GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza's first e-publishing house, Khota Books, sells both e-books and hard copies on its website from the comfort of readers' homes.
The publishing house was established by two young Gazans in August 2016 and offers both traditional and self-publishing. It initially published only local writers, but as of January 2018, it's acquiring reprint rights to works by international writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Mahmoud Madi, founder and executive director of the publishing house, told Al-Monitor, “My colleague and I have noticed that young people are not interested in reading books and no longer visit public libraries, which results in a loss of our culture and heritage. Neither did we have any [electronic] publishing houses here in Gaza to promote books written by local authors." He added that many good books have never had a chance in Gaza because printing them is so expensive. Electronic books can be published at a much lower cost.
He added, “My colleague and I decided to create an e-publishing house to publish books online, allowing readers to download and read them, as well as order a hard copy and have it delivered to their doorstep.”
He noted, “After signing with an author, we [edit the work] and then issue it a national book number from the National Library in the Palestinian Ministry of Culture as well as assign an international standard book number. We upload the book on the website and print copies.”
Madi said that after each book is published, Khota Books organizes a book signing for the author and invites a number of other Palestinian authors. The public events offer visibility to both the author and the publisher.
Madi said that Khota Books' current list includes about 20 books from local and foreign authors. More than 20,000 readers have downloaded them so far, and more than 5,000 hard copies have been shipped.
Co-founder Mahmoud al-Shaer told Al-Monitor, “For five years, Madi and I participated in technological exhibitions in the Gaza Strip; we are experts now. So we decided to exploit our technological capabilities by creating an e-publishing house to encourage reading and promote books written by local authors.” Their first book, “No Sugar in the City” by poet Hind Jawdeh, was published on Aug. 11, 2016.
He added, “What is unique about an e-publishing house is that it allows books to reach foreign readers: Few Gazan authors with very distinguished books have the chance to share them with readers in other countries, nor are they able to participate in international book exhibitions held in different Arab countries, due to the Israeli siege and the continued closure of the Rafah border crossing."
Shaer explained that in addition to “”No Sugar in the City,” Khota's list includes the popular “Shashmu” by satirical writer Akram Sourani, "Testimonies on the State of Palestinian Division" and "Autumn Leaves" by Muhannad Younis, and "Nests of Memory," a collection of short stories by 100 Arab writers from Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
He said five Khota books by local authors took part in the Cairo International Book Fair earlier this month, noting that although the writers were unable to attend, their books made it to one of the largest book fairs in the Middle East.
“Khota Books sells both electronic and hard copies for very low sums; no book is over $3,” Shaer said, noting that Khota Books is the first and only publishing house in Gaza to obtain translation rights to novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Saramago. For the first time, these writers will be available both in hard copy and e-version through a Gaza publisher.
The director general of the Libraries Department in the Ministry of Culture in Gaza, Mohammed al-Sharif, praised Khota Books' efforts to encourage reading, as young people too often get their information only from social media and prefer to read on a screen.
“The ministry supports such projects that increase cultural and cognitive awareness and encourage reading and we always make sure to grant them the necessary licenses and national book numbers,” he noted.
Sharif said that there are traditional publishing houses in Gaza that publish and distribute books to bookstores and libraries. But with today's technology, young Gazans are more interested in screens than traditional books, so having an e-publishing house in the Strip that allows Gazans to easily buy books and read them online is a positive development, he added.
Mohammed Khalil, a 25-year-old government employee, told Al-Monitor, “After graduating from university three years ago, I stopped reading books because I found everything I needed to read on social media. But after Khota Books was founded, I was able to download ebooks and read them on my devices.”