Cultural Palaces publishing revamped

Mary Mourad, Thursday 15 Dec 2011

Saad Abdel-Rahman, head of the General Organisation for Cultural Palaces, announces a new plan for publishing and a new management team for publications

Saad

Nearly six months after a veritable storm hit the General Organisation for Cultural Palaces (GOCP), with changes of the chief editors of the major series publications of the organisation, Saad Abdel-Rahman, head of the organisation, has announced the major restructuring of the publishing sector following a decree amending the law governing the organisation to include publishing as one of its main activities.

The storm was caused by the earlier decision by Abdel-Rahman to change editors of all the series to reflect the new spirit of young people, leading to the resignation of Ibrahim Aslan, a renown writer and chief editor for the series Arab Horizons, whose reputation and connections contributed heavily to the publication.

The long-awaited announcement of the new organisation and chief editors for each of its series has finally come, sustaining the overall publication plan but with some changes, adding new series and bringing some new names, such as Gar El-Nabi El-Helw, a renowned novelist, and Zyad El-Eleimy, from the Revolution Youth Coalition, among others, with a non-renewable contract of three years.

During a press conference, Mohamed Abul Magd, head of publishing, reminded reporters that the original purpose of the publishing sector of GOCP is to reach out to varied communities and to creative authors outside of the capital, offering a space for new talent to evolve and develop with feedback and criticism. In addition, the subsidised books are affordable and available at a low price in comparison to average market prices.

Saad Abdel-Rahman explained that the key aspect taken in consideration during the restructuring of the publishing department was to avoid the "personalisation" of any series or restriction one individual’s line of thought. There was also the announcement of a new board for publishing, including a head, a number of public figures, and chief editors of publications, to become the thinking body behind the department. The rest of the changes focused on adjustments to marketing and distribution plans, currently too focused on Cairo.

The number of serial publications will be 26, up from 21 last year. The total of last year’s issues was slightly above 100, expected to rise dramatically next year after implementing the proposed changes. Abdel-Rahman explained that the total subsidisation for the project reaches LE2.5 million, reaching around 60 per cent of the cost.

Although each of the publications carries a different name and has a different statement of purpose, it’s hard to clearly see the difference between some of them.

Other proposals shared were related to reducing costs by establishing pre-printing facilities in-house, by human resource training, and expanding to external markets and online.

One announcement that caused stir was the decision to put an age limit of 45 years on contributors to the series Voiced, which is the main outlet for regional talent, as described by the organisation. The decision came as a result of long queues of qualified contributions of young talent, at a time when more developed talents have other outlets for publishing, within and outside GOCP.

The overall structure would seem to avoid many of the issues faced by the organisation in the past, however, no clarity was made on how these publications would link back to the overall Ministry of Culture publishing plan.

According to the latest charts, there appears to be multiple publishing bodies all working under the ministry: the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO), the Cultural Development Fund (CDF), the Supreme Council of Culture (SCC), the National Center for Translation (NCT), as well as GOCP. So far, these organisations each operate independently. A major issue faced by all is distribution, with each using different models. The GEBO, CDF, SCC and NCT each have a different set of outlets, selling only their own publications. The GOCP, on the other hand, uses newspaper distributor channel to reach to the regions, similar to the Family Library project of GEBO.

The lack of coordination between the various organisations leaves much room for improvement and cost saving, but that would take a higher level of decision that may not happen anytime soon.

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