In early February 2019 three of Langham Literature’s staff made a short visit to Egypt to work alongside Dar El Thaqafa, the publishing arm of CEOSS (Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services). Dar El Thaqafa are the distributors of the recently published Arabic Contemporary Commentary and have also published several other Langham Publishing titles in Arabic, along with other books by Chris Wright and John Stott. With expertise in publishing, publisher development and distribution, the team from Langham had been invited to Cairo to see how Dar El Thaqafa could strengthen its publishing operation and the distribution of their publications within Egypt and the wider Middle East region.
Many hours were spent around a conference table, fuelled by coffee and traditional Egyptian cakes, discussing and analysing the ministry of Dar El Thaqafa: looking at spreadsheets of income and expenditure, identifying their strengths and the specific challenges they face and working together to find ideas and suggestions that will enable them to fulfil their mission.
A Hunger for Books
On a warm Monday afternoon we took some time away from the meeting room to visit the Cairo International Book Fair, that had been taking place in the city for the last two weeks. Now in its 50th year the event was being held for the first time at the Egypt International Exhibition Centre. The Book Fair is the largest and oldest book fair in the Arab World and the second largest in the world.
It took nearly an hour and a half through the slow Cairo traffic to get across the city but we were certainly not the only ones making the journey that day. As we neared the Exhibition Centre many cars were parked on the sides of the roads and there was a steady stream of people all walking in the same direction. There were long queues of people waiting to get into the four exhibition halls that housed over 2,000 exhibitors. Inside the halls there were people of all ages – from small children and teenagers, to their parents and grandparents – and of many different backgrounds all united by an interest in books. Most carried bags containing their purchases and some even had wheeled suitcases to carry all the books they had bought. The vast majority of the books and signage were in Arabic but our guide explained that the exhibitors were publishers of books on a wide range of topics – fiction, non-fiction, technical, academic, religious – any subject you can think of was probably represented there in some way.
We weaved our way through the crowds to the Dar El Thaqafa booth, which was helpfully identified by a pink balloon flying above the stand. They certainly seemed to be one of the busier exhibitors and people were crowded onto the stand, browsing through the books and talking with the sales staff about what was on offer. This is an opportunity for Dar El Thaqafa to showcase their publications to an audience they may not normally reach and with the incentive of special discounts many people were buying these life-changing books.
This is also an opportunity to see what other Christian publishers are doing: to gain useful insight into where they are putting their focus, who are the popular authors and what are the key topics. It is also a chance to see what they are not doing: where there may be gaps in the market and what opportunities may exist to reach new audiences.
In today’s world – when everywhere you look nearly everyone you see is using their mobile device as an extension of themselves: making phone calls, sending messages, taking photographs – it is easy to become despondent about whether there is still a place for the physical book. Final figures for exactly how many people attended the Book Fair over the fifteen days were not available during our time in Cairo but it was suggested that it would be close to 2 million visitors. Our short visit to this enormous event showed that, at least in Egypt, there is a huge hunger for books and for reading and for the knowledge, enjoyment and motivation that they bring.
Feeding Appetites, Changing Lives
Sales figures for the event for Dar El Thaqafa confirmed that this year had been their most successful in terms of turnover but the hope is that the impact of this one event will continue in the months to come and that many people will have come across their books for the first time. They may just be one publisher in a sea of many but each book that is sold has the potential to create life-changing waves. This is the truth that motivates us to come alongside our brothers and sisters around the world to encourage them in their mission and ministry of publishing and distribution.
Buy the Arabic Contemporary Commentary today.
Written by Libby Kelly, Director of Operations, Langham Literature