• Table of contents

    • [+]Preliminaries (3)
    • [+]Introduction (4)
    • [+]Latin America (13)
    • [+]Sub-Saharan Africa (9)
    • [—]Arab World (11)
    • [+]Russia (11)
    • [+]India (11)
    • [+]China (9)
    • [+]Conclusions (6)
    • [+]Appendix (1)

Arab World

Mobile phones as a publishing platform

Here too we can mention Kotobarabia, which in an attempt to diversify and supply the internal market, has put its efforts into distributing e-books via cell phone infrastructure.[1] In order to do this, in 2009, the portal teamed up with Sarmady, the digital branch of Vodafone in Egypt.

Similarly, the Austrian company Blackbetty Mobilemedia, specializing in reading software for mobiles, has made its own inroads into the field. Jörg Hotter, the CEO of Blackbetty, believes the next phase of digital publishing in the Arab world – just like in sub-Saharan Africa – will be played out on those tiny screens that characterize the 800 cell phone models available today.[2] What is interesting is the particular use these small devices have – and will have – in the region. According to Hotter:

There is big difference in publishing mobile-device books for the Arab world than publishing for Europe. In Europe, it’s more about entertaining people, since readers have easy access to printed books anyway. But I think that in other countries, where book publishing and distribution is not that developed, it is important to bring people books that they can’t buy in stores. (…). We think for these countries, it’s not about entertainment, but about making books accessible in a way that is already technologically possible. In many parts of the Arab world, people have jumped directly to the mobile age. As with land line connectivity, they jumped a technology.[3]

In addition, an application for using iPhones[4] to read material digitized by the National Library was presented in Tunisia in May 2010. The tool, designed by the company Sanabil Med, can be downloaded free of charge and currently (in February 2011) allows access to 15 manuscripts in Arabic and French. However, given the scarcity of the devices and of Apple stores in the Arab world, it is reasonable to assume that such applications will in effect benefit foreign users for the most part.

If so far these pioneering projects have mainly been devoted to adapting printed publications to mobile devices, the most profound change will arise when texts created especially for that medium begin to be published – as we saw in the study of sub-Saharan Africa. In this regard, the Algerian publisher Sofiane Hadjadj[5] plainly states:

Mobile telephony, which is rapidly developed, light and flexible, has made sure everyone is kitted out. This has created new and highly diversified modes of communication – from romantic conversations to professional discussions, from keeping in touch with family to calling friends. People – especially young people – have freed themselves from the collective domain to find their own private sphere for the first time – in a home there is only one TV watched by the whole family, just one land line, etc. For digital publishing it is clear that overcoming the lag in equipment – computers and tablets – will take a long time. Easily used and economical, “soft” solutions will be favoured, since young people are very attached to their mobiles.[6]

  1. According to data from the National Authority for the Regulation of Telecommunications, mobile phone penetration in Egypt reached 72% in 2010. Cf. “Egypt reaches 72 per cent mobile penetration” , Commdot, 9th April, 2010. Internet presence, on the other hand, barely exceeds 20%. Cf. “Africa”, Internet World Stats, data from February 2010.
  2. Cf. Rossetti, Chip: “Austria’s Blackbetty Tackles Arabic Ebooks for Phones”, Publishing Perspectives, 22nd July, 2009.
  3. Ibidem.
  4. And iPads.
  5. Director of the independent publishing house Barzakh, in 2010 he received the Prince Claus Award “for giving concrete form to Algeria’s voices, for opening up a much-needed space of critical reflection on Algerian realities, for building a bridge connecting different languages and cultures, and for creatively breaking through the threatening cultural isolation of the country”. Cf. “Barzakh Editions profile”, Prince Claus Fund.
  6. Personal interview, January 2011.

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