Reviving Reading Culture in Egypt: Initiatives from the Cairo Book Fair

The 54th yearly Cairo International Book Fair happened amidst a severe economic predicament in Egypt, where the local currency, the pound, reduced in value by half, and inflation peaked at 21.9 percent in December.

As a result, prices skyrocketed, and this has had a severe impact on the publishing industry. The rising cost of printing, compounded by the steep currency devaluation, has led to an increase in book prices by up to double.

Due to this, books have lost their importance as people have to allocate their budget towards essential necessities.

Due to the fall in the value of the pound, the cost of paper used in book printing increased four times, leading to publishers reducing commissions and printing fewer copies of books.

The situation has also affected publishing houses. Due to the fall in the value of the pound, the cost of paper used in book printing increased four times, leading to publishers reducing commissions and printing fewer copies of books.

Wael al-Mulla, CEO of Masr El Arabia publishing house, explained that they were being selective in choosing books, only picking those they believed would be popular.

Some publishing houses had to minimize their operations or even stop working until the economic situation improved.

Even with the economic problems, over 500,000 people visited the 54th Cairo International Book Fair during just its first weekend. But with budgets being tight in Egypt, where inflation hit 21.9 percent in December, publishing houses fear that many visitors are not buying books.

To encourage readers despite the economic crisis, some incentives have been introduced. These include the option to buy books in instalments using popular buy-now-pay-later services. State-owned publishers have also started selling discounted Arabic classics for under 30 pounds, which is equivalent to $1, to make them more accessible to the general public.

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To survive the crisis, publishing houses have become more selective, and the robust publishing industry, historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, has already shown signs of trouble.

The crisis has also affected the Azbakeya second-hand book market, where vendors have for over a century sold used books and pirated prints for a fraction of the prices elsewhere. Though the good books sell out quickly, the market has remained a popular destination for loyal readers.

Mohamed Attia, an imam who attends the fair annually from Dakahlia, mentioned that book prices are higher this year. However, prices in Azbakeya have remained the same, which has been a rare boon in today’s economic climate.

The situation has led many readers to be more creative in their approach to book buying, with many coming in groups and deciding what books to buy, dividing them among themselves, and then passing them around. This is a testament to the Egyptian people’s love of reading and their desire to continue this essential cultural practice, even in tough times.

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