Rakuten Kobo announces Arabic as primary language

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Michael Tamblyn, CEO of the international e-book service, 12, addressed the Abu Dhabi Book Fair conference.

Rakuten Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn addresses the International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries at the National Exhibition Center in Abu Dhabi. Image: Publishing Insights, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson

To see: Our coverage of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2022 and Our special magazine Abu Dhabi International Book Fair Show

“Since the beginning, we have supported multiple languages”

One news item that came out of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair‘s (May 23-29) International Bilingual Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries here in the UAE arrived during the keynote speech by Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn.

Kobo, he said, in the last quarter of this year will adopt Arabic as the primary browsing language for users.

Based in Ontario, Rakuten Kobo is the second largest e-reader brand in the world (after Amazon), hosting some 7 million titles in 76 languages ​​and delivering e-books to consumers in 190 countries. Additionally, Rakuten Kobo now runs local operations in 25 countries.

The 8:30 a.m. talk on Sunday was presented by the producer of the book fair, the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center under the direction of Dr Ali Bin Tamim, who made himself a loyal member of the public after his own thoughtful comments at the start of the day, watching from the front row as the program unfolded.

Tamblyn, one of the world’s most trusted speakers, was a little less humorous in his comments at the Abu Dhabi event than he has been in other settings. book business conference, but made his points with his usual fast pace and insightful observations, saying that Kobo aims to improve the e-book sales industry in the Arab region and create a thriving digital market for the publication. of books.

The leverage that Rakuten Kobo can bring to Arab markets is of course considerable, as much of the region strives to develop both its digital publishing and distribution capacity while striving to attract its broad base. consumers of hundreds of millions of Arabic speakers in the direction of digital potentials.

“At our core,” Tamblyn said of her Toronto-based company and staff, “we are booksellers.”

“Another approach to culture”

Rakuten Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn addresses the International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries at the National Exhibition Center in Abu Dhabi. Image: Publishing Insights, Porter Anderson

Founded in 2009 and now a brand of Tokyo conglomerate Rakuten, Kobo, he said, now stands “halfway between the world of paper and the world of screens, with the concentration and immersion of “extensive reading”, but with the accessibility and portability that technology offers.

Kobo is “quite halfway between the world of paper and the world of screens, with the emphasis and immersion of ‘deep reading,’ but with the accessibility and portability that technology provides”.Michael Tamblyn, Rakuten Kobo

Being a Canadian company, he said, has actually been a driver in the company’s widely recognized geographic reach.

“If you know anything about Canada,” Tamblyn said, “you know the only way to become a global company is to expand outside of Canada as quickly as possible. And that’s what we’ve done.

“So from the start, we supported multiple languages, different currencies and payment methods. And now, 12 years later, our sales come from around one-third Asia, one-third north and south of the Americas and a third of Europe.

Much of what Tamblyn wanted to convey to the interests of Arabic publishing in his comments had to do with the issue of not being considered a “big” primary market.

“All of us who don’t live in China, the US, the UK, Germany or Japan, we really have two choices.

“We can let our markets be defined by other larger markets. If you’re a fan of totally free market capitalism, this might be the path for you.

“The second option however, is to make specific decisions to do things differently, to make our way ‘into choices’ which might involve private companies, but also involves governments and industry associations and groups working together to decide at what the digital future should look like – and make policy decisions.

He conceded that sometimes this second option, which may seem like the richer, more nuanced and more beneficial approach, is not the way to go.

“Sometimes we go for the first option,” Tamblyn said. “We decide that we are not interested in making our own cars. So our cars come from the United States, Japan, Korea and Europe, like all the others.

“But we’ve taken a different approach to culture,” he said, on Kobo’s home market. “We made laws and built programs around music, books, film, radio and television. We have protected languages, we have committed to a level of cultural funding – not as much as our friends in Europe, but much more than our friends in the United States.

Six elements in many markets

“What’s interesting,” Tamblyn said, “is because we’ve worked in so many different markets, and we’ve seen a lot of these programs and policies in action.

“Some are government-backed, some industry-backed, some are a mix of both…[they] typically include some of these six elements:

  • “Wide distribution, the ability for publishers to sell books to all retailers;
  • “Even the conversion, the ability for publishers to easily and cheaply convert their friends to digital formats;
  • “The availability of aggregators and distributors capable of collecting e-books in easy-to-reach places;
  • “The rise of self-publishing as a service for individual authors;
  • “The availability of public audiobook production services, to make high-quality audiobooks available; and
  • “Global distribution, that is to say the possibility for a publisher or an author to sell the books in any country where a reader wishes to read it.

“The more these components are available,” he said, “the more control a market has over its digital economy, the easier it will be to encourage interactions and competition for readers.”

Exclusivity, he pointed out, is an attractive factor in digital marketing and retail compared to print.

“In the print world,” he said, “publishers sell to all the bookstores they can, and it would be very rare for a publisher to sell to just one retailer. But that happens all the time in the digital marketplace and as an important contributor to digital growth.We call it the “conversion capture problem”.

“Digital retailers love exclusivity. If they can get it, it easily prevents other retailers from entering a market that differentiates them. And it allows publishers to focus on the needs of a single retailer, instead of being spread across multiple outlets.”

By the end of his comments, Tamblyn had a rather weary audience, after the afternoon break, who were paying close attention to these observations on the ground.

And more coverage of the International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries from the day before the book fair is here.

At the 2022 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair on May 23. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson


Our special magazine Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2022 is here for your free download (PDF).

More information on Publishing Perspectives on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, and more on the United Arab Emirates market is there. To learn more about book fairs and global publishing trade shows, click here. More on translation here, and more on Arabic in publishing here. More on Rakuten Kobo is here, more on Michael Tamblyn is here, and more on the Canadian market is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the global media partner of Sheikh Zayed Book Prize and the International Association of Publishers. Our extensive coverage of ADIBF 2022 is supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

More information on Publishing Perspectives on the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident member of Trends Research & Advisory, and was named International Business Journalist of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is the editor of Publishing Perspectives. He was previously associate editor of The FutureBook at The Bookseller in London. Anderson was a senior producer and anchor for CNN.com, CNN International and CNN USA for more than a decade. As an art critic (National Critics Institute), he has collaborated with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which is now owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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