Here in the UK we’ve had more than our fair share of water lately. It hasn’t stopped raining since forever, and hundreds of thousands of Brits are still dealing with the consequences of devastating floods across the country.
Back in the summer of ’76 we had six entire weeks without rain. Californians might not find that too remarkable, but it was a big deal in the UK. Roads melted, water was rationed, people queued up in the street with buckets to fill up from tankers, and industry ground to a halt.
What’s this got to do with ebooks? Simply that print books, newspaper and magazines all have something ebooks don’t have. Paper.
And to make paper you need copious amounts of water. No big deal for your typical industrial nation in North America or Europe, but in some parts of the world water shortages are a major problem for publishing industries who are forced to import paper or have books printed abroad and shipped in.
Factor in poor infrastructure (electricity supply, roads, bricks & mortar stores, etc) and it’s easy to understand why reading is less common in places like Africa, the Middle East and vast tracts of Asia. Even those lucky enough to have received an education will struggle to find – and afford – books.
We’ll be coming back to Africa later this spring, with some in-depth reports on what we believe is going to be one of the biggest growth markets for ebooks over the coming decade. But we can get a foretaste of things to come by looking at North Africa and the Middle East.
Next month we launch the Ebook Bargains Middle East newsletter. Coincidentally an Arabic-language ebook store has recently set up business, although the emphasis is on Arabic. So far as we can tell they are not taking on, or looking for, English language ebooks at this stage.
We stress at this stage. That will change, and other ebook retailers will soon get in on the act.
Bizarrely none of the big western ebook retailers – not Amazon, not Apple, not Kobo – serve North Africa and the Middle East. We hope Google Play will grasp this particular nettle in 2014. It’s very unlikely the others will.
But if they don’t some forward-thinking new retailer from the Far East will step in and fill the distribution vacuum, as Middle East publishers embrace digital more fully.
For those of us able to get our works translated into Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi and the myriad other languages of the region the opportunities are immense. If not, we always have our fall-back position. The English language.
Do they read English in the Middle East? We’ll have a guest post shortly by an ex-pat in the region (to mark the launch of our Ebook Bargains Middle East newsletter in March), which may surprise you.
But it’s not just ex-pats and a handful of academics that speak English there. Here’s the Egyptian Daily News. And the Saudi Gazette. And the Iran Daily. Then there’s dual-language Israel. Here’s Israel’s English-language Haaretz. Nor is just newspapers. Here’s the website of the Bank of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. English is the lingua franca of the world, even if we haven’t got an English word for lingua franca.
English-language books have never taken off in a big way in the region because the problems outlined above that make print books an expensive proposition are exacerbated by English speakers being fewer and further between.
Digital levels the playing field.
The English-language is your greatest asset. Don’t waste it by only targetting your books at a handful of English-language countries.
It’s time to Go Global In 2014