Culturel countered the book’s “very archaic” view (Tunisia)
The magnificent establishment shines even more at night, when lights from within illuminate a facade designed with the help of Nja Mahdaoui. Perhaps one of the greatest calligraphers in the Arabic language in the world, he has put his knowledge to the service of this extraordinary storefront.
The book on Tunisia
Hassen Jaïed was born in France, where he lived for 24 years, before leaving for Tunisia. ” I decided to create my company, Afrique Culture, to dedicate myself to the book market: there was, and still is, everything to do in Tunisia “, he told ActuaLitté.
Let go a little
The company, founded in 1999, began its distribution activity in 2003: it immediately specialized in importing French-language works. But the limitations of the project were quickly revealed: “Our turnover depends on mass distribution and value sharing is not really their credo“, he worried.
To ensure diversity, he then turned to a network of bookstores. The fragile network and the structure of the establishments lead to another conclusion: the need to set up a marketing network that can meet the needs of customers, while providing the beginning of financial independence.
Culture, the alternative
Five years later, Afrique Culture opened the first Culturel boutique: a bookshop whose vocation, from its first days, was to start the creation of a chain. “Profits are put back into the overall growth of the business“, said Hassen Jaïed.
2022, Culturel grows: six points of sale come together under this banner. Five bookstores and a concept store, called Culturel Kids, which offers toys and educational games. Without losing sight of the original DNA: distribution.
Readers and their desires
“Our distributor activity makes it possible to supply all bookstores in Tunisia, as well as two Fnac establishments and the Carrefour brand — two supermarkets and almost forty stores“Hassen Jaïed is delicious. The mesh is getting interesting, but still weak.
“Bookstores, book trade, import: we work tirelessly, because I am fully convinced that this is a job with a future. Everything must be done, everything is lacking“, he continued. Starting with support from the government, and more specifically from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
“We need a National Book Center, like the one that exists in France“, he said with hope and regret. “In fact, Tunisia has a very archaic approach to the book industry.»
Harsh words, but showing the real experience of exchanging with public authorities: the former president of the union of booksellers in Tunisia, Hassen Jaïed will experience more than once the silence of the administration. “While we are professionals, they refuse to listen to us, to consider our comments. Today, people want to read more.»
But as it stands, and even if the book remains one of the cheapest entertainment products, you still have to have a way.
A complex market
However, Tunisia benefits from some achievements, which favor the book industry: the absence of VAT on books, “a victory obtained during the time of President Habib Bourguiba“, underlined the leader. Head of State between 1957 and 1987, Bourguiba left the memory of an intellectual and fervent defender of knowledge.
Similarly, books are exempt from customs duties: facilities with respect to their Moroccan or Algerian neighbors that should play in favor of trade. “The truth is that Tunisia has so many difficulties to solve that culture is the least of the politicians’ concerns.»
Read and give to read
In Tunisia, which faces a large number of publishing houses whose production is predominantly Arabic speaking, the investment of the public authorities in the coming years will be decisive: “Our role, as a distributor, is to provide a service to booksellers: the volumes we import allow us to continue the activity, where a conventional bookstore cannot.added Hassen Jaïed.
This also explains why a book actor like Fnac, with the financial power of the group and purchasing center in France, decided to join forces with Afrique Culture, a certain success is emerging. And the business manager emphasizes:In Morocco, Fnac made a mistake in directly managing imports. Conclusion, too French selections, and titles that are more difficult for readers.»
With a growing network of bookstores, it’s an all-out cultural battle, for access and distribution, that it aims to lead from now on.
Photo credits: Hassen Jaïed