Between Us Only!
The Business of Books!
The Business of Books!
Last week I was very much distressed, saddened and unhappy to hear of the closures of two major bookshops in Oman – one famous one that had been operating for a long time in Oman – and always in support of Omani Writers, Authors and Artists – and the other one an International one – an offshoot of their closing down internationally.
As some of you might know too, I ventured into writing more as a hobby and at an early age and ingrown desire as from a young student decades back. It was not planned – but came into being more by accident, default and inadvertently after the fall of my Consultancy business – and not being employed or with any projects after opting for voluntary early retirement in my oil company then! I had never ever imagined I will have more than three columns to write – 5 books authored – all in English – and two in Arab Management issues and aspects – and several websites of my own too! As an Omani Author –and just starting budding one – there is nothing so hurtful and painful than getting your books being returned to you!
Although, it is also a decline as a measure of shifting retail channels as books move away from being sold in bookstores to online and big box retail sales – it is also a sign of the rise of e-books. The business of books has evolved greatly to such an extent that people no longer buy physical books but the trend set and the in thing now – just like music was a victim years back – is to download Electronic Books eBooks using Amazon Kindle, Nook, iPads, Androids etc.
Originally though it took off slowly, the eBooks business has been growing steadily to such an extent of now damaging physical books – hard and soft copies of original books. It is the same case of people downloading music straight from the Internet rather than buying CDs, LPs and Videos. Now it is the turn of books – in such development, progression and in modernity.
In the USA alone, the 4.4% decline in overall physical book sales across the industry (in other words, book retail stores dropped more than 12% and discount stores rose 11% leaving a shortfall in the overall books sold) was more than made up for by the electronic books sales. So in terms of the number of books sold – reading is on the rise in America. That won’t save the book stores – but doesn’t mean the book itself is going extinct.
It is the change in direction of how people prefer to buy books nowadays – and those ompanies and authors that fail to catch into the new type of business that will become its main victims and in being out of touch and extinct.
In Oman (I guess also in GCC) few locals are actual readers of serious books – with few exceptions of cookbooks, novels, poems, children books and picture books. There is also this element. Publishing books in Oman is a very expensive exercise as I saw myself with my first book Between Us Only! I was lucky to get the MB Group sponsor me for this.
Then there is also the issue of getting permission and censorships for the books – the process is long and tiresome – and riddled with red tape and bureaucracies too! Though in my book, all the articles had already appeared in the esteemed newspaper – itself being a Governmental newspaper. Until the intervention of the esteemed newspaper, the book was lying idle – as they did not have English fluent officers to vet the book – and the lady at the other end kept asking me ‘Why don’t you translate it all in Arabic – it will be easier to get permission that way’. I had then made a silent vow to publish my next books outside – Canada and USA
However, airfreight charges are quite high – even if publication costs are far cheaper. Unfortunately, generally speaking – few of us the locals are intellectual enough and into the habit of reading. This habit needs to be encouraged – especially starting with the students. The artificial limit cut-off price set by many locals for a book is at Omani Rials Five to Seven at the most (USA Dollars 15 to 21) – and that does not even cover the freight charges alone – unless you buy in big bulk and can wait for surface mail with all the risks involved in such transportation – mainly in wear and tear aspects..
I remember reading this about His Majesty – he is so much occupied and busy that he does not have the time to read books – a hobby he likes a lot to do – just like I do personally! When I was working in one major town in Oman, I used to order more than three newspapers daily to my flat. Next door to me was an Iraqi family – he was amazed to see me reading a lot – because he too was ordering so many newspapers. He told me – In Iraq we read a lot of newspapers and books – even to the extent of cutting down on breakfast and meals to be able to buy them – that habit they never let go even after the invasion and all the wars!
Then like I have said so many times before – there is a real great need to be more supportive of local talents, innovation, human resources development – especially to Writers, Authors and Artists. Admittedly, the business maybe slow, risky and long-pained – but can be fruitful and steady with the right encouragement, support and focus. We owe it to our nation, future generations and history – to encourage and motivate us all into this honorable business of reading – and writing! A nation that does not read has no future in this modern world.
Take Care! Happy 4th July Greetings!
By Majid Al Suleimany