The 54th Cairo International Book Fair is being held against the backdrop of a severe economic crisis.
Egypt’s currency, the pound, has lost half its value in the last year, and inflation has reached 21.9 percent in December.
“The situation in Egypt, the rising dollar exchange rate and the import crisis, have led to a major increase in the publishing cost, including the papers, the inks, etc, since all the materials are imported. So, books are now quite expensive for everyone. In addition, they’re considered as an entertainment product.”
Egypt’s publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature — has already shown signs of trouble.
As the pound plummeted, the price of basic paper stock quadrupled, forcing publishers to “decrease commissions and print fewer books per edition”, Wael al-Mulla, CEO of publishing house Masr El Arabia said.
“We lost the advantage of low (book) prices compared to other Arab countries. Books prices (in Egypt) were low compared to Arab countries and foreign markets, so there was a high demand for Egyptian books. Today, after we’ve been forced to increase our prices due to the inflation, we are nearing their price level,” he explained.
Incentivise book lovers
Organisers say the Arab world’s largest book fair lured more than half a million visitors on its opening weekend — but with publishing houses already struggling to cover the rising cost of printing, many fear this won’t translate to sales.
To incentivise readers, Egypt’s publishers association have encouraged sellers to give readers the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services. Publishing houses also banked on different strategies.
“Many of the exhibiting publishers offer discounts. For example, if you buy five or ten books, you get big discounts. Of course, not many can afford buying ten books, so usually friends decide to buy books from the same place, to get them discounted,” a volunteer and engineering student revealed.
If the price of new books increased by up to double, in a corner of the fair, vendors from Cairo’s iconic Azbakeya second-hand book market appear unphased by the economic downturn.
With most volumes going for under 20 pounds or about less than one dollar, buying used books or pirated prints from Azbakeya has become a necessity for some.
They will run through February 6.