How e-books and audiobooks have expanded the Arabic literature offer

The growth of the e-book market in the Arab region is led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, said Ali Abdel Moneim Ahmed, digital publishing consultant at Liberty Education UK, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, in a roundtable organized within the framework of the Sharjah Publishers Conference, on the sidelines of the 2022 edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair, held annually in November.

More and more publishers are offering online platforms with digital versions of their books, Ahmed said. Publishers also work with audio platforms, such as Storytel and Audible.

E-book sales of classic books in the markets of the three aforementioned Arab countries “will increase by 14% in 2021,” Ahmed said. “Not counting online publications, which increased by 50%.”

Despite the increase in e-book sales, there is still room for greater growth. Digital book sales make up about 10% of total book sales, according to publishers.

“It’s a beautiful place…and it’s growing every year. But we have not yet reached the percentage of Europe and the United States where the sale of e-books represents almost 30% of total book sales,” Chebaro explained to Arabic News.

Global sales of e-books are huge, despite differences in numbers according to sources and websites.

According to WordsRated, a non-commercial research organization based in the US, global revenue from ebook sales in 2021 reached $16.1 billion and is expected to surpass the $18.7 billion mark in 2026.

Statista, another US-based market and consumer data provider, forecasts the e-book segment to reach $13.6 billion by 2022, with an expected annual growth rate of 3.38%, for reaching more than 16 billion dollars by 2027.

The number of e-book readers is expected to reach over 1.1 billion by 2027, with the majority of revenues expected to come from the United States. The country is the largest book market in the world, with revenues estimated in the billions of dollars.

Nearly one million books are published each year in the United States, to which four million self-published books are added each year.

In comparison, revenues from the Arab book market are between 100 and 150 million dollars. Only one million books have been published in the Arab region in the past five decades, according to data shared by Chebaro with Arabic News.

Publishing figures in the Arab world are related to many socio-economic factors, chief among which is individual income.

“Today, the rate of pirated books in the Gulf region is lower than other countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Pirated books are a big problem and are linked to a person’s income,” Chebaro pointed out that Arabic News.

“We still have a long way to go… but overall, sales of paper books are increasing, as are sales of e-books. None of them replaces the other. Everyone has a market and everyone has their customers and readers,” he added.

Saudi Arabia tops the list of buyers and readers of digital and print books in the Arab world. It is followed by Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Algeria, according to Chebaro.

Fiction, self-esteem and mental health, and biographies top the list of topics of interest to Arab readers, said Doha al-Refai, publishing manager at digital bookstore Rufoof. Arabic News from Amman, Jordan.

The store, which offers 25,000 Arabic titles for a monthly subscription, acts as a kind of online library: it does not sell digital or printed copies of books, but instead provides allow readers to read books on its website.

Saudi Arabia tops the list of buyers and readers of digital and print books in the Arab world (Photo, SPA).

“We don’t distribute or sell books for readers. We distribute for publishers,” said Al-Refai Arabic News.

“Rufoof solved a problem for a wide spectrum of readers, where people don’t have to buy books, either in print or digital, but can read as much as they want throughout the month.”, he continued.

Rufoof’s main customers include Saudis, Emiratis and Egyptians. While Egyptians are among the most voracious readers, subscriber numbers in Gulf countries are also high, Al-Refai said, adding that the website plans to expand to audiobooks.

Audiobooks are a promising area with great potential, according to many publishers. Chebaro and Al-Refai said the Arab region produced nearly 8,000 audiobooks in 2021, with Al-Refai adding that Rufoof has produced 5,000 so far.

According to Egyptian author Amer Hussein, the digital format has improved access to literature for those who cannot afford the rising price of paper books.

“Arabs living in different places, such as Australia, Europe and other distant cities in the Arab region, find it difficult to get Arabic books,” he said. Arabic NewsHussein who lives in Dubai.

“Distributing books through digital formats offers people, wherever they are in the world, the opportunity to read books as they are published in the Arab region,” he said.

He said he personally prefers audiobooks because he can listen to them when stuck in traffic or on an airplane.

Many readers and writers will probably agree with Purva Grover, an Indian writer based in Dubai, who has three e-books under her belt, and who says Arabic News via email: “The more books (in any format) there are in the world, e-book or print, the brighter the future will be.”

“Reading is more about sharing now. I read a good paragraph and I want to take a screenshot of the snapshot and send it to my friends, put it on my social media accounts or tag my friends. It helps e-books allow us to do all this, and therefore encourage and spread reading in this age of technological convenience,” he argued.

This text is a translation of an article published on

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