 working paper also highlighted the relatively small number of books that are translated into Arabic - allegedly about 330 a year. "Five times as many books are translated into Greek (spoken by just 11 million people) as Arabic," it said.

This is another statistic that has been much quoted since, though where it originated - and whether is it correct - is unclear. The National Book Centre of Greece, which might be expected to know about translations into Greek, does not keep count, according to a recent issue of the Index on Censorship journal.

It is clear, though, that economic conditions in the Arab book trade discourage translation in general while favouring pirate translations where no royalties are paid or slapdash translations that readers may have difficulty understanding.

The implication of the American working paper is that Arabs suffer from a "knowledge deficit" for want of translated books and that more translations would help to rectify the deficit. At the very least, that is debatable: sheer numbers are not the issue and it depends partly on whether we're talking about Harry Potter in Arabic or the seminal works of western culture.

It is also doubtful whether a lack of Arabic-language books about science and technology is a barrier to progress. At the more advanced levels they are virtually impossible to translate and the Arabs who work in these fields are usually accustomed to reading in English or another foreign language.

Despite the talk of a knowledge deficit, reading in foreign languages is far more widespread in the Arab world than in the west. Arab countries import about $40m (£22m) worth of books and magazines every year, according to a background note for the Frankfurt book fair. Most of these are textbooks and reference books.

By far the best selling book in Beirut at the moment is The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. One shop alone claims to have shifted 1,000 copies. It is available in English, French and Arabic but the Arabic version seems to stay longest on the shelves.

General-purpose bookshops in the Arab capitals - unlike their counterparts in the west - almost always have substantial foreign language sections, and in some shops the English and French books outnumber those in Arabic.

The flow of ideas between east and west ought, of course, to be a two-way traffic so we should also consider whether the west has a knowledge deficit of its own where Arab books are concerned - a question that I hope to look at in a future article.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 3 Oct, 2004 02:05 am
Frankfurt book fair showcases Arab culture

30 September 2004

FRANKFURT- This year's Frankfurt Book Fair ( 6-10 October) will feature a bold attempt by Arab nations to impress the German public, especially intellectuals, with a positive view of Arab culture.

The annual fair is the world's main marketplace for translation and reprint rights. Top authors are introduced to the publishers who effectively decide during the fair what will appear in the world's bookshops the following year.

Fair organizers traditionally appoint a guest of honour, a nation invited to send a whole phalanx of leading authors. This year, 17 of the 22 Arab League members will enjoy this honour status jointly.

The Arab nations will send to the fair 200 authors, artists and political figures in the hope that their encounters with US, German, French and Asian publishing executives will lead to book deals.

Business visitors, who usually arrive well before the Fair to cut deals, never pay much attention to the accompanying culture programme. They are too busy. But in a country that still respects "high culture", the programme is a way rousing German interest.

The guest of honour can also count on favourable interviews on German radio and a respectful hearing at German literary readings.

At a time when Germans, like other westerners, often think "terrorist" when they hear the word Arab, it will be a major challenge to revive dialogue between the Orient and Occident.

The fair's general manager, Volker Neumann, says the Arab World is the most sensitive guest of honour the Frankfurt Fair has ever had. Observers believe there has never been such a broad presentation of the riches of Arab intellectual life in Germany before.

The initiative came from the Arab League. Its secretary general, Amre Mussa, believes the book fair is the ideal forum to get across the message that the Islamic world is more than just brutal fanatics.

There were feuds and forecasts of failure within the League of Arab States, but most agreed to come on board. Only Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait and Iraq will not be officially represented, though some of their authors will be at the fair.

The official guest list comprises both home-based authors like Mahmud Darvish of Palestine and others like Tahar Ben Jelloun of Morocco or Assia Djebar of Algeria have gone into exile.

The presence of exiles underlines the fact that heartfelt love of the Arab homeland does not rule out criticism, and there will be debate about the lack of human rights as well as the role of women in Islamic societies.

On the business side of the fair, many are predicting a recovery after declining sales in 2001 and 2002.

The tally of exhibitors - 6,800 from 111 nations - is slightly up, interest among English-speaking publishers has shot up and there is a waiting list for stands, a phenomenon not seen for several years.

Neumann, who is to be unwillingly retired after the 2005 fair, says Frankfurt remains safely ahead of its only possible rival in rights dealing, the London Book Fair.

Security fears, as well as demands from publishers to reduce the distracting hoopla during the show, mean there will no longer be any evening events within the actual fairground.

The fair's unpopular last day, a Monday, is being abolished this year.

Most business is done during the first three days and international exhibitors remain unhappy that they must keep their stands staffed on the Saturday and Sunday when the fair is opened to the German general public.

Many of the British and US publishers who sell the lion's share of book rights left the fair last year exasperated at the growing number of attention-getting events aimed at the general public.

They said this disrupted the intense work they do at the fair, meeting clients by appointment from morning to evening to discuss sales.

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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 3 Oct, 2004 02:08 am
I'm not really surprised about only three views to this thread within nearly three weeks (six by now = four by myself), but I really thought, to get some more interst at least by the couple of literate members here.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 7 Oct, 2004 01:03 pm
Arab writers steal the show
By Ray Furlong
BBC Berlin correspondent

This year's Frankfurt Book Fair has opened its doors to Arab writers by inviting writers from Middle East countries to the annual literary festival.

"I write about women, and about sexual relationships between men and women," says Palestinian feminist novelist Sahra Khalita.
"At first, back in the 1980s, my work was attacked by the Leftists. But now the Palestinian's women's movement is stronger - those who called me a chauvinist and a man-hater have retreated."

Ms Khalita is one of more than 200 Arab writers who have come to this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the publishing world's biggest annual event, to show the rich variety of Arab writing.

This year the fair has invited the Arab League to be its special guest, with the stated aim of improving mutual understanding between East and West.

'Mutual ignorance'

"There's incredible mutual ignorance between Europe and the Arab world," says fair spokesman Holger Ehling. "There are hardly any Arab books translated into European languages, and hardly any European ones into Arabic."

The statistics back this up. Here in Germany, for instance, there are less than 500 works of fiction by Arab authors in print - 0.3% of the total available.

In English-speaking countries there's more, but it tends to be produced by specialist publishers - so it doesn't reach a wider audience.

"Part of the problem is that European publishers have a preconception of what Arab literature is. If I present a book that doesn't fit the prejudice, they reject it," says German-Lebanese literary agent Leila Chamaa.

"They're interested in books from Palestinian or Iraqi women writers, because they have the idea that Arab men repress women. But if I present a book that gives another picture, they don't take it."
The publicity created by the Frankfurt fair may have helped change this already. Some 50 titles have been translated into Germany this year, compared to between 12-15 in previous years.

'Bad news'

The "war on terror" and Iraq crisis have also spurred interest in Arab literature in other countries. But there is concern this is also providing the outside world with a skewed vision of Arab societies.

"Since the Arab world is bad news all over Europe, I believe it is important that people here read what Arab writers have to say about their own countries," says Peter Ripken, a tireless promoter of Arab writing.

Mr Ripken is head of the Society for the Promotion of African, Asian and Latin American Literature - funded by the German foreign ministry and the Swiss foundation Pro Helvetia.

It has financed 114 translations of Arab works since being founded in 1984.

"There is censorship in the Arab world, but it has not stopped writers doing their work," says Ripken. "Many of the best have gone into exile - in Paris, London or Germany. There are even some who are now writing in Dutch."


This underlines the other side of the coin - the oppression faced by writers in Arab countries.

In Washington, the Bush administration has pointed to this, along with literacy problems and an under-developed publishing industry, as major factors preventing democracy from taking root in the Middle East.

"Around 60% of people only read religious literature or Islamist propaganda. Only about 15% read books like mine," says Palestinian writer Sahra Khalita.
But she adds that no two countries are alike. Her books are banned in Saudi Arabia, she says, but freely available where she lives in Jordan.

"Also, the Americans are only saying this to give themselves credibility for the invasion of Iraq - and perhaps for invasions of other Arab states," Khalita says.

The decision to make the Arab League the guest nation at this year's fair was controversial. There were fears that only pro-regime authors would come, and that the fair would be a platform for undemocratic states.

But these have largely disappeared, as critical voices have also come.

"This lays the Arab regimes bare, because it uncovers their weak-point - they have nothing to show," says Rafik Schami, a German-based Syrian writer whose work has been translated into 23 languages - but is not available in Arabic.
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Reply Fri 8 Oct, 2004 12:18 am
I'm interested Walter, but have nothing smart to say right now.
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Reply Fri 8 Oct, 2004 09:58 am
Ah, but this morning, a friend sent me this article in an email - from today's New York Times.

New York Times | Friday,October 8, 2004
New Google Service May Strain Old Ties in Bookselling

FRANKFURT, Oct. 7 - Google Print, the new search engine that allows consumers to search the content of books online, could help touch off an important shift in the balance of power between companies that produce books and those that sell them, publishing executives said here on Thursday.

Google announced the introduction of the service at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the industry's most important annual meeting, where publishers, authors and their agents convene to buy and sell the rights to publish books in countries worldwide.

The new service would allow users of Google's main search engine to search simultaneously billions of Web pages and the texts of hundreds of thousands of books for information on a given subject. They search works by looking for words or phrases in the scanned digital images of the pages of books that publishers have provided to Google.

For each book found, a user would see several pages of the book with the phrase or subject of the search highlighted. The page would also offer links to several online retailers, where the book could be bought. Publishers do not pay to participate in the program; rather, Google would make money from the service by selling advertising on the search pages, and it would share those revenues with the publishing companies.

At least a dozen companies have already signed up to participate, and executives spoke enthusiastically about the potential it offers them to attract more readers to an industry that has struggled to grow in recent years. Among the companies participating are Houghton Mifflin, Scholastic, Penguin, Warner Books and Hyperion.

Jane Friedman, the chief executive of HarperCollins, said Google Print "is another way in this information age for us to help the consumer make decisions."

Although HarperCollins, a division of the News Corporation, was not one of the companies whose participation was announced on Thursday by Google, Ms. Friedman said that it would offer books to be scanned into Google's system.

Other publishing executives were cautiously optimistic, although they raised questions about how Google would ensure the protection of copyrights. Google said copyright was protected because the service does not allow users to print the book pages and allows the viewing of only a few book pages on any given search.

Peter Olson, the chairman of Random House, a division of the German publishing company, Bertelsmann, said that he was concerned about the copyright issue. While Random House has not yet agreed to participate, he thought that the copyright issues would probably be addressed to his satisfaction.

Random House has been participating in a similar program on Amazon.com that lets readers search books for specific content.

The new Google service appeared to offer competition to the Amazon service, but at a news conference here on Thursday, Google executives played down that notion, saying that they do not intend to sell books. They noted that the service provided links to Amazon and other retailers and that Google had other links to Amazon's site.

Google Print has, however, created some formidable potential competition for Amazon in the form of the publishing companies themselves. In recent years, publishing executives have been quietly trying to figure out whether they can get rid of the middlemen - bookstores - and sell their products directly to consumers.

The problem has been that most book buyers do not pay close attention to which company publishes a book, and therefore consumers would be unlikely to go to a particular publisher's Web site to peruse its offerings.

When Google Print generates a search result, however, it lists the book's publisher alongside each book page. It would be relatively easy for publishers to insert themselves as one of the links that a Google Print user could use to buy the book.

Publishing executives are conscious of their current reliance on book retailers, particularly the big chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders as well as Amazon. As a result, the executives generally have been reluctant to discuss their direct-selling plans.

But two publishing executives who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Google Print was perhaps most intriguing because of the possibilities it presented for direct sales by publishers.

Ms. Friedman of HarperCollins, also acknowledged the possibility, but she noted publishers do not have the shipping and logistics ability to cost effectively sell books.
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