Amazon launches in UAE, home of UNESCO World Book Capital, with only third-party-seller books, no Kindle store and no Arab self-publishing option

The rebranding of online Arab marketplace Souq will surprise few. Two years after Amazon bought Souq it is now, for the UAE at least, rebranded as Amazon AE, and the previously reported January 2019 focus on opening up the Middle East to the US marketplace continues as expected.

Middle East online bookstore Jamalon raises $10m in funding for expansion as Amazon remains ambivalent about the $1.7 bn MENA book market

Egypt and Saudi Arabia still have the original Souq access as before. It’s anyone’s guess how long that will continue,

But what it means is that Egyptian and Saudi Souq customers will not be seeing the limited range of books available in the books section of the Amazon AE store and will not have the option to be redirected to the US Kindle store.

Let’s take printed books first.

Yes, there are apparently more than 100,000 books available, but only from third party Marketplace sellers.

Amazon is not even making books available from its own imprints, which would involve no negotiations with publishers.

No sign of Audible titles on Amazon AE, although you may find some audio-CDs of some titles, again through third party sellers.

It’s a telling point that digital books are taking off big time in the Middle East, with Storytel, Dhad, Hekayh, Booklava and Kitab Sawti leading the way but Amazon’s book ambitions are pretty much at a standstill.

That’s seen most clearly with ebooks, where Kindle devices are for sale, but UAE readers wanting to buy Kindle ebooks from the Kindle store will be redirected to the Kindle US store, where 1 million titles are available, including “thousands” in Arabic.

 

Of course that 1 million ebooks will be mostly self-published titles because most self-publishers click on World Rights as the default territories option. Without negotiations, titles from larger publishers will remain territorially restricted across the Arab markets.

As noted late last year –

Amazon Prime Video launches on UAE’s du while global ebook ambitions remain on the shelf

We’re now well into our fifth year without a new Kindle store being launched – the last was the Netherlands in November 2014 – and there seems little prospect of any new Kindle store launches in the foreseeable future.

A big problem right now is that few Arabic titles are being digitised, but that’s very much the classic chicken and egg problem. No incentive to digitise while no outlets available. No outlets available so no incentive to digitise.

KDP Arabic language support is still in beta and Arabic submissions are subject to additional scrutiny before being allowed into play.

In previous discussion on TNPS I’ve noted that,

While Amazon has been talking with some Arab publishers about digital books the company has simultaneously been winding back its Arabic-language reach.

Under the old CreateSpace paperback printing option run by Amazon it was possible to publish and sell paperbacks in Arabic, but that option died when CreateSpace was absorbed into KDP as KDP Print.

Referring to Amazon’s Middle East ambitions I noted,

In keeping with Amazon’s global expansion since 2015, and as epitomised by Amazon’s moves into Singapore, Vietnam and most recently Turkey, books do not appear to be on the agenda.

It’s in stark contrast to the clear statement on the Amazon website that.

Our goal is to have every book, ever published, in any language available for Kindle customers to purchase and begin reading in less than 60 seconds.

With insensitive timing the decision to launch Amazon AE in the UAE comes as Abu Dhabi’s international book fair is happening and as Sharjah celebrates becoming UNESCO World Book Capital.

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