(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) The chairman of Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, has urged the publishing houses participating in the 36th edition to ensure the growth of the publishing industry by committing to book pricing set up by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) and adhering to copyrights. In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times ahead of the SIBF taking place from November 1-11 - Al Ameri said protecting copyrights and providing books at affordable prices are the SIBF's main objectives. To achieve these, the SBF is keen to monitor the publishers' commitment to taking measures that sustain the publishing industry, he says.
What is new in this edition?
The SIBF will, for the first time, present timeless comic heroes again for today's generation. Young people can learn about the artistic imagination behind the designs, features and the character of each hero. It's a chance for anyone to be the comic hero that he or she always loved! Also, there will be a place for artists to exhibit and sell their works, a roaming performance act and a photo opportunity with comic superheroes.
What was the volume of sale last year; what's expected this time?
Book sales reached the highest level ever in 2016, with an estimated Dh176 million ($ 48.2m) worth of sales during the fair. But during this edition, we expect the volume of sale to increase by at least 50 per cent.
What are the efforts made by the SBA to cope with the digital age?
Hall 1 at the SIBF will be dedicated to online and audio books, with a group of leading publishing houses specialising in e-books and digital publishing taking part. The digital publishers will share their experiences with visitors and help them explore features such as smart searching and browsing.
The 'Future Zone' will meet the needs of readers interested in digital literature, especially school and university students, and those who listen to audiobooks whether they are at home, working or while travelling. While the SIBF focuses mainly on hard copies, it cannot ignore the growing demand for digital and audio books. We aim to attract all community members to the world of reading regardless of the tools and formats they use.
The Future Zone provides SIBF visitors with the opportunity to experience products through various online, audio and visual channels. The zone also enables visitors to enjoy an array of promotions and discounts in line with SIBF's commitment to provide everyone with easy access to literature.
Has the spread of digital books affected the sale of physical books at the SIBF?
People, until the last edition, had flocked to the SIBF and bought a large number of physical books. This time, we are expecting more sales of physical books than ever before. It is not easy for people to switch to digital books. Many believe staring at a little screen could be tiring for the eyes and brain. Print books will never die. E-books and print books could have a bright future together, as an e-book characterises convenience, portability, multimedia, while the physical book has fundamental qualities the e-book will never be able to possess. For readers who truly love a particular book, an electronic facsimile is not an adequate replacement of the physical copy.
How does the SBA curb copyright violations during SIBF?
The SBA closed two Arab publishing houses which participated in the 35th edition of the SIBF, since they did not comply with the conditions of participation. As per these, it is obligatory for all publishing houses to provide a discount of not less than 25 per cent on the books. We warned these two houses several times, but they continued to raise the prices. This forced the SBA to shut them down and prevent them from continuing to participate in the event. However, they can join in this time if they prove they will rectify their situation. In the 34th edition in 2015, the SBA shut down only one publishing house copyrights violation.
Please describe the strides made by the SIBF, which contributed to achieving international fame for the emirate of Sharjah.
The SIBF's progress has been achieved under the vision of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin ?Mohammed Al Qasimi, member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, who believes that word is power; the book is a source of culture and the only choice of the nations is to help build humans and develop their knowledge.
The SIBF was established with the aim of building humans and developing their knowledge. Over the course of its three-and-a-half-decade journey, the SIBF has become established as the region's premium platform for the very best in science, literature and art. It has become the main pillar for this cultural renaissance - with each edition building on the success of the previous one. The SIBF has developed into the world's third largest book fair and is an event that attracts thousands of publishers, authors, and illustrators, as well as millions of visitors from around the world. SIBF now includes books in 60 languages and has become a melting pot for international culture, art, and bookmaking. As part of the SIBF's development, Sharjah Publishing City (SPC) was established, a first-of-its-kind free zone in the world. The SPC will be officially inaugurated on Monday (October 30, 2017). SIBF 2016 was the most successful to date, hosting more than 2.31 million visitors, with footfall figures breaking all previous records. The volume of book sales at the fair reached Dh176 million, the highest ever in its 35-year history.
How much additional space has been made to accommodate new publishers participating for the first time this year?
Due to the high demand, the space has increased by 4,000 square metres this year, which will be added to the 25,000 square meters initially designated for publishers.
What are the facilities provided to publishers to ensure their annual participation?
We make them feel at home by receiving them with great hospitality and catering to all their needs, such as logistics, book storage, visa and hotels and daily requirements. The SBA also creates an environment that enables them to excel at their work and be creative and innovative, to produce something new for visitors. Our door is always open for any publisher who faces difficulties during the exhibition's 11 days. We are also ready to accept suggestions and complaints.
Does SBA maintain censorship at SIBF to prevent the display of banned books or any other kind of controversial material?
There is no book censorship at the fair at all. The SIBF has strictly protected copyright but has left publishers to self-censor. For instance, publishers can display books ban-ned in certain countries due to political reasons. All the SIBF management requires from participating publishers is a list of the books to be displayed, authors, date of publication and prices. The best way to fight against books that may contain terrorist ideology is not to ban them. That makes them popular and helps their authors sell them indirectly. In Sharjah - which is an emirate of culture - we tackle hate and extremism with tolerance and openness, because our people believe literature and knowledge eradicates ignorance and backwardness. Censorship applies only when it involves intellectual property rights and prices.
What is the size of Emirati participation at the SIBF?
The SIBF 2017 will see the participation of government and semi-government organisations, agents, cultural institutions, public libraries, research centres, educational establishments, university libraries and local and international media. Producers of educational aids - including maps, audios, and videos - as well as national book fairs and other institutions involved in the global book industry will also be taking part at the 11-day event.