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UAE firms capitalising on e-books trend.

Dubai In 2009, readers spent $108 billion (Dh396.36 billion) on books with the lion's share of the market found in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In comparison, only 5 million e-readers were sold around the world during the same period. This new digitalised form of reading is nowhere near taking over the traditional book form, but it's catching up quickly.

Barnes and Noble recently announced a 140 per cent jump in first quarter revenues from e-book related products.

In July 2010, Amazon announced that, for the first time in its history, it had sold more e-books than hard covers. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 180 e-books were sold in June 2010 for every 100 hard covers. The e-book market also saw a boost with the launch of the iPad, which was used to download 5 million e-books (including free e-books) from Apple's store in the two months following the market launch.

Following these impressive sales statistics, local publishers and retailers are taking note and are taking action to make sure they are not left behind.

Wider market

Kalimat Publishing is a Sharjah-based publisher founded in February 2007 by Shaikha Boudour, daughter of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. The publisher, which specialises in Arabic children's books with distribution points across the Middle East and some parts of Europe, is working on a new project to convert many of its titles to e-books.

"E-books are an essential part of our evolutionary literary development. The publishing world has been transformed by digital publishing. As a leading publisher of children's books we cannot ignore this transition and have to embrace it. By creating e-versions of our print books, we will be able to reach a wider market of readers from all over the globe and capture the interest of reluctant readers who prefer to spend time on the computer than read a book," Shaikha Boudour, CEO of Kalimat, said. They are now working on their e-book website which will feature downloadable books and apps for the iPhone and BlackBerry. Kalimat is looking to convert up to 75 titles to e-book format by the end of the year.

"E-books are a completely new market and because it is there, we have to be there. The technology of e-books offers more interactive activities compared to printed books which is what Kalimat is trying to use," said Tamer Said, business development manager at Kalimat Publishing.

According to Said, one of the challenges they face as a publisher working in the region is in shipping or logistics. "E-books can help with the availability. Also, because our books are high quality, they are sometimes too expensive for some markets like Egypt. With e-books, we can offer the same quality at lower prices," said Said.

Localising the e-reader

Since its launch in 2007, the Kindle e-book is slowly gaining popularity among Amazon shoppers. In the first half of 2010, Amazon sold more than three times as many Kindle books compared to the first half of 2009.

In 2010, Barnes & Noble, the largest US bookstore chain, introduced the Nook while across the Atlantic, Sony maintained its large market share in e-readers with its Reader Touch Edition launched in October 2009 and the Sony Pocket Reader launched in February 2010.

In 2008, Dubai based company Merlin Digital launched a six-inch e-book reader to the local market.

"There is a large market for e-books in the UAE compared to the rest of the region because of the UAE's multicultural population. The demand for this particular product should generally triple in coming years," said Nelson Vaz, account manager at Merlin Digital General Trading.

"Customers are going for the e-book as it offers convenience. For a traveller, instead of carrying 30 to 50 books, all these books can be downloaded in a small e-book reader. It's great for people on the move," he added.

The 0.4-inch thick, 0.18-kg Merlin E-Book reader is preloaded with 100 all-time classic e-books. It is also compatible with most popular e-book formats available for download on the net. The Merlin E-Book Reader also enables a user to view 7,000 pages before recharging. "The only time that the e-book draws power is when you turn the page,' said Rohit Bachani, Merlin Sales Manager, whose brother Sharad designed the latest electronic device.

Jashanmal bookstore is also looking to launch their own e-book reader to rival the Kindle. The e-reader which is being designed and manufactured by Kibano, will be transferred wirelessly from card readers in the stores on to the e-reader or other e-book devices such as the iPad, iPhone and Samsung Galaxy Tab.

"We're launching it for an integrated solution. If buyers buy international products like the Kindle, they arrived in a grey market channel with no localised support available. Our product will have local support," said Narain Jashanmal, general manager for Jashanmal National Company.

"After discussions with several potential partners this is the route that made most sense. It's not simply a matter of just sourcing the device, but one needs to have a content delivery platform associated with it, ideally one that delivers directly to the device," he added.

The e-book will be launched in time for the Christmas shopping season and will sell at Dh600 to Dh800. In addition to the e-reader, Jashanmal is working on a parallel project to develop local content and convert it to e-books. "It's going to be a combination of licensing existing content and developing original which is still in its early stages. We are expecting products to be ready in the new year," said Jashanmal

Magrudy's was the first bookshop chain to sell e-readers starting with the Sony e-reader in 2009 and is currently developing its strategy for selling e-books.

Mainstream

"The difference with books is that they are not a three-minute experience and we engage with books and the written words in many ways. Will an e-reader satisfy all those needs? I don't think it will fully replace the physical book and I think that books as we know them will still be around for the foreseeable future. However, e-books are going to become more and more mainstream which is why Magrudy's is developing its strategy for selling e-books," Isobel Abulhoul, director at Magrudy Enterprises, said.

PwC echoes the sentiment stating, "Technology may change rapidly, but people's habits do not. People will continue to want books to fill their shelves, give as gifts, and place on their bedside. But make no mistake -- modern reading devices such as the Kindle and iPad mark the beginning of a digital transformation, and the book market has taken its first irreversible steps into new territory."

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Sep 10, 2011
Words:1133
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