In a recent report published by the Saudi News network, AlArabiya.net, many Saudi writers admitted that they resort to smuggling their manuscripts to be published abroad to escape censorship. Saudi publishing houses, the authors added, lack basic marketing skills, sometimes even spreading rumours about books they have published to make them popular. According to the statistics included in the report, Beirut receives the larger share of Saudi books published abroad, followed by Cairo; Damascus comes third.
Saudi writer Abdallah bin Bakhib was a case in point: “It's true most Saudi books are published abroad, to escape from censorship. If we publish in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Information must give us permission first, after they monitor, edit and censor our works. But in Beirut, we never have to obey such rules; when we publish in Beirut, our books are not censored even when on display at the Riyadh International Book Fair.” In the same report, bin Bakhib went on to accuse Saudi publishers of being unprofessional, unlike their Lebanese counterparts, which have the skill and experience that authors can rely for the distribution of their books, with strong ties to selling points. Yet he also accused authors of seeking popularity by claiming their book was banned in Saudi Arabia.
For his part the head of the literary club in Jazan city in Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Harby, explained that the Saudi writers tend to publish their books abroad in pursuit of larger markets, and also to participate in international book fairs, since the Saudi publishing houses neglect such events.
Contrary to this line of thinking, however, the writer Mishary Azaydi stated that the Saudi publishing houses are becoming more professional and censorship isn’t as bad as it used to be. For him, the reason writers publish abroad is that publishing in Beirut and Cairo is easier as they are pioneers in the publishing industry, are more famous and have the confidence of Arab readers.
Amin Soliman, another Saudi writer, has released a new book that tackles this issue, in which he argues that the quality of printing, marketing and distributing are the main factors involved. According to the book, publishing costs in Saudi Arabia are higher than they are in Beirut and Cairo; and books published there receive no marketing.