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Ala’ Alsallal, founder, Jamalon

Off the shelf

Jordanian startup Jamalon makes it easier for Arab book lovers to find their favorite read online

O

By Sindhu Hariharan

ne has often heard that experience, no matter how painful, comes with a blessing of some kind, and it’s up to us to find it. Pardon the zen talk, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the entrepreneurship story of the Jordanian founder of Jamalon, Ala’ Alsallal. Back in 2007, Alsallal wanted to gift the people of his country, who couldn’t get their hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with a translated Arabic version of the eagerly anticipated book by J. K. Rowling. For this, he gathered a team of 50 persons to help him translate the book, and he then posted the book online. As downloads for his work crossed the one million mark, Alsallal received what is, perhaps, every Potter fan’s dream- a letter from Rowling herself. But before you start gaping, you should know that the letter

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turned out to be from Rowling and her lawyers, and it was essentially a cease-and-desist lawsuit. Alsallal went ahead and complied with the legal notice, and though shaken and confused, he took home a valuable lesson from the entire ordeal: “That proved to me that if we can make high-quality Arabic content available, then there is a demand.” It was, as he calls it, a motivation to democratize literary content, and “enable readers in the region to acquire knowledge.” A techie by qualification with a short corporate stint as an engineer, it was his passion “While there is still space for lots of specialized verticals where entrepreneurs can work on the whole supplychain for a specific niche, similar to what we do at Jamalon, e-commerce is just one part of what we do to the industry.”

to structure MENA’s fragmented publishing industry that led the Jordanian entrepreneur to launch an online bookstore Jamalon.com in 2010. Since then, Jamalon has had an explosive growth- the e-commerce portal now hosts Ala’ Alsallal, founder, Jamalon with Amazon over 9.5 million English titles, founder Jeff Bezos and half a million Arabic US. They just add their books titles, and is run by a team to our system and then it of 70 persons with Jamalon’s becomes available in MENAdistribution hubs located in this way we save shipping fees Amman, Beirut, Dubai and which helps to decrease the London. Jamalon is keen to solve the problem that the re- books costs in the region.” At a time when e-commerce gion’s readers often face- not is being spearheaded across being able to buy a particular the MENA region, in terms of book they badly want to read, publishing, Alsallal believes more so if it happens to be in that digital still doesn’t come the regional language. Curclose to the demand that rently, 80% of the e-comcontinues to exist for printed merce company’s sales combooks. “Records show that prise of Arabic titles. Besides print sales had a 5% growth ensuring that Jamalon is on last year, and e-books had a top of its game, empowering the region’s publishers, SME’s 3% decline in sales last year,” he points out. But Alsallal is and authors, is also a priority optimistic about the future, that Alsallal holds close. As indicated by the fact that a step towards this objective, Jamalon plans to launch an Jamalon launched a Publishe-books platform by the first on-Demand (POD) service quarter of 2017. At the same earlier this year. “This [POD service] has been the most in- time, even as the company novative solution for publish- expands, Alsallal also hopes to redress the imbalance ing industry in MENA,” says he observes in Arabic book Alsallal. “It enables publishers to bring their out-of-stock publishing. “Until today, the titles back in-stock (as we can Arabic nations have produced over 1 million Arabic language produce as low as one copy of a book), it enables new books, yet only 300,000 are publishers to start businesses available to purchase in the easily as they don’t need to Arab world, a problem that have a warehouse or invest is currently being solved by up-front in printing books,” he adds. “They can produce their books on demand, it enables new authors to test the market and do selfpublishing (anyone today can become a publisher through our platform).” He Jamalon team at Amman Book Fair explains that the service also enables global Jamalon POD,” he notes. This publishers to offer their books is one of the reasons why, in in MENA “without having to the medium-term, Jamalon is ship them from Europe or the also looking to explore part-

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