By Raynald C Rivera
DOHA: As the 24th Doha International Book Fair comes to a close today, booksellers observed the fair had lost its sheen, blaming the decline in sales on lack of publicity and government support.
People’s lack of interest in books, brought about by the fast-evolving technological landscape with the Internet and advanced smartphones and gaming gadgets coming to the market, is another factor contributing to the decline.
“The demand for books is decreasing year by year because people are not anymore interested in them,” Ziyada, owner of Dar Al Asma, told The Peninsula.
His stall, in which titles mostly on Arabic language and education are available, has sold only 50 books on average in a day.
“The previous years were definitely better,” he said, adding that the government must support booksellers the way it did several years ago.
By government support booksellers mean ministries and other government organisations purchasing books in large quantities, and providing schoolchildren coupons that they can use to buy books.
Because of a lack of interest from the general public, booksellers now rely on schools and students to a large extent.
“The government should revive the coupon system providing students free coupons; this would encourage them to buy and read books,” said Abdullah Al Owais of Kuwait-based Al Ibdah Al Fikri.
A recent study on children in the GCC, which was conducted by global research organisation TNS and commissioned by private company Fun Ville, revealed reading was the activity on which children up to 12 years spent their free time the least.
Al Owais has been taking part in the fair for three years now, and although he had average sales this year, he said demand was low compared to last year.
“The problem of a dearth of parking space has also added to the low turnout. There should also be a media campaign so that more customers come,” he said.
Despite the unsatisfactory turnout, Al Owais was hopeful the situation would improve in future, so he has decided to come back next year and bring more of his books, which are mostly on religion and personal development.
Dr Rayas Maktabi, owner of Dar Al Maktabi from Syria, expressed appreciation for the organisers who he said had provided the necessary support to them, but said sales were low.
This year, Dar Al Maktabi has brought books on philosophy, biography, history and children’s books to the fair.
“Sales are poor. The problem is the shortage of parking space and the road diversions,” he said, adding there was need for an intensive media campaign.
The huge space adjacent to the Doha Exhibition Centre was once utilised as parking space for visitors during big events, but currently it is barricaded due to ongoing construction. This has resulted in limited parking space for visitors’ cars and school buses.
Road diversions, caused by works on the metro project, are also making the road challenging and confusing for motorists to negotiate.
Khalid Suleiman of Dar Al Iqra from Kuwait, who has been participating in the fair for several years now, also complained of the parking problem and road diversions, but said he would come again next year as he found the management of the fair very cooperative.
Another bookseller, from Qatar-based Maktaba Lubnan,, was of the view that there should be more initiatives through advertisements in traditional media in addition to social media campaigns to revive the fair.
“More media campaigning is needed to attract more customers because people nowadays are not reading books anymore because they prefer the Internet more,” he said, adding the timing should also be revised to make it more convenient for customers to visit the fair.
The Maktaba Lubnan stand provides a variety of books, such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, children’s books, medical books and books on cooking, language and well-known Islamic figures.
“At average, sales are between QR2,000 to QR3,000 per day, but in the previous years they reached up to QR15,000 a day,” he said.
Others, however, have witnessed good sales, yet believe there is more to be done to improve the current state of the fair to benefit all the booksellers, such as Khalid Shawqi of Maktaba Afaq from Kuwait and Ahmad Hassan of Egypt-based Dar Al Sharq Al Arabi, who both claimed average sales of 500 books a day.
“I sell 500 books per day, but compared to previous years including last year, this is low,” said Hassan.
“In terms of sales, I consider this year better than last year. In the previous years, government entities purchased books, they also gave coupons to students to come and purchase at the fair. These further boosted our sales,” said Shawqi.
Shawqi has travelled to different parts of the world and found arrangements for the Doha book fair to be good.
A representative from Dar Al Thaqafa also urged additional official support in the form of the government purchasing books from them, and said sales were better compared to last year.
The book fair was moved to an earlier part of the month this year as in the past two years it had coincided with the National Day, resulting in low visitor turnouts. In 2011 and 2012, the fair was held from December 12 to 22, but this year it is being held from December 4 to 14.
The fair has witnessed a decline in the number of publishers, from 456 in 2011 to 419 last year to 360 this year. It has also been criticised for the fact that the majority of books are in Arabic, with only a few available in English. Booksellers, however, argued that books in Arabic were more in demand in the region.
The 11-day fair has drawn praise for its side events, many of which were linked to the UK, the guest of honour this year to coincide with the Qatar UK Year of Culture. The Qatar UK pavilion offered various cultural and educational activities for children. They included storytelling and related activities, film screenings, a literary translation summit, an art expo, and book talks.