Purchase Books or Purchase Cigarettes? That's A No-Brainer!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Barnes and Noble
Did you know that for every 10,000 books published in North America, there are 42,000 published in South America and only 6,500 books published in the Arab world? Literary and intellectual books published in the Arab world represent only 0.08 percent of the world's output, less than those published in Turkey alone.

If these figures seem a bit surprising, than you've probably never stepped into a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Recently while in the States, I spent a significant amount of time in Barnes and Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the United States. There's just something exciting about stepping into a huge bookstore, equivalent in size to the Safeway at 7th Circle and filled wall-to-wall with books and other reading material. I spent more than $200 on just books, and I would have spent more if the airlines afforded me a higher baggage allowance.

I have yet to see an equivalent to Barnes and Noble in the Middle East. On the contrary, the facts listed above simply reflect my personal observations: that Arabs, in general, don't enjoy or pursue reading. I've even used this observation to my advantage. In incoming packages, all I have to do is place my US-imported DVDs below a layer of books and the customs agents don't discover them. Why? Because books are like kryptonite to the guys checking the packages. (My secret is out now, but I just couldn't resist using it to make a point.)

The sad fact is that this trend is having a negative effect on the professional success and educational growth of the Middle East. According to UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammad Ben Rashid Al Maktoum, "There is a wide knowledge gap between [the Middle East] and the developed world in the West and in Asia." This gap is affecting areas such as scientific research and scientific academia. The Arab world spends only 0.02 percent of its GDP towards scientific research, compared to developing countries spending between 2.5 and 5 percent. And in the Arab world, for every 10,000 people in the workforce there are 3.3 academic scholars, while the developed world has 110 for every 10,000. According to Sheikh Mohammad, "Our only choice is to bridge this gap as quickly as possible, because our age is defined by knowledge."


Blogger Untitled said...

Sadly enough you are right; we are an illiterate nation. I am not sure how long you have been in Jordan but I dare you see someone reading a book in a public place. Some explanation to such lack of interest in reading is the poor financial status of the common people. Others say we have more important daily problems that we need to take care of than just reading a book. Such reasons come only from a mouth of illiterate people. If we don't teach our kids to love reading how they will think of buying a book when they are grown up. I would love to see Barnes and Noble in Jordan or something similar. Oh, the research thing don't let me even start. For now I would be justify to see Jordanians just start read materials other than newspapers.

6/16/2007 6:04 PM  
Anonymous kinzi said...

Wow, sad stats but no surprise.Hopefully bloggers will help raise the bar.

Now, a Barnes and Noble franchise would be another great new business idea. Just that 20% of the titles might be banned. :(

6/16/2007 10:07 PM  
Blogger Bashar said...

Sad but true, i really liked your post, so informative ... keep up the good work :)

6/17/2007 4:30 PM  
Blogger antiZionist said...

Dave,,Most Arab, scientist, intellectuals ,writers,thinker have fled their country of origin, because they were prosecuted by Arab regimes ,there are 1000s of them in the United States alone, and they publish and write on daily bases.

6/18/2007 4:53 AM  
Blogger mm said...

antizioneist,while you are right about the fact that many Arab writers publish abroad, Dave remains absolutely correct about Arabs not reading.Its incredibly sad but true. I wish Arabs living in the middle east would instill in their children a love for reading. I did spend 4 years of elementary school in Jordan but it was only when I returned to the States that I became a bookworm. When i returned in 05-06 I went crazy by the fact that people NEVER visit libraries and there are very few of them to begin with and only a few bookstores. It is with reading that Arabs can challenge/overcome all the problems stifling the M.E

6/23/2007 10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so condescending! Civilisations rise and fall, the Arabs had THE biggest library of it's time in Baghdad which was burned by the Monghol invaders...people, go look at your history books- and not just the globally-lauded Euro-centric-persepective history books. Coz we all know that what's in the mainstream is not necessarily the truth.

6/24/2007 10:35 PM  
Anonymous kinzi said...

Hey Dave, I tagged you...a post celebrating marriage and advice to the engaged and newlywed bloggers out there. I know it isn't your usual venue, but I'm sure you will 'shine'.

6/25/2007 11:23 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure how quoting facts straight out of the newspaper, lamenting over the state of educational affairs in Jordan, and desiring to see an increase in reading can be considered considered condescending.

We can't all live in the ashen past of the Baghdad library; some of us must address the needs of the present and future.

6/26/2007 2:16 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Kinzi, I just returned from Africa, but I'll be sure to take a look. Thanks.

6/26/2007 2:16 PM  
Blogger Mean Dean said...

Wow, I would think a country such as Jordan - not cursed with the blessing of oil - would take advantage of this situation.

I've been to Jordan, they're command of English is impressive, so-much-so that I've always wondered why they haven't gotten in the offshore/outsourcing game - at least in the area of computer programming.

Considering how much 'book work' is involved in that field, perhaps the issue is less entrepenural and more cultural?

6/26/2007 8:23 PM  
Blogger Ms. Herrera said...

I'm seriously going through withdrawals. I'm use to going to a bookstore, drinking coffee, and spending hours here. When I planned for this trip, it involved the notion of researching Arabic calligraphy but it has been difficult as I find that access to reading material on the subject isn't as acceessible as I imagined.

On a completely different side note, one doesn't have to travel far from home to find bookstores absent in poor communities. I grew up in a barrio/ghetto city (within minutes of L.A.) Southern California and till this day, there isn't a Barnes and Noble in sight. The closest (and adequate) bookstore is about a 20 miles away.

7/09/2007 12:01 PM  

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