How books helped people in the UAE make good use of those extra hours at home

©Gulf News

Sharjah: UAE residents read more books than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic to pass the hours at home and cut back on screen-time, visitors and exhibitors at the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) said on Wednesday.

Work from home, distance learning and movement restrictions helped book sales online and at supermarkets, which stayed open even though bookshops remained closed during the national sterilisation programme earlier this year, SIBF exhibitors said. They added that self-help books and investment guides for the stock market saw an uptick, as did educational books for children.

Thomas George, sales manager at DC Books, said: “People stuck at home wanted to refresh themselves, stay positive. So self-help books did well. People also looked into books on stock market, businesses and entrepreneurship. Parents bought more books on activities and other educational books and fictions, for their children to lessen their screen time — especially as classes moved online. Sales are doing good actually. Parents too have more time at home, so they’re investing more time in reading and relaxing.” Vinod Kumar from Jashanmal Bookstore echoed those views, saying demand for books has remained healthy, with no cut-backs on the volume of titles at their SIBF stand this year.

‘I should’ve brought a trolley’

Readers also said they were using the extra time at home to go through more books. Dubai-based United Kingdom expatriate Sunil Choitram said: “I’m a big book reader. I’ve got a massive bookshelf and these kinds of opportunities [at SIBF] to fill that bookshelf are always great. I’m looking for exciting books to keep me interested over the next couple of weeks as we spend more and more time at home. People are going to be spending more time binge-watching TV, yes, but I think it’s also a good opportunity to get under the skin of some new books, widen your reading. I’m going to bulk-buy a whole lot of books, I should’ve brought a trolley.”

‘It’s better to pick up a book’

University student Mohammad Aftab, from India, said: “I tried reading more books at home. I’m checking out some books [at SIBF]. If I find something good, I’ll start reading again. Reading books helps a lot — instead of sitting bored and looking at your phone for no reason for hours, it’s better to pick up a book.” Another university student, Manal, who usually looks for “at least 20 books” at SIBF, said: “People at home are definitely getting into more activites, they’re discovering things that they would like to do, like reading.”

‘Seeking solace from books’

Their comments came on the heels of the 10th Publishers Conference, a forerunner to SIBF, which heard that self-help books, e-books and books at discount supermarkets “flourished” during the COVID-19 pandemic even as others went out of business, especially in the UK. ‘Boosts in online sales’

On Sunday, Perminder Mann, CEO of Bonnier Books UK, had said in her video message at the conference that “adult readers have also been seeking solace from books during the lockdown ... anything to take us away from our screens”. She added that as people were stuck at home due to movement restrictions, “naturally we’ve also seen boosts in online sales, audio books and e-books”. Also at the conference, Ravi DeeCee, managing director of DC Books, said there was, during the lockdown in India, a large section of people who used the extra time to “catch up on books they had missed out on in the last few decades. We saw a major revival of reading habits”.

Safe show

On Wednesday, the first day of the 11-day SIBF, among the visitors were diplomats and media professionals browsing through more than one million books — including 8,000 new titles — by 1,024 publishers from 73 nations. The health and safety of all participants and visitors remain top priorities, said Ahmad Al Ameri, chairman of Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), which organises SIBF. Visitors have to wear masks and maintain social distancing as part of other precautionary measures for COVID-19 this year.

‘Prioritising safety’

“At the pre-exhibition stage, we considered our options and picked the one that prioritised safety. SIBF this year is being held in an exceptional hybrid format, which allows people in the UAE and across the world the joy of returning to a large-scale cultural event, as we ensure the safety and well-being of everyone concerned. Given the current crisis, SIBF serves as a model of success for book fairs and public events in the UAE and beyond. SBA has taken all necessary preventive measures that meet the highest safety standards, in collaboration with relevant entities across the emirate,” Al Ameri added.

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