Cairo’s Bibliomane: The Egyptian Copy Dilemma

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Written by Menna Fahmi

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A few years ago, when Paolo Coelho’s “Manuscript Found in Accra” was first published, I ran to the nearest bookstore to grab my copy, but to my dismay the paperback copy was for EGP 128. As a college student, this price was a good chunk of my weekly allowance and normally the average price of paperback at that time ranged between EGP 40 to EGP 80.

Later that week, a club at my university held a fair with many external booths. Naturally, being the book-obsessed I am, I was basically camping by the book seller. The highlight of my week was when I found “Manuscript Found in Accra” again, but this time for EGP 35. It wasn’t until I was a couple of pages in that I realized I was reading a copy. This was not a discount, nor a new cheaper edition. It opened my eyes to something I never thought existed. Just like designer handbags and watches, books also come in original, high copy and copy!

For all the years following up until today, I have witnessed the rapid growth of this market. It is no longer only done by street vendors or “underground” sellers. They’re right there in the annual book fair held by the government; leaving the halls selling legal “original” books deserted! They are on Facebook publicly advertising the availability of the most recent publications for less than half the price they actually are worth and offering delivery services! It’s no longer for pricy foreign books, but also Egyptian books by local publishers. Those whose core business was the sale of used books, now sell, for lack of a better word, stolen books!

One day, I took the liberty to discuss this topic with one of those sellers. I asked him how he can sell something illegally. He responded by asking how it was illegal since he wasn’t stealing and was paying for the costs of printing and then making profit from the sales. I tried explaining copy rights and how they only belonged to the publishers and writers; but in vain. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around the concept. It all seemed foreign to him. It hit me like a brick, how people can be so ignorant of copy rights and how stealing someone’s work seems like a smart business opportunity rather than stealing.

A facebook page publicly selling “copies” with delivery service
A facebook page publicly selling “copies” with delivery service

I tried talking to readers as well, to know whether they would buy a book knowing it is not an official copy. And by asking some of my friends, most of them said “Book prices have multiplied during the past few years. And finding a cheaper option is perfect!” When I asked how they think it is okay to them to read stolen books they said, “We know it is not okay but we as readers sometimes just can’t afford them and it is not our issue, it’s the publishers who should take an action.”

Allow me to put my business experience to good use and use its rationale to look at this situation: a publishing house aims for profits like any other form of business, their business model is simple, they get books from writers, print, distribute and market the books for a share of the sales. If their copies suddenly stop selling, do you think their business will keep going? Do you think without profits they will be able to print new books? Do you think they will be able to pay writers who write new books?

So coming from someone who’s passionate about reading and with an understanding of how a business goes, please stop encouraging this illegal industry. Exchange books with your friends or buy used books. Take an action, and don’t purchase a copy!

Thoughts?

Have you ever bought a book copy rather than the original? And was it for the same reasons? Do you plan to purchase book copies in the future? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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