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Bookstalls thrive in Tahrir Square.

On a sidewalk off Sana'a's Tahrir Square a handful of people of various ages browse books at a street vendor's stall. The area, which is home to the city's main public library, is a bustling public space that draws readers and would-be book buyers from far and wide, and for bookstall owners business is looking up.

Ali Al-Shaibani, a Sana'a resident, said the square is one of his favorite spots to socialize. He said that visiting the square also affords him the opportunity to flip through books and buy those that appeal to him.

Although the books are not given the honor of a place on a bookshelf, they are nevertheless carefully arranged by topic for customer ease.

While some consumers are increasingly shifting online, where they can download a very wide range of literature, it would be an exaggeration to suggest that e-books are displacing actual books in Sana'a.

One factor that attracts buyers to the bookstalls splaying their goods on the sidewalks around Tahrir Square is the low cost of the books on offer.

"I honestly cannot afford the expensive books," said Adnan Al-Asbahi, a university student.

Hamdi Abu Baker, a resident of Sana'a, said that he scans the books at Tahrir Square everytime he passes by, even if he does not intend to buy. He says he prefers to buy books from street vendors because of their cheap prices, adding that books are sold for about YR100 (less than $1) and this draws many avid readers.

The street vendors sell books on a wide range of subjects--from religion, culture, politics, economics and history, to fiction, cooking, art, language and sport as well as school textbooks. However, books that deal with sex and other adult themes are the best sellers, according to Ahmed Al-Haddad, a street vendor in Tahrir.

Saif Nasser, the owner of a bookstall in Tahrir Square, said the book sellers have a diverse range of customers seeking books from many difference genres. He said the vendors rely on crafty and persuasive sales techniques, often relying on a customer's appearance in their sales pitch.

"We will suggest good religious books for a person with a beard and a good sport books for athletes, and they buy these books," said Nasser.

"We sell various new and second-hand books for cheap prices. We buy these books from wholesaling printing houses and get the second-hand books for cheap prices. Some people also give us books for free," said Nasser.

Mohammed Abdulwadood, a resident of Sana'a, has given books to street vendors for free.

"I have a lot of books that I don't want anymore because I started to read books online. I give these books to street vendors to sell them to readers," said Abdulwadood.

Nasser said that he quit selling books for about two years and embarked on a new business venture before returning to book selling. He said that the high demand for cheap books is what brought him back.

Amidst an economic crisis it is hardly surprising that there is such strong demand for cheaper books. And without the burden of costly overheads, street vendors are able to maintain their competitiveness.

"We sell books for cheaper prices than bookshops because we sell on the sidewalk and don't have to pay rent or salaries for employees," explained Nasser.He said that he even gets some of his books at very low cost from bookshops and publishing houses that have gone under.

Abu Baker, the Sana'a resident who buys books at Tahrir Square, said that he prefers books from street vendors and he seldom enters bookshops when he cannot find the book he is looking for.

Abdulbasit Qasim, who manages a bookshop near Sana'a University, said that street book sellers have undercut his business by offering books at such low cost. However, he said that he sells rare specialist books which are not available on the streets and that enables him to turn a profit.

But the street vendors too are sometimes able to provide hard-to-find books.

"We provide books that aren't available in bookstalls and sometimes import books from outside and this makes us distinguished regardless our prices," said Othman Ali, the owner of a bookshop.

Bookstall owners do face some obstacles to their business. Bookstall owners say that people claiming to be officials from the municipality often try to extort money from them.

The city's administration says that while the authorities do not collect taxes from street vendors and vendors should refuse to hand over money to people claiming to be from the municipality, the stalls nevertheless fail to comply with regulations.

"Using stalls to sell things on the sidewalks is prohibited and we are working to ban them," said the director of Sana'a's Public Works Office Abdulraqeeb Ata.

Government regulation, however, appears to be hardly enforced, if at all, and customers continue to flock to Tahrir's book vendors.

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Geographic Code:7YEME
Date:Apr 24, 2014
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