Providing novice writers with an opportunity to publish their first literary works, the digital platform Kotobna was established last year as a platform to introduce new talented writers to the Egyptian literary market. After years of struggling to publish his novels and short stories, Mohammed Gamal, a computer engineer, decided to create an electronic publishing platform to help young writers overcome the restrictions and constraints imposed by large publishing houses.
“I was always drawn to writing novels and short stories since I was a child, but I used to only send them to my friends and family members and get their feedback,” said Gamal. “Most of them encouraged me to start publishing my stories and that was a great turning point in my life,” he added.
Unfortunately, most of the big publishing houses refused to publish Gamal’s novels despite their high quality. “Famous houses pay great attention to the name of the writer and ask whether he has published any novels before. They don’t like to take the risk and spend money on new writers who are making their first steps into the field,” he noted.
However, small publishing houses, whose numbers have increased gradually since 2007, usually offer to publish any literary works they receive but at the writer’s own expense. “Such houses usually agree with the writer to publish a small number of copies and take a percentage that may reach 80% of the profits of each copy. Because most of them don’t have any advertising or publicity plans, the copies are rarely sold and the publisher distributes them to his friends and family,” he said.
To overcome such hardships, Gamal decided to find an innovative way to attract both readers and writers to his new project. “Since the outbreak of the 25 January Revolution, Egyptians have been attracted to social media networks and means of online publishing. More people have started to use tablets and smart phones over the past years, and this made it easier for me to introduce such a digital publishing and reading project,” he added.
Although similar publishing platforms have been created in many countries around the world since the 2000s, the idea was introduced for the first time in Egypt by Gamal last year. “I was inspired by websites such as Lulu.com, which has published about 20 million books for new writers. Some of those books achieved great success and even attracted the attention of well-known filmmakers to turn them into movies. Our current platform includes both a website and a mobile application,” he added.
Till now, Kotobna platform has published about 274 books in different fields and has grabbed the attention of 10,000 users who have paid for and downloaded different books thousands of times. In addition to providing an opportunity for publishing, the platform also protects the copyrights of digital novels and books and prevents any piracy trials.
“We publish the book online and promote it in various ways on social networks. In return, we ask the writer to pay for a simple subscription, and we only take 40% of the profits of the books. This is the only way to guarantee the sustainability of the project,” he added.
Readers can pay for selected books in a number of ways, including credit cards, Fawry service, or they can order shipping cards from the company that are delivered in Cairo and Alexandria for free.
“We have a unique business model for pricing books, which never exceed EGP 10. However, the first 25 users download the books for free. We call it a dynamic pricing scheme. We also provide a new service called ‘print on demand’ for those readers who are addicted to reading printed books and novels as we print the number of copies they want and deliver it to them as a hard copy,” he explained.
The platform won the 2015 MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition as the most innovative idea of the year. It also won the second prize in the SeedStars international competition.
“I always advise people who want to enter this field to be aware of the fact that they are initiating a new technology and industry that has an unstable market. We are still thinking of more creative ways to overcome the challenges we encounter and guarantee the sustainability of our projects in the long run,” he concluded.