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A conference of booksellers this month

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The new Sharjah Book Authority Booksellers’ Conference is taking place this month alongside the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival.

The Sharjah Publishing City Theatre, site of the new Sharjah Booksellers Conference. Image: SBA

By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson

Booksellers meet in Sharjah Publishing City

As if the emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates was having a slow season—it is having anything but a slow season—the chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, Ahmed Al Ameri, has announced a new event for May 15 and 16: the conference of Sharjah Booksellers is scheduled for 15 and 16 May at Sharjah Publishing City.

It is an example in which it is immediately clear why much of the global publishing industry watches Sharjah’s level of activity with a mixture of admiration and envy. A literary dynamo in the desert, the emirate led by author Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi can hold more international editorial events in a month than many domestic markets could handle in a year.

Ahead of the opening of the new Booksellers’ Conference, the annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival will have opened from May 11-22. The Booksellers’ Gathering is a side event to the Festival of Reading, much like the Autumn Publishers’ Conference precedes the Sharjah International Book Fair and its annual Librarians’ Conference takes place during the duration of the fair.

It’s part of a scheme of Al Ameri’s shrewd production strategy. It starts with one of its main regional and/or international flagship events, such as the Sharjah Reading Festival and International Book Fair, and then adds a more targeted component.

In the case of the new Booksellers’ Conference, Sharjah’s embrace reaches publishing professionals in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. An estimated 200 booksellers, distributors and publishers are expected to attend the inaugural event when it opens on May 15. The program will include keynote speeches, some of which will examine the roles of booksellers from a historical perspective.

Al Ameri: “New business opportunities”

In a prepared comment, Al Ameri is quoted as saying, “It is a matter of pride for Sharjah and Sharjah Book Authority to host this new conference of booksellers.

Ahmed Al-Ameri

“I am delighted to see that our collaborative efforts have succeeded in creating an exclusive platform for booksellers from the region and around the world to network; exchange ideas and expertise; and explore new business opportunities.

“Joining our existing professional program offerings for publishers and librarians, this event will also allow booksellers across the region to research new books for their stores and communities,” he added.

And Mansour Al Hassani, who heads the sales department of the Sharjah Book Authority, says: “Sharjah’s major cultural project is turning a new page with the launch of the Booksellers’ Conference.

Mansour Al Hassani

“The role played by booksellers is vital to the sustainability and future growth of the publishing industry, and with rapidly changing consumer needs, booksellers must continue to update their skills.

“This event is poised to provide useful actionable insights to new and experienced stores. We are confident that the conference will deliver everything the regional and global bookseller community expects.

It turns out that the program proposed by Al Ameri and Mansour is of a new topicality: the new event will go into session only a few days after the announcement today (May 3) that the head of the major chain of German bookstores Thalia, 28-year-old Michael Busch, will retire from operational management on June 1, handing over to sales director Ingo Kretzshmar.

Busch was a champion of the concept of omnichannel in bookstore. He described it to Publication prospects in January, when we moderated a panel he had joined for the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri, which for nearly 40 years in Venice has been an annual conference of booksellers with profound influence in Europe and beyond. For Busch, the omnichannel The concept, he said, refers to seamless and valuable customer experiences and interactions across multiple sales channels.

And it’s the kind of model that will surely be discussed at the booksellers’ conference in Sharjah, at a time of so much instability triggered by the still ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Needless to say, what looms large in so many bookstores are the questions of how best to bridge the physical bookstore experience with the growing penetration of digital retail and e-commerce. This is something James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones and Daunt Books (UK) and CEO of Barnes & Noble (US), told us about in his comments to the Mauri School.

Nana Lohrengel

Indeed, Nana Lohrengel, Secretary General of the Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri Foundation in Milan, will deliver the last keynote speech at the Sharjah conference on the 16th, in conversation with Simon Littlewood, member of the executive committee of the International Publishers Association ( IPA).

The Sharjah event for booksellers includes leadership keynotes and four panel presentations, the aims being to encourage the sharing of best practices and provide in-depth analysis of current trends in several areas that impact the sale of books: digital strategies; relations with stakeholders; conservation and presentation of stocks; customer engagement and new business models.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to network, pitch their titles and explore new market opportunities in a series of one-on-one sessions.

Booksellers Conference Program Notes

Al Ameri will open the conference with welcome remarks followed by a panel moderated by business consultant Kuo-yu Liang. In this case, topics should include community engagement and sales performance through digital channels, including websites, social media, e-newsletters, and e-commerce.

A second panel discusses building “strong relationships with stakeholders, including publishers, authors, festivals and schools, to run a successful bookstore.”

And Nadia Wassef, co-founder of Diwan Bookstore in Cairo, will talk about her experiences building her top-notch bookstore, along with its challenges and lessons.

On the second day of the conference, Jasmina Kanurić, who is a communications consultant with the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), will speak at the conference on industry trends and issues.

A panel will follow on the topic of inventory curation and presentation as well as staff training in customer service, followed by a final panel on “adjacent opportunities” for bookstores, as well as printing. on-demand – which is a major new presence in Publishing City thanks to the installation of Lightning Source Sharjah by Ingram.

And the program will end with the conversation between Lohrengel and Littlewood from the Mauri Foundation.

When Publication prospects spoke to Ingram’s Al Ameri and David Taylor on the main stage of the London Book Fair last month about the new Lightning Source print-on-demand facility at Sharjah Publishing City – where the booksellers conference – Al Ameri made a point that can help many in publishing to understand the energy and commitment of the emirate to produce so many international events in the field of publishing.

The fact that he and his fellow Sharjans live and work in the business environment they create, Al Ameri said, makes it all the more important for them to make the efforts of the Sharjah Book Authority effective.

“The vision of Sharjah Publishing City,” he said, “is to have a publisher that can operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day, doing business, selling rights, printing, translating.”

With this inaugural bookseller conference, that mission now expands to include book sales and the retail framework in which book publishing operates globally.


To learn more about the Publishing Perspectives library, click here. More on Sharjah is here, more on Sharjah Publishing City is here, more on Ingram Content Group is here, more on Sharjah Book Authority is here, more on Sharjah International Book Fair is here, more on guest of honor appearances is here, more about The London Book Fair is here, and more information about publishing fairs, book fairs and festivals is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the global media partner of the International Publishers Association.

To learn more about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international book publishing, click here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident member of Trends Research & Advisory, and was named International Business Journalist of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is editor of Publishing Perspectives. He was previously associate editor of The FutureBook at The Bookseller in London. Anderson was a senior producer and anchor for CNN.com, CNN International and CNN USA for more than a decade. As an art critic (National Critics Institute), he has collaborated with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which is now owned and operated by Jane Friedman.