06 Jun Sherif Bakr Discusses the Latest Developments in the Egyptian Publishing Industry (S2 E15)
S2 E15: Sherif Bakr Discusses the Latest Developments in the Egyptian Publishing Industry
By Marleen Seegers, Co-Founder of 2 Seas Agency and Host of The Make Books Travel Podcast
June 6, 2021
Welcome to another episode of The Make Books Travel podcast!
Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Sherif Bakr, General Manager of the Egyptian publishing house Al Arabi.
To say Sherif is well-travelled is quite an understatement; in fact he explains during the interview how important it’s been for him to participate in fellowships around the world.
We address many different topics, including the increase in popularity of the audiobook in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, distribution challenges between the different Arabic-speaking countries, the imminent arrival of Amazon in Egypt, and the problem of piracy that Arabic publishers have been facing for many years.
The icing on the cake comes with Sherif describing how he came to virtually visit the White House recently!
Here are some of the questions I asked him:
- What is the situation in Egypt currently in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Are people getting vaccinated?
- Was the country ever in lockdown these last 15 months?
- What was the state of the Egyptian publishing market before the pandemic started?
- What has happened since the start of the pandemic in terms of book sales in Egypt?
- Was the publishing world on a standstill and were publication dates postponed?
- Was there a higher demand for ebooks and audiobooks, as we have seen in other markets?
- Was the 2021 Cairo Book Fair cancelled, or did it go virtual?
- And how about its international program, Cairo Calling which you usually co-organize?
- And what does the publishing market look like now?
- Have you seen an improvement of distribution between Arabic speaking countries in recent years?
- Did Arab publishers find a solution during the pandemic to export their books, which they usually do by attending public book fairs throughout the Arab world?
- You recently took part in a 6-week training program on virtual reality in publishing. Who organized this, and who else took part, besides you?
- What were the three most important/surprising things that you learned?
- Are you going to apply any of the things you learned to your activities at Al Arabi?
- Sherif’s book recommendations:
– Behrooz Boochani, No Friend but the Mountains. Writing from Manus Prison
– Manon Steffan Ros, The Blue Book of Nebo
- About Sherif:
Sherif Bakr (1975) studied in the English school in Heliopolis Cairo, and graduated from the faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, majoring in Economics and minoring in Computer Science.
In 1997 took over the family business, Al Arabi Publishing and Distributing, where he’d already been working during his summer vacations since he was young.
He worked in all fields of publishing, from the warehouse to accounting; from sales and marketing to editorial and foreign rights.
Sherif Bakr is now The General Secretary of the Egyptian Publishing Association and head of the Development and e-publishing committee.
Having spotted the chance of bridging the Arab civilization and the Arab World—which counts over 400 million inhabitants—with the rest of the world, his aim is to build those bridges based on books and culture.
Sherif Bakr has been invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2008 as part of the invitation program for international publishers and in 2009 as part of the FBF Fellowship program with 15 other fellows from another 14 countries.
He has been invited as well to many other book fairs and publishing events to represent Egypt and the Arab World, as a participant, moderator and speaker.
These events include the Turin International Book Fair from 2010 to 2016, the Prague International book fair from 2011 to 2016, the ITEF Professional Meetings Fellowship Program of Turkey in 2012, the MICA|Mercado de Industrias Culturales Argentinas from 2013 to 2016, the Amsterdam fellowship in 2013 and the Sharjah International Book Fair from 2013 to 2016.
In 2019, he was elected member of the Freedom to Publish committee in the International Publishing Association. The same year, he was invited to participate in the IVLP (International Visitors Leadership Program) in the US.
Sherif was member of the Higher Cultural Committee at the Cairo International Book Fair for six consecutive years, is currently member of the Book and Publication Committee of the Supreme Council of Culture in Cairo, and member of the Egyptian Export Council for printing, packaging, paper, books and artistic works.
Here are some images of Sherif’s participation in the VR in publishing training program, ending at the Oval Office (Sherif, in the blue sweater, receives his certificate).
Images © Sherif Bakr