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Reading on the Go

Arabic ebooks platform Kotobi.com launches in Egypt
By Ahmed Mansour


With tablets and smartphones slowly edging print books off the market, ebooks are becoming the next best thing.  Last month Vodafone Egypt launched Arabic ebook platform Kotobi.com, the first in the Middle East dedicated to Arabic works in a variety of fields. Users can download ebooks onto a computer or get the Kotobi app through which readers can either get their purchases straight onto their cell phones or tablets or listen to a narrated version.

Vodafone Strategy Team Project Owner Ashraf Maklad says the platform’s intention is not to overtake the printed books industry in the Arab region, but to maximize the readers’ experience by providing them with the ability to carry their favorite books everywhere they go.

In an exclusive interview, Maklad speaks to Egypt Today about the exciting new project. Edited excerpts:


Most popularWhat inspired you to start Kotobi.com? Especially since ebook giants Kindle and Amazon already have a monopoly on the market?

I felt the need to do something socially positive. After analyzing many ideas this is the one that made the most sense. The idea isn’t new, most ideas aren’t new anyway;  the key is in the business model which is also not new globally but it’s a first in the region. … Having competitors such as Amazon E-Books and Kindle shouldn’t really be an issue since their targets are actually Vodafone’s clients, the ones they cultivated since Vodafone launched in the Middle East.


Is Vodafone the sole sponsor or are there any other partners?

Kotobi.com is owned by Vodafone; it is a unique Vodafone product in that it has an independent brand and was initiated outside of the usual track for business development.


How did the idea for the website come into play?

I honestly think in a region plagued with bureaucracy, lack of infrastructure and unnecessary overheads ebooks or e-anything for that matter is really a no-brainer. Most of the company agreed and everyone wanted to contribute positively and that is how it came together.


There are a lot of people that would prefer reading a book in print versus on an electronic device. How are you going to approach those audiences to convince them that what you have to offer is better?

The distribution of Arabic books across the world is very limited; making them available electronically means they are accessible to a wider range of people. This product is about increasing access; it is not about replacing printed books. I don’t really want to convince people to stop reading printed books because I also prefer to read a paper book, however I hate having a lot of books lying around that I will never read again or didn’t like. I believe each individual looks for something particular in a book, electronic books make it possible to sample new writers, buy books you only want to read once and check out a book before you make a decision to buy the printed version.

Menu kotobiWhat is the viability of a venture like Kotobi.com in a nation where illiteracy is about 34% of the general population? And what are your approaches to overcome such an obstacle?

Egypt isn’t the only target audience. Even if only 66% of Egyptians read, then you have a huge underserved market to address. Reaching the other 34% is an undertaking that will need more than one player on different levels. Most people believe that the source of all our troubles is education and I agree, however for ebooks to make a dent in solving that problem we as a people need to encourage publishers to create digital books, audio books and other rich media. We also need to bring down the cost of buying a tablet and internet access then we must create a mass means for payment


How are you planning to convince the public to start buying books off your website interest in reading is low?

I disagree about low interest in reading.  Interest in reading is high among those who do read.


You say Egypt is not the sole target audience?

Kotobi is an internet platform and already is accessible to the whole world. Soon we will have books from other Arab countries as well.


Are you worried that others will copy your idea and offer the same service Kotobi.com does? What is it that you provide that would make your target audience prefer you over others?

It’s too early to say.  I would have to see what the competitors would have to offer. I actually would be very pleased to have a competitor; it would definitely help in getting publishers to create more digital content.


What would you consider to be an accomplishment for your product? In other words, what are the goals that you are hoping to achieve?

Our goals are to convince all publishers to create digital books along with print from now on, help them digitize their backlog of books and offer Arabic speaker easy access to Arabic content.


To browse through hundreds of ebooks in a variety of fields, check out kotobi.com

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