Home Grow How Book Industry Leaders Attract Young Readers?

How Book Industry Leaders Attract Young Readers?

On World Book Day, Inc. Arabia speaks to book industry experts on the challenges of today.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
images header

In 2002, Diwan bookstore opened in Cairo as a neighborhood bookstore on a corner on  26th of July Street on the upscale island of Zamalek in central Cairo. The concept of going into a bookstore to browse books displayed neatly on bright shelves that range from classics and best sellers to fiction, history, autobiography, and philosophy in alphabetical order in Arabic and English was new to Cairenes.

Before modern bookstores became a mainstay of Cairo, Cairenes used to browse mountains of books stacked floor to ceiling, hunting for treasures in the cramped and often dust-piled gems of bookstores all over Cairo. 

Today, Diwan is one of many modern bookshops that hosts seminars, book clubs, and storytelling for kids. 

“Diwan is designed to give readers an inspiring experience, it is not just about going into the bookstore and asking for a book and buying it, but more about being part of the book world. You can select a book and read it at our café. You meet authors and like-minded readers,” Layal Al-Rustom, head of Diwan Publishing House, tells Inc. Arabia. 

“It became a hub, it redefined bookstores to include engagement and interaction, and we keep adding to the experience. Diwan is now a cultural hub,” she adds. 

Today, the bookstore has 8 locations across Egypt, with branches in Cairo, Alexandria, the North Coast, and the Red Sea. It also introduced a book truck that moves to different districts. Online,  Diwan bookstore now has 77k followers on Instagram and 290k followers on Facebook

The challenges

Diwan’s journey was not without challenges. Like all businesses in Egypt that were impacted by an FX shortage and a weakened local currency against the USD, importing books became very expensive. “Readers who used to pick several books started selecting fewer books because they couldn’t afford it,” says Al-Rustom. 

The price hike of books is not the only problem facing the publishing industry, as a lot of young readers have turned to audiobooks and e-books. “The availability and price of digital copies are more attractive to the majority of readers. However, printed books saw a comeback during the pandemic, as many people were working remotely and wanted to escape screens,” Amal Mahmoud, CEO of Diwan, tells us.

In the past, publishing houses in the Arab world, especially in Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq, used to print books in the thousands, but over the past 10 years, the readership has been dwindling, and publishing houses print copies in small batches, one or two thousand copies, five thousand maximum if its a best seller, all of the publishers that we spoke to told us.

“It is a logistical nightmare if you publish 10,000 copies now because you never know if anyone will read them. It is a huge gamble,” Mohammed Rabie, who has worked for different publishing houses across the region since 2014, tells us.

Rabie now co-runs Khan Al Janub, 'the South Arab Publishing House' in Berlin. “Over the past 15 years, readership has dwindled, especially the fiction, People are more into reading self-help and simple, non-fictional books. Also, the book industry itself is moving from Beirut and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Today, the Riyadh and Sharjah Book fairs have become the biggest in the region,” he adds.

From Books to Booktokkers

When the pandemic started in 2020, Eman Ali, a journalist in the culture section of the Egyptian Rosa Elyoussef magazine, suddenly found herself at home in the lockdown, feeling isolated and bored. “I felt invisible; like no one reads what I write. The medium itself was deserted, and I thought, why don’t I use a different set of skills to join the readers in a different medium? she tells us.

Her podcast, “The Salon with Eman Ali,” started during the pandemic and soon became popular. She started out reviewing books and reading parts of them to her audience. She also invites writers to contribute answers to her questions with short audio clips.

Today, she hosts a second podcast with Egyptian media outlet Mada Masr, where she interviews writers in pre-recorded conversations.

She tells us that her followers are in their teens and early twenties. “Your voice helps me meditate,” one follower told her. 

Ali was never a bookworm as a child, she loved devouring newspapers, reading every page, from news to sports, even accidents, and especially book reviews. “I used to read Akhbar El Adab, the Egyptian weekly literary review, word for word, every week.”

When she grew up, she joined Rosa Elyoussef magazine as a culture reporter. “I didn’t have to buy books then; writers were eager to send the books sent to me to review in the magazine as soon as they were published. But soon they started sending the books to booktubers instead of culture writers. That is when I decided to shift to podcasting,” Ali tells Inc. Arabia.  The shift from book reviewers to booktubers alerted Ali, to change her medium to reach her audience and target young readers. 

What do booktubers and booktokkers do?

Younger audiences follow booktubers and booktokkers’ challenges for book recommendations. Egyptian booktuber Nada El Shabrawy @dodetkotob which is Arabic for bookworm, has 151k subscribers, and her book reviews encourage young readers to read in an entertaining and relaxed manner. Similarly, Nedal Adham, or @nedalreads has 183k followers; young readers find her content simple and engaging. 

"There is a new category of readers that read to get tips and self-help books that will help them in their lives or careers, but the readers that like to indulge in literature, history, philosophy, and even self-help that is a little deeper still exist," Rabie tells us.  

Last update:
Publish date: