People stop by Chinese-themed books, such as Xi Jinping: Governance of China and the Analects of Confucius in a bookstore at Warsaw Chopin Airport. (Photo: Wang Yunsong from People’s Daily)
People stop by Chinese-themed books, such as Xi Jinping: Governance of China and the Analects of Confucius in a bookstore at Warsaw Chopin Airport. (Photo: Wang Yunsong from People’s Daily)

As the countdown is ticking for the conclusion of the 48th round of annual Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF), paper books in Egypt are still struggling to survive recent price hikes as well as prevailing legal and illegal online books.

The massive 16-day book fair has seen over two million visitors in the first ten days, although about 100 Egyptian publishing houses failed to join this year due to the recent price hikes of paper and ink after the local currency devaluation.

“Price hikes of books surely affected their sales. Personally, if I used to buy 20 books during the book fair, I only buy 10 now. It’s a direct effect,” said Karim Mostafa, a civil engineer, while shopping for books at the fair in Cairo.

“With regards to e-books, I don’t think they affect the sales of printed ones, because those who love reading books do not enjoy online reading. Personally, when I want a book, I find a bookstore and buy it. I never look for it online,” the 32-year-old engineer told Xinhua.

At a nearby large booth belonging to a big Egyptian publishing house, youth writer Ahmed Khair El-Deen was celebrating with his readers the release of his first book when he said that prevailing online books surely affected the sales of paper books and made many readers resort to illegal pdf copies.

“Some publishers started to pay attention to this and produce e-books to target online readers. I hope this can be activated in the rest of publishing houses to be a parallel means of profit,” the writer said.

He added that soaring prices affected book sales “but less than expected,” for some publishers were aware of the problem and made sale offers to encourage more people to visit the fair and buy cheaper books.

Out of total 670 publishing houses from 35 participant countries, only 451 Egyptian publishers joined the CIBF this year compared to 550 last year, due to the hike of paper and ink prices that reportedly raised book prices by about 150 percent.
Sobhy Khamis, member of the Egyptian Publishers Association (EPA), said that a lot of people thought that e-books would surpass paper books yet visitors turnout at the CIBF and the amount of sales proved the opposite.

“Readers cannot do without paper books. E-books are important sometimes in researches and studies for those looking for specific parts or paragraphs. But paper books are eternal for book lovers who like to obtain valuable books and create their own libraries,” the publisher said.

The EPA member argued that despite the leap in e-books, the paper books still maintain their value as proved by the millions visiting the book fair. However, he believes that price hikes of papers and printing materials made it difficult for all publishers.

“Anyway, publishers are not merchants. They consider themselves messengers to convey the thoughts of creative writers to the public. So, they did not raise book prices in the same way the cost is raised. They relevantly raised them to cover their costs,” he pointed out.

Hend Adel, a female physician in her late 20s, said that she personally does not prefer e-book because she loves holding the paper book in her hand while reading. “But I know many of my friends who have no problem with online reading especially amid soaring prices.”

“Expensive books should be specially reprinted for the public with cheaper prices. Also, there should be public libraries in every district so that people can borrow and return the books they need to read,” the young lady said.

Egypt’s economic recession over the past six years led the country to adopt a strict economic reform program including austerity measures as well as subsidy cuts and local currency floatation, which all led to soaring prices and increasing inflation. In the bookselling business, the price hikes led to growing book piracy.
Hazem Wefy, a franchise owner of Alef Bookstore in Maadi district southeastern the capital Cairo, said that only free pdf copies affected book sales, unlike those legal e-books as in “Kotobi” online bookstore that already makes legal deals with publishers.

“While illegal pdf copies make a problem, the bigger problem is those fake copies of paper books that have been increasing since the recent price hikes. Sometimes a book is released and only a few hours later a fake physical copy is sold on sidewalks for a cheaper price, which targets our direct customers who like paper books,” Wefy regretted.

Still, Haitham al-Hajj Ali, head of the General Egyptian Book Organization (GEBO), the CIBF official organizer, ruled out the possibility of a real threat posed by e-books to paper ones, saying they both are two wings of the same means of message conveyance.

“Our main task is to convey the informative message by any means. If e-books are relatively more prevailing, the GEBO should enter this field in the near future,” Ali told Xinhua, noting his organization is working on the establishment of an e-publishing project with e-marketing plans for both paper and online books. Enditem

Source: Mahmoud Fouly, Xinhua/

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