Saudi Arabia’s Publishing and Digital Content Industries to Grow to $3.6 Billion by 2017 as Publishers Embrace Digital Media and E-commerce

Sunday, November 1, 2015
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While Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry faces challenges, there are significant opportunities to revitalize the sector for socio-economic development says a new study by Tahseen Consulting

If Saudi Arabia addresses key industry challenges, the publishing, media, and digital content industries could generate $3.6 billion and create 9,800 additional jobs by 2017, says a new study from Tahseen Consulting.

The study, which is being released today, was conducted to support the Saudi Publishers Association’s recent successful bid to gain full membership in the International Publishers Association. Saudi Arabia is the fourth country in the Arab World to achieve full membership in this prestigious international organization which represents publishers’ interests globally. The report comes as Saudi publishers are preparing to attend the 34th Sharjah International Book Fair starting on November 4th.

“Since 1990, Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry has changed dramatically. In the early to mid -Nineties, the industry was dominated by small, fragmented publishers and specialized retailers,” says Wes Schwalje, Chief Operating Officer of Tahseen Consulting and author of the study. “By the mid-Nineties, we began to observe the emergence of integrated companies specialized in publishing and retail. There was a large shift from small bookshops to major super-stores with national coverage and the initial emergence of online retail channels that cater to emerging preferences for e-books and digital content. Today, we are witnessing the further growth of large, integrated companies with publishing and distribution capabilities, increased consumption of digital content due to high levels of mobile device penetration, and the embrace of e-commerce by Saudi publishers and consumers.”

The Saudi Publishing Industry Will Need to Address Several Challenges

Tahseen Consulting’s study shows that the publishing, media, and digital content industries will need to address a number of challenges to unlock growth. While the Saudi publishing industry currently contributes less than 1% of GDP, international evidence suggests that cultural industries can contribute up to 2-3% of GDP. If the publishing media, and digital content industries can reach this international benchmark, the cultural industries in Saudi Arabia could contribute significantly to economic diversification and employment generation.

The study identifies the need for a government-led national publishing strategy that prioritizes needs and challenges, identifies strategies for advancing the industry, assigns responsibilities, defines performance metrics, and establishes an implementation timeline. Several specific recommendations for policymakers are made by the authors to enable industry growth:

  • Stimulating private investment in the publishing, media, and content industries
  • Increasing exports of publishing, media, and digital content regionally
  • Increasing education and training programs to developing creative industry skills
  • Encouraging publishers to embrace digital publishing and online sales
  • Improving industry data collection and analysis
  • Making major book fairs more appealing to families
  • Developing more targeted reading promotion programs
  • Increasing early positive reading habits
  • Developing a strategy to transform libraries
  • Simplifying the licensing and regulatory regime for publishers
  • Improving copyright protection and enforcement

“While a number of institutions, awards, and festivals seek to build literary culture in Saudi Arabia, there are no specific polices for the development of the publishing industry. To succeed in the evolving global publishing market, Saudi publishers will need to be supported to become more open to change, adapt to evolving digital formats, and embrace online distribution strategies,” says Walid Aradi, Chief Executive Officer of Tahseen Consulting and a coauthor of the study.

Increasing Internationalization of the Saudi Publishing Industry

As a full member of the International Publishing Association, the Saudi government and industry bodies now have a much larger responsibility to publishers and the global community to address industry challenges and to unlock opportunities presented by industry internationalization and growth. If industry challenges are addressed proactively by key stakeholders, the publishing, media, and digital content industries hold great potential in contributing to Saudi and regional intellectual life, enhancing social and cultural development, and providing economic opportunity.

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