One might think a country of 204 million people, with English as an official language, would be a magnet for overseas publishers, but as the 15th Karachi International Book Fair got underway today there were only 36 exhibitors from 17 countries present.

The five day book fair, organised by the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association in association with the National Book Foundation, a government body, runs until December 9, is expecting upwards of 400,000 visitors (80,000 each day). Past events have topped 600,000, and this year may yet prove as popular.

The Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association is making every effort to raise the profile of the event and make it a truly international literary fair.

Visit the Karachi International Book Fair here.

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On the KIBF website “factsheet”, digital gets a mention, but digital is still an afterthought in Pakistani publishing as we say goodbye to 2019.

Might that change in the next decade? Here’s why it likely will.

Pakistan’s internet penetration is now at 73% and growing fast. But what’s really important here is what that current 73% penetration means.

Because 73% of that 204 million population means that Pakistan will start 2020 with 71.6 million people online – that’s more than the UK – and in fact Pakistan is the 13th largest country on the planet by internet users.

In May of this year Big Bad Wolf took 1 million English-language books to Lahore.

While back in September 2018 the National Book Foundation said it was seeing millions of book sales even as bricks & mortar stores reported declining interest.

In both instances the message is clear – Pakistani’s do like their books, but perhaps the bookstores are not offering the right choice at the right price.

That’s where digital can transform the Pakistani publishing economy, by making a diverse choice of affordable digital books available to those 71.6 million Pakistanis who by definition are using a device that could be carrying ebooks and digital audio.