UAE authors have cause to celebrate with the recent launch of ELF Publishing, a new publishing house by the Emirates Literature Foundation. Its focus is on UAE-based fiction authors of all genres, styles, and backgrounds and will release works in both English and Arabic as well as translated works.

Elf Publishing will begin accepting fiction manuscripts from March 2022 for the UAE Month of Reading so authors – finish up those manuscripts and make sure your submission is top notch and you may be among the lucky ones chosen for publication. The Foundation’s CEO, Isobel Abulhoul, has stressed that it isn’t a vanity publisher – a publishing house which authors pay to have their books published – but rather a legitmate one that is passionate about supporting authors based in the country.

This news means that the number of publishing houses and organisations has nudged just above 100 according to the Emirates Publishers Association that range from well-known names, such as Motivate Publishing and Kalima, to lesser-known ones. It’s actually surprising just how many indie and specialised publishing houses and organisations currently exist in the country. A main reason could be lack of strong public profiles as well as avenues to showcase them and their offerings.

It isn’t easy to find current data about the UAE’s publishing industry – the most recent one featured information that came out ten years ago (below). It shows a worrying downward trend about publications within the UAE – except for Arabic Titles Produced in the UAE, which saw a slight uptick in 2011. However, it isn’t clear if this refers to books only or other things like magazines as well as whether the information refers to physical publications only or if any digital or hybrid publications are included in this data set.

Credit: Publishing in the UAE by Rüdiger Wischenbart and Nasser Jarrous for the Emirates Publishers Association

High-profile literary events such as the Sharjah International Book Fair, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, and the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature are doing their part to bring the UAE’s literary scene to the world and vice versa. But work still remains to build and expand the country’s publishing industry into one that’s at least recognised internally, instead of the domination of a few local publishing brands.

In 2016, Tahseen Consulting, a specialized advisor on strategic and organizational issues focusing on governments, social sector institutions, and corporations in the Arab World, released a report conducted on behalf of the Frankfurt Book Fair that highlighted the status of the UAE’s publishing industry and the challenges being faced at the time. Entitled Challenges to Publishing Industry Growth in the United Arab Emirates, it was commissioned because the UAE was selected to be the fair’s ‘Featued Market’.

According to the report:, it was projected that the country’s publishing industry was expected to grow by 12% each year until 2030. However, as we all know, COVID-19 exploded around the world in 2020, impacting everything and everyone. We tried to look for information on how the pandemic’s affected the industry but despite our best efforts, nothing could be found at the time of publication. We will update this article if anything is released in the future.

Building on the information presented in the table above, the report also highlighted the discrepancy between yearly book imports and exports in the UAE from 2006 to 2016: 1% vs 8% respectively. Interestingly, another report entitled Success of the UAE Publishing Market around the World by the Emirates Publishers Association for the London Book Fair 2018, noted that the UAE in 2014 was actually second in terms of volume of exports of books and other printed materials across the MENA region. These were valued at over $40 million, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database.

This is still a much lower amount than the $126 million value of imports into the country, as mentioned in Tahnseen Consulting’s report. On one hand, it shows that there’s strong demand for all types of reading materials; on the other hand, it reinforces how the local industry is lagging behind other publishing houses and organisations in the region and around the world.

The UAE is home to passionate readers and writers as well as the organisations that were established to empower and support them. It’s great that there’s a huge volume of imported titles to choose from – it would be nice to see an equally amount of locally-based authors, whether Emirati or expatriate, sitting alongside regional and international titles on bookshelves across the country.

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