This post is also available in: العربية

There is a growing interest in the Arab world among Western audiences and this is slowly being reflected in the demand for translated works from Arabic, according to Michel S. Moushabeck, founder of Interlink Publishing, a Massachusetts, US-based independent publishing house.

He was speaking at a Publishers Club session, a virtual discussion series launched in 2020 by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) as part of its ongoing efforts to support and advance the publishing sector.

Titled ‘Market and Demand for Translated Books: Arabic vs English’, the session which was streamed on the SBA Reads platform, saw Seth Russo, in conversation with Moushabeck and Fatimah H. Abbas, a literary translator and international publishing and literary consultant, on the potential market for translated works in both languages.

Moushabeck, a writer, editor, translator, publisher, and musician, as well as the author of several books including, Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa, however agreed that the market for translated works was yet miniscule. “It is less than 3 percent of all the books sold in the US, and the number of books translated from Arabic, though increasing, is still negligible,” he said.

Moushabeck’s goal is to publish and promote books that foster a better understanding and appreciation of other cultures. Translation of Arabic literature is an integral part of his mission is to “bring the world closer to American readers and bring people of the world closer to each other through literature.”

“As a small publishing house, we are in much better position than large mainstream publishers to react quickly to events or changes in the marketplace. We market our books aggressively and we depend on free publicity for our success and survival. We send a large number of copies to book reviewers, academic journals, mainstream and alternative newspapers and magazines, bloggers, and booksellers. In addition, we attend numerous conferences and book fairs and do a lot of mail order and online marketing through e-newsletters, blogs, social networking and e-mail,” added Moushabeck.

“Small independent publishing houses like Interlink are the champions of translated works,” said Moushabeck. “Though it is not a level playing field, they are contributing to the gradual growth of translated literature. We aim to give our readers a genuine, non-Western experience and knowledge of a place – its history, its culture and its literature. And we are succeeding.”

Abbas who was previously the head of the external relations and translation department at Noon House for Publishing and Distribution in Cairo, pointed out that the paucity of qualified translators both in quantitative and qualitative terms and lack of capital investment were the major handicaps that were roadblocks to publishing companies engaged in Arabic translation.

She also highlighted the lack of investment in the infrastructure tailored to the actual needs of the translation industry whether in the fields of information and communication technologies or the lack of sufficient and sustainable translation programmes.

“These factors have definitely hampered the development of the Arabic translation industry,” she said. “However, initiatives such as the SIBF Translation Grant Fund are making a difference by attempting to level the field.”

She added that catering to new trends such as the demand for audio books among youth, and the demand for graphic novels, though still nascent, could turn the tide for the translation market in the Middle East.