Dubai’s new publishing industry conference: practical insights with policy push

The first Dubai International Publishing Conference has been announced, organised by the Emirates Literature Foundation with the Executive Council of Dubai. It runs alongside the Foundation’s LitFest, on 5 and 6 March, and packs a lot of speakers plus a few workshops into the two days.

James Spackman, freelance publisher and consultant: marketing masterclass and motivating booksellers

Those speakers genuinely represent a lot of publishing experience and some pertinent views, even if the appearance of Jeffrey Archer as Keynote Speaker jars a little – there’s no doubting his ability to make money as an author, but in a programme that’s otherwise loaded with publishing industry heavyweights it’s difficult to see what he can contribute (other than the promise of big sales for the lucky few).

After that it’s a full two days, 9am to 5.15pm with 45-minute sessions covering hot-button topics like publishing and social media, children’s books, strategies for the smaller publisher, how to use big data, and going digital in general. There are a couple of regional-specific sessions, and some good-looking masterclasses mostly hinged on marketing – though we like the look of ‘Creative commissioning: how to choose and nurture the best authors for your list’ by Pan Macmillan’s Carole Tonkinson (if only because we’d like to be one of those authors).

Noura Al Noman, author of the Ajwan Trilogy and founder of Makhtoota 5229: Fashions in Children’s Books

So it’s a good package, one that brings some hard-won practical experience and advice to the UAE from more mature markets. A lot of official effort is going into the National Reading Policy, one effect of which will hopefully be to fuel an uptake in book sales here. We were told explicitly that the purpose of the conference is to “enhance the publishing industry” including “the possible opportunities of development and building partnerships with international publishing houses”, and some of the sessions are geared for that; the networking opportunities will probably be more important for that.

“We want to enhance communication between the Arab and Western publishers,” said LitFest director Isobel Abulhoul. “The Conference will encourage an exchange of ideas, enabling cross-publishing of popular works, especially Arabic into English, giving the talent in the region a wider audience outside the Arab world.”

Holly Harris, Penguin Random House: Social Media Publishing

She also talked about “a pivotal and inspiring event that hosts sessions aimed at tackling publishing industry-related key issues in our region” and went on: “Publishers need to learn about the real situation of the region and its requirements, know about reading inclinations of their citizens and the causes that may preclude their desire for reading … Encouraging the culture of reading and perpetuating love for books in citizens is associated with the publishers’ ability to provide exciting, useful and handy books that are accessible to all segments of community.”

That’s the other aim of the Dubai International Publishing Conference – “enhancing and instilling the culture of reading in the community” as the Executive Council’s Aisha Abdullah Miran put it.

Adrian Greenwood, Michael O’Mara Books: Publishing strategies for SMEs

Clearly there’s a link between education and the formation of good reading habits on the one hand, and commercial success on the other. It will be interesting to see how those possible outcomes pan out.

There’s a third goal, too: we were told that “one of the main aims is coming out with recommendations that will be employed in identifying applicable strategic programmes and initiatives that may be implemented in Dubai to support and promote the culture of reading”.

In other words, there’s a strategic imperative. It sounds like someone is expecting the Conference to conclude with a collection of recommendations. This doesn’t seem to form any part of the programme, and on the surface it would seem that the speakers – and indeed the audience – aren’t the best people to provide such policy pointers. We could be wrong, of course.

Carole Tonkinson, Pan MacMillan: a case study on publishing a runaway bestseller plus a masterclass on handling authors

The Conference is at the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City. The fee is $200 for UAE attendees ($250 for international visitors, a bargain $5 for students); that buys two days of sessions, coffee and lunch on both days, dinner on day 1, and a certificate. Book on the website.

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