BOOK SMART

UAE, Sharjah 2017 | CULTURE & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Ahmed Al Ameri, Chairman of Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), on establishing a global presence, the booming Arab book industry, and efforts to preserve Arab culture and language.

HE Ahmed Al Ameri
BIOGRAPHY
HE Ahmed Al Ameri is the Chairman of the SBA, the jurisdiction of which covers most publishing activity in Sharjah including the Sharjah International Book Fair, Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, and Sharjah public libraries. Having gained valuable experience as the Head of Finance and Administrative Affairs at the Department of Culture and Information in Sharjah, Al Ameri’s ambitions for the SBA and its high-profile events continue to grow. He holds AA (Hons) bachelor’s degree in business administration from Strayer College, Washington DC, and an executive MBA (perception in service quality) from the University of Sharjah.

How has the SBA expanded its international presence?

Although the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) has been held annually since 1981 and comes under the remit of SBA, the authority itself was only established in 2014. However, over the three busy years since its inception, SBA has garnered exciting and fruitful international attention. The authority was chosen to be a guest of honor at the Salon Livre Paris, and São Paulo International Book Fair; acknowledgments that have helped to put it firmly on the international stage and to highlight the incredible things Sharjah is doing in the literary and cultural realm. In the three-and-a-half decades since its first edition, SIBF has established itself as one of the top book fairs in the world. Last year, it attracted 2.3 million visitors, generated over a billion Twitter impressions and led to more than USD43 million in total sales.

How does Sharjah Publishing City boost Sharjah's international profile?

One of our primary goals in attending international book fairs is to promote the SBA and Sharjah Publishing City (SPC). When it opens in November, SPC will be the first publishing free zone in the world and will be a one-stop shop for international publishing. SPC will expand and diversify Sharjah's economic make-up, creating a new industry vertical for the years ahead. It will work in collaboration with SIBF and Sharjah Children's Reading Festival to provide a full range of services and distribution channels. We showcase these attributes when we attend international book fairs and meet with publishers and authors. When we travel abroad, we find that there is a significant level of interest from both groups to attend SIBF and present their books and publications using our platform. Last year, SIBF hosted visitors from over 60 countries, with more than 1,200 titles available for purchase in their original languages or in translated versions. We have writers and publishing companies travelling from Western Europe, East Asia, and South Africa to translate texts into dozens of different languages.

How have the facilities been received so far?

The Arab book industry is valued at over USD1 billion. We hope to corner this industry with the opening of SPC in November and become the first and only free zone in the world for publishers. The city will house 450 offices, and we are currently oversubscribed by 900 publishers seeking tenancy. With our well-publicised aim of reshaping and revamping the publishing industry, international interest is substantial and we have so far attracted over USD85 million in investment. We will have two kinds of facilities for printing at SPC; print on demand and offset printing. There will be a translation center, an editors' center, and a facility for the negotiating and selling of rights. SPC will be centralized in one location and tax free. Out of the city's five phases, we have completed Phase I and are now commencing Phase II.

How has SIBF expanded Sharjah's presence overseas and acted to preserve Arab culture and language?

Over the last 30 years, SIBF has become the most important book fair in the MENA and Asia regions. Through it we have been able to expand our participation and presence overseas. We have a partnership with the Emirates Writers Union and, when SBA travels to international book fairs, we display the organization's books and ensure its members' attendance on Arab and Emirati literature panels. We have also created an excellent platform for Emirati authors by translating their work into different languages, thereby bridging the cultural gap between East and West. We are sharing our literature, our traditions, and our culture with the world through books. We have established the largest translation center in the world for the purpose of translating of Arabic to other languages and vice versa. This industry is valued at AED1.5 billion, but it is one that offers benefits far beyond monetary value.