New Initiative Taps Arab Book Market: A Q&A with Kalima Chief Executive Karim Nagy
The Arab-speaking world, which totals an estimated 250 million people worldwide, has been a relatively untapped market of potential new readers, with only about 330 books translated into Arabic each year. That market has recently been opened to more publishers, thanks to the efforts of Kalima—Arabic for “word”—a new, nonprofit cultural initiative dedicated to translating a wide variety of books into Arabic. Kalima partners with Arab publishers by funding the translation, publishing, distribution and marketing of these books.
Twenty-six U.S. titles are included in Kalima’s first batch of 100 classic and contemporary titles that it plans to translate in the next year, from William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” to Alan Greenspan’s recent best seller, “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World.”
“Kalima is an initiative set up by Arabs, for Arabs, and aims to celebrate the Arabic language by widening its usage,” says Karim Nagy, Kalima’s chief executive.
Nagy spoke with Book Business Extra about the history of Arab readership, the purpose of the Kalima initiative, and new opportunities that may be available for U.S. publishers looking to broaden their distribution.
Book Business Extra: What is the mission of Kalima?
Karim Nagy: Kalima is working to address the gap left by 1,000 years of limited translation—Arabic readers deserve no less. Kalima’s goal is to increase the number and choice of books available to readers in Arabic. Throughout Europe’s “Dark Ages” and until the end of the first millennium, Arab scholars and libraries led the world in translating, producing and preserving knowledge in science, medicine, philosophy and the arts. … Since then, however, very few foreign works have found their way into Arabic, producing a gap that Kalima aims to close through an ambitious series of public-private partnerships. … While the rest of the world has enjoyed a wealth of both domestic and translated books, the Arab world has not. To put the scale of the problem into perspective, on average, Spain translates [in one year] the number of books that have been translated into Arabic [over] the last 1,000 years.