Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rights Market Blossoms in the Desert

Until recently, rights deals in the Arabic book market were virtually unheard of and piracy was the norm. That began to change in 2007 when the organizers of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair partnered with the Frankfurt Book Fair and made it their stated aim to “professionalize” book trade in the region. Among the top priorities was establishing a rights market. Three years later, there are signs of progress.

At the most recent ADIBF, held March 17-22, approximately 220 rights deals were signed as part of the “Spotlight on Rights” program, a new subsidy scheme which aims to support rights deals and translation. Under the program, publishers may apply for $1,000 subsidy to support any rights deal agreed to during the Fair. “Twenty applications alone were made on the last evening of the Fair,” said Lynette Owen, copyright director of U.K. publisher Pearson, who was assisting dealmakers with the paperwork.

She indicated that the majority of applications were made for translations from western languages into Arabic, though some of the last deals were Arabic to Arabic, and were made to facilitate distribution across the region, which is otherwise problematic. Titles coming under contract included illustrated children's story books, numerous education titles, books on health and fiction.

Publishers may apply for a maximum of 10 subsidies. One publisher who took full advantage was Sondos Asem Shalabi, head of foreign books and translation for the Publishing House for Universities in Cairo, Egypt. She struck 10 deals and applied for 10 subsidies to cover the cost of the Arabic translation of a series of entry level mass communication textbooks.

Urvashi Butalia, director of Zuban publishing house in New Delhi, said that the existence of the subsidy program prompted her to actively seek out books to translate, something she might not otherwise have considered. “I found two or three books that I’m interested in and hope the deals work out,” she said.

Publishers are asked to follow their initial letters of intent with a detailed proposal within four weeks of the end of the Fair. In total, 100 applications will be accepted, bringing the total dollar amount of support to $100,000. The program is set up to run through the 2011 Fair. “This is by no means the first subsidy scheme in the world, but it is new here,” said Owen. “Not every application will be accepted and there’s not an endless pool of money, but hopefully this will help ease the way for some publishers.”

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