Book fairs and publishing meetups, a crucial part of the Arabic publishing landscape, have been on hold for the past seven months, as governments struggle to control the coronavirus pandemic. But that’s about to change, at least in part.
The Sharjah International Book Fair is set to welcome publishers, agents, booksellers and book lovers from around the world to a two-week mega-event starting November 1, with both online and in-person activities, modified to guard against spreading Covid-19.
The face-to-face meetings that traditionally happen at book fairs are important both for sales of physical books and for sales of publishing rights. So people in the book business were both nervous and hopeful when the massive Frankfurt Book Fair announced plans to hold a hybrid event in October.
But, in light of rising Covid-19 numbers, last-minute changes meant that most events were livestreamed without live audiences.
Publishers also stayed at home. Instead of the usual in-person meetings, agents and publishers participated via an online “matchmaking tool.” Although there were two major projects promoting Arabic books—the Arab World Hotlist and the Arab Voices project—it is unclear how much impact they will have without personal connections.
Attention Turns to Sharjah
After Frankfurt, the next major autumn book fair is the one held annually in Sharjah. Although considerably younger than the German fair, in the last decade, the Sharjah International Book Fair has established itself as a major event on the global publishing calendar.
Like the Frankfurt event, the Sharjah Book Fair is usually a packed two-week affair that weaves together several distinct events. Sharjah usually kicks off with a three-day Publishers Conference, this year set for November 1 to 3. At the conference, publishers listen to talks, meet their peers, and buy and sell rights. This is followed by a glittering awards ceremony and a mammoth 11-day book-selling marathon that also doubles as a major literature festival. This year, it is set for November 4 to 14.