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French Version

Amman book fair : A feat awaiting readers

With the participation of around 500 publishing houses from Jordan and abroad, the 10th Amman International Book Fair kicked off this year with a considerably better outlook than the previous one. The fair is already attracting people from all across the Jordanian society.

Some of the participating publishers, however, fear the book fair would fail to attain good returns in view of the high prices of books displayed in the fair.

Its organizers believe that around one million people will visit the fair, located at the Amman International Auto Expo, off the Queen Alia Airport highway, which opened on Monday and runs until October 14. The publishers have been urged by the organizers to grant a reasonable discount on the sale of books at the fair. Saeed Ababneh was among the many parents that gathered around one of the booths looking for books that provide a simple learning of the English language to children. As he chose a middle-sized multicolored book he was shocked by its price of JD 3.5, which Ababneh believes is too costly.
I thought that the price was pre-discount, but when the seller informed me that this is the final price, I changed my mind despite my children’s objection,” he said. Ababneh maintained that the book fair this year is gathering more publishers and writers compared to previous ones, but the displayed books “target limited topics, unlike last year”. Also, less English books are on display this year. This year’s event was regarded by its organizers as “the biggest book fair in Jordan’s history,” since it hosts an extensive list of Arab and international publishers and press firms. The Jordanian Publishers Union (JPU), which co-organizes the book fair with the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), predicted this year’s fair to be “a benchmark in enhancing readership among Jordanians.

A young lady was seen debating with a seller over a small book of Arab cuisine. The woman was trying to get the book at a price less than JD 2.5, which the seller asked for. “The book is very nice and informative. However, it is overpriced in terms of content,” she said. The seller, on his part, said that prices of all of his publications were put “according to the wholesale price”. Mohammad Murad Tabbaa, president of the fair’s Public Relations Committee, said that prices of publications and books displayed “reflect the interests of both the publishers and the buyers.

Discounts on the books displayed vary between 25 to 50 percent, depending on the type of books. The fee for renting a booth at the fair cost JD 50 per square meter, which Tabbaa regards as “reasonable in comparison to other Arab book fairs.

He estimated the total cost of this year’s fair at around JD 150,000 and seemed sure that the event would generate good financial returns. Tabbaa said publishing costs have increased gradually over recent years, as “many publishers try to balance their expenses with the market’s demands.

The main objective of this fair, said Tabbaa, is “to appeal to Jordanians, particularly the youth, to enhance their reading skills”. He told The Star that more than 120,000 book titles are currently on display tackling all fields of science, religion and culture. He pointed out, “The book fair would determine the public reading trend,” referring to the religious and political books that dominate the fair’s shelves. “Publishers become more aware of the public interests with regard to the current political and social developments,” stressed Tabbaa, who owns a publishing house in Amman.

Such interests have emerged lately to focus on the religious publications as Jordanians and other Arabs are being influenced by the media and politics.

Mohammad Rashad, secretary-general of the Arab Publishers Association, said earlier this week, “Classical and modern works on Islam and Islamic thought are bestsellers today.

Rashad noted, meanwhile, that foreign classical novels and plays translated into Arabic, including Shakespeare’s, still find interest among Arab readers. Rashad, who owns the Beirut-based Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House, warned that readership among Arabs is “a big problem since reading lost its focal position in Arab culture.

Tabbaa agrees, “The ratio of Arab intellectuals increase every year, while the number of readers keeps falling.” “The continuing drop in people’s real incomes relegates reading to low down the list of priorities,” he explained. “People, however, should bear in mind the educational and informative aspects of reading books, especially for the young generation.

A walk through the fair’s 180 booths presents information on the participants. The list of Arab publishers include famous ones, like the Lebanese Dar Al-Elm Lil Malayeen, The Egyptian Library, Al Ma’moun Publishing House from Syria, and the Al Furqan Library from the United Arab Emirates. Egyptian publishers constitute nearly one-fifth the participants in the book fair. What makes the fair more exceptional this year is that it drew the attention of hundreds of Arab publishers and cultural departments to participate directly in the fair, rather than relying on their agents in Amman. Such a direct participation, said Tabbaa, helps the Arab publishers to interact with their consumers and agents to appreciate better the Jordanian market’s needs.

Arab governments seem reluctant to enhance the cultural aspect of their countries. Unlike foreign countries, the proportion of cultural programs in Arab media today is much less than it used to be a decade ago,” he pointed out. The most influential part is “the Palestinian Booth” that represents the Palestinian ministry of culture. The booth is wide-ranging, as it hosts a variety of publications and books covering Palestinian culture and history. There are, in addition, five Palestinian publishers taking part in the fair to present their collections of books and references.

The Palestinian booth has been made possible through previous coordination between us and the Palestinian officials who aimed at promoting the Palestinian culture through the Amman book fair,” Tabbaa explained. He said that the Palestinians are taking this opportunity to promote their upcoming international book fair, which will be held in Ramallah next December. As for the Iraq, the organizers failed to maintain their contacts with the Iraqi officials since they did not receive any response from Baghdad. However, one Iraqi publisher is taking part in this year’s fair, Dar Dijlah (Tigris Publishing House), which displays works of some renowned Iraqi poets and intellectuals. Besides, the fair has a rich weeklong cultural program, starting October 9 with the honoring of the elderly Jordanian intellectual Rox Bin Zayed Uzaizi, who celebrated his 101st birthday earlier this year.

The program also includes an open dialogue with the renowned Palestinian writer Mahmoud Shqair on October 12. A number of seminars will also take place on the sidelines of the book fair, in which intellectuals from Jordan and Arab countries discuss topics related to Arab publishers, Arab women’s development, and the side-effects of globalization on Arab Culture. The Palestinian Folkloric Troupe will also perform a special concert on October 10. All the cultural events take place at the Hussein Cultural Center.

Amman,18October2004
Redaction
The Star


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