Elections, new school year and Ramadan reduce book fair visitors [Archives:2006/982/Culture]

September 18 2006

Nisreen Shadad
Concluding its 10-day exhibition last week, the 23rd Book Fair in Sana'a witnessed approximately a million visitors and, despite the war, the participation of three Lebanese publishers, according to Dr. Faris Al-Sakkaf, chairman of the General Book Authority, the organizers of the fair.

The event included more than 320 publishing houses and more than 100,000 subjects in various fields, published mostly in 2005 and 2006.

Najib Al-Silwi, general director of the General Book Authority, explained, “To facilitate the book search process, the General Book Authority prepared an electronic guide with the help of the National Information Center. Readers simply wrote the name of the book they were seeking and then were presented a list of all publishing houses with that type of book.

“The CD also contained a brief introduction to Yemeni cities: their history, their leaders and how long they governed, a timeline from the Sheban period until May 22 – the day of integrity – and a gallery from each period,” he added.

Information Unite manager Ahlam Al-Thawr affirmed the CD's significance, however, she noted that it involved only 80 percent of subjects because some publishing houses didn't list their books and laser CDs. It was the General Book Authority's first time managing the fair.

This year's visitors were less than last year, indicating an extremely strong relation between the fair's timing and current events. General Book Authority officer Mona Al-Hamli explained, “This year, it's the elections and the beginning of a new school year.”

Mecca Company programming officer Farghali also wondered at this year's low attendance. “Though awareness about the importance of educational CDs is remarkable, this year's sold quantity was just 50 percent of last year's. Until now, I've sold only 35 percent and I only expect to reach 40 percent by the last day. I bet people are busy with the elections, the new school year and Ramadan approaching.”

However, Ahmed Al-Qusabi from the Oman booth indicated, “Most of our books are sold because we gave a 70 percent discount from the first day to the last. For example, we sold a book costing YR 1,500 for YR 400; therefore, our discount was incomparable. You won't find any publishing house giving this discount from the first day.”

The fair's timing also was unsuitable for Lebanese publishing houses, with Al-Fiqr Publishing House being the only one to participate from the very beginning. Manager Awad Qasim explained, “Our participation this year wasn't effective due to Lebanon's crisis. Additionally, the books we brought actually are available here in Yemen. We couldn't offer something new or bring books from Beirut due to transportation obstacles.”

However, according to Ahmed Foda, general manager of the Middle East Observer newspaper, “This was the best time for us because we have book fairs in several countries in coming days.”

Al-Silwi confirmed that the authority doesn't have the right to change the book fair's affixed timing for any reason. “We can't change the timing because the General Book Authority fixes the date with the Arab Unity Publishers.

Though this year's book fair was a great success, it wasn't completely smooth sailing. “Overlapping responsibilities between the General Book Authority and the Ministry of Culture resulted in widespread repetition when distributing invitations to several publishing houses to contribute, which obliged us to welcome all publishing houses receiving the invitation – whether from us or the Ministry of Culture – without exception,” Al-Silwi explained.

Abu Ghazaleh Intellectual Property was one publishing house affected. Marketing officer Mazen Abd Al-Bari recounted, “Like usual, we dealt with the Ministry of Culture to reserve a stand. However, a week before the fair's opening, they told us we should deal with the General Book Authority. As a result, we couldn't reserve a special stand to advertise our products, so we joined the General Book Authority officer's stand.

“We really thank them, since they gave us the opportunity to participate; however, our books were unseen, though they are precious and rarely distributed outside. Attendance was low,” he added.

While many book fair attendees may have found what they were seeking, prohibitive costs were a stumbling block to many. “Computer science books were so expensive that I didn't buy anything,” computer engineering student Mohammed Abdu Sa'eed lamented.

Al-Samawi School seventh-graders Mabrouka and Lamy'a also were depressed about the fair's prices. They found an educational CD they wanted to buy, but due to its high price, they had to find something cheaper.

However, Al-Nahda School third-graders Aseal Al-Syaghi and Bra'a Al-Ashwal were slightly more satisfied with the fair's prices: “They were half and half.”

Teachers usually await the annual book fair to buy instructional materials and educational books, however, “This year, educational CDs dominated, but educational aids had no place,” Ibtisam Ghalib observed.

Although teachers usually want education and psychology titles – and readily found them at the fair – those with scientific interests or specialties had difficulty obtaining the right book. “I'm eager to find biology and ideology books,” commented Yemeni university student Adli Sa'd from Malaysia. Ali Al-Jarash, a visitor further noted, “Books on physics and electronics were scarce and their cost was high.”

Others were pleased with the book fair and its prices. “I mostly found the books I need – an interpretation of the Qur'an in English and Malay – and the price was cheap,” remarked Zaidah, from Malaysia, manager of Adni School, an English Islamic school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Walid Al-Awil, a supplemental worker at Sana'a Dentistry College, stated, “Vast improvements in new books can't be ignored, especially in children's books. I think the prices were reasonable because these books aren't the originals.”

“Prices can't be controlled,” Al-Silwi noted, “The General Book Authority exempts all publishing houses from customs and sales taxes in order to support readers and make it easier for them to obtain books.” Though the authority has tried all possible means, it can't discount book prices, though this year's cost were similar to last year's.