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By Sekka Team
During the past 20 years, we witnessed the rise in the number self-published electronic books. They’re easy to produce, environmentally friendly, and accessible to users from around the world.
The 2019 annual survey by Bowker revealed that the number of self-published books in the United States was 1.68 million in 2018, up from 1.19 million in 2017.
Publishing through popular platforms such as Amazon has never been easier with millions using it to read, and download electronic books from. Nonetheless, Egyptian entrepreneur Mohammed Gamal, wanted to create a platform with the Arab writer in mind and one that would empower writers from the region to easily share their literary works with readers from around the world. As a writer himself, he faced multiple challenges when it came to getting published in Egypt, and that’s when he saw that he could provide the solution to the issues that he and many writers in the Arab world are facing.
After working for 11 years in marketing, Mohammed founded Kotobna, which translates to “our books” in Arabic. Established in 2015, Kotobna is Egypt’s first online self-publishing platform. Through Kotobna, Mohammed aims to empower young authors from Egypt and the Arab world to publish their books both electronically or in print.
Fast-forward to the present, Mohammed’s team grew to comprise 15 members, who have worked together to publish 750 e-books and 800 print books. Today, 60 per cent of the authors published on his platform are from Egypt, while the remaining 40 per cent are from the Arab Gulf States. Through ‘Access Sharjah’- a programme from Sharjah, the UAE, to support innovative start-ups from around the world venturing into the publishing and digital content sector- Mohammed was able to develop his business model, and expand his network. He is now in the process of moving to the Gulf region to expand the operations of his platform.
We speak to Mohammed to learn about the inspiration behind his venture, how a writer can self-publish through Kotobna, and where he sees Kotobna in the future.
Tell us more about what inspired you to establish Kotobna. What do you aim to achieve through it?
Mohammed Gamal: I’m a writer myself, and suffered a lot in Egypt when I tried to publish a novel five years ago. It’s a very inaccessible service because traditional publishers either accept to work with you if you’re famous and established, or they ask you to pay a lot of money (approximately US $ 4000) in order to publish your book. I approached 20 publishing houses, but it was hopeless. That’s when I got frustrated and decided to build my own publishing solution, for me and others like me. That’s why it’s called Kotobna, or “our books”.
What sets you apart from existing publishing platforms such as Amazon, for instance?
Mohammed Gamal: We provide two types of self-publishing services: Publishing e-books just like the services offered by Amazon, Lulu.com, and others, as well as printed books publishing via a print-on-demand platform. Amazon, for instance, until this moment does not support the Arabic language when it comes to paper-back printing in self-publishing.
Tell us about your pricing model and why some books are available for free on your platform.
Mohammed Gamal: Authors on our platform have two options: To have a fixed price for their books (like EGP 100, for instance), and earn 60 per cent of the sales, or to follow a dynamic pricing model. In the second option, the book will be available for free until it reaches 25 downloads. Then, it will be priced for EGP 5 till it reaches 100 downloads. Then, it will be capped at EGP 10. It’s a method to connect price with popularity.
Are there certain genres that you don’t publish?
Mohammed Gamal: Our platform is open to all kinds of books, whether they are in Arabic or English, fiction or nonfiction, for adults or children, and so on.
Let’s talk about your printed books. Do you print them? Or are they printed by the author then sold on your platform?
Mohammed Gamal: Yes, we print them using a digital-printing technology, where a user would place an order on our website, then a copy is printed for them, and delivered to their doorstep.
What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?
Mohammed Gamal: Infrastructure, and establishing a good and efficient supply chain here in Egypt.
What motivates you to keep going even though the market is tough out there?
Mohammed Gamal: Like I said, I’ve been there, I have been suffering from the same problem, and seeing writers who can write, publish, and reach their readers is what motivates me all the time.
What is your favourite aspect of managing Kotobna?
Mohammed Gamal: Interacting with my team, with readers, and with writers. We’re creating a community, and seeing that community grow every day is like a dream for me.
Where do you see Kotobna in five years?
Mohammed Gamal: The one-stop-shop for every young, talented Arabic writer in the whole world, where they could get published, and earn a value out of their writing.
To learn more about Kotonbna, click here.
The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.