Sharjah’s 9th Publisher Conference, which starts today in advance of the Sharjah International Book Fair opening on October 30, is hosting eight panel discussions and the themes are crystal clear:

The 2020s Arab Renaissance will be driven by digital and will it pull the emerging markets into the 21st century alongside. Nowhere more so than Africa, as the latest press release from the Sharjah Book Authority shows.

Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of Sharjah Book Authority, inaugurated the three-day conference earlier today. More than 500 publishing professionals were expected.

Here’s how the press release announced the panels:

The first day of the conference will feature a discussion titled “Global Publishing: What’s next for this growing industry?” with a host of publishing professionals from around the world speaking on the new trends and emerging markets that are shaping the growing global publishing industry.

The second session titled “Taking Arabic titles global: How to do business with Arab publishers”, will offer a guide on striking successful business deals, including tips on how to apply for the SIBF Translation Grant, a US$300,000 fund available exclusively to participants at the conference.

Day Two will begin with a discussion titled “Arab Authors in conversation”. The second session, titled “Publishers’ digital strategy: New ways of storytelling”, will focus on how the digital revolution is affecting publishers’ business strategies. The day’s activities will conclude with a session on “Freedom to publish: Mighty oaks from little acorns”, which will discuss the Arab world’s evolving relationship with the written word across media.

On the third and final day of the conference Africa is the focus.

The opening speech will be delivered by Hugo Setzer, President, International Publishers Association, on the last day of the conference on 29th October, followed by keynote addresses by Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, CEO, Dubai Cares, and Samuel Kolawole, Chair, African Publishers Network, Nigeria. The activities on the last day of the conference will be held in collaboration with IPA and the African Publishers Network, APNET, and will focus on the African publishing market.

The first session, titled “Catalysing publishing innovation: Old problems, new solutions”, will focus on the African Publishing Innovation Challenge Fund and the solutions that have been shortlisted by the fund. The lack of intra-African cooperation to support the publishing industry in the continent will be the subject of the second session, titled “Connecting African publishing ecosystems”. The third session, titled “Transforming African libraries”, will complete the focus on the African publishing scene.

It’s worth at this point taking a step back and considering the Arab and African markets together.

Obviously there’s a lot of cross-over between the two, with the Arab markets extending across North Africa and Arabic widely spoken down the east coast, and the Sharjah focus on African development will go hand in hand with development of the Arab markets beyond the core Middle East.

All told we’re looking at a market population of well over 1.5 billion people, and the focus on digital offers exciting prospects for the entire region.

Across Africa and the Middle East (excluding Iran) there are today a total of 635 million people online, and by 2030 that will be closer to 1 billion, with Africa alone expected to have 800 million internet users by 2030.