The global book market is so much bigger than we think.

The Riyadh International Book Fair closed a few days ago, and as expected, footfall once again exceeded one million visitors, with a “substantial increase in revenue” for publishers.

It marks Saudi Arabia’s fourth million-footfall Riyadh fair, not that you’d know it from western publishing industry coverage, which historically has had little time for the emerging markets anywhere, let alone in the MENA region (Sharjah and Abu Dhabi the notable exceptions).

That, of course, was why we launched TNPS back in September 2017, to shine a light on the truly global book markets beyond the usual suspects, but it’s not always easy tracking down details.

There’s not much new in the report from the Saudi Gazette, apart from the visitor numbers and the revenue increase aforementioned, so here just to put those one million visitors in context.

Riyadh is certainly not the biggest book fair in the world, nor even in the Arab markets. That honour, on both counts, usually goes to Cairo, although lately Sharjah has been wearing that crown, and Algiers this year may well give Sharjah a run for its money, with a stellar event being lined up.

Check out the TNPS insights post into the MENA markets three weeks ago for more on those.

Per that post, million-visitor book fairs are commonplace in the Arab markets – with even tiny countries like Oman usually making the magical million footfall threshold, although this year it fell short.

All told, anywhere from 10-15 million people will flock to Arab book fairs in this new book fair season. There’s a popular myth that Arabs don’t read, but the reality is that a book fair is the largest cultural event in almost every Arab country.

And bizarrely, while Madrid this year holds the biggest book fair record (so far in 2023) with 3 million visitors, Spain is the only European or North American country in the million-visitor club. Riyadh, Muscat, Baghdad, Algiers, Sharjah… They all outperform western book fairs when it comes to visitor numbers.

And elsewhere around the world 1-2 million footfall is not uncommon. Iran, India, Argentina, Hong Kong…

But let me end this post with a marker for a non-Arab, non-western book fair that routinely out-plays them all. This year, the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela, a book fair that runs the entire month of February in Dhaka, Bangladesh, pulled in no fewer than 6 million booklovers.

Stay tuned for more on the 2024 Ekushey Boi Mela in the (western) New Year.

Bangladesh is not at all an Arab nation, of course, but included in this post just to make the point that, as I say so often here at TNPS, the global book market is so much bigger than we think.