Two Big Reasons People ‘Don’t Buy Books’ in Cairo or Why I’m Going to Start Selling Kids Books on the Metro

Reason No. 1: Bad Distribution


Friends visited us yesterday. They have a nearly four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son.

Children often visit each other’s toys, but my friend’s daughter seemed to be on a visit to my sons’ books. She hugged them. She stroked them. I thought she might be ready to eat up Eric Carle’s Hal Lil Kanghar Aidan Um?

When I told these friends that the lovely books from the فيزو and عالم سمسم series are available for between 5 and 10LE, they wanted to know: Where?Where?

These are not people of large means, but rather Cairo’s (struggling) middle class. I told them I could not think of a bookstore in their district: stores I know that carry Fizo and 3alam Simsim are in upscale areas like Zamalek, Heliopolis, Mohandiseen, Nasr City (City Stars Mall), Gezira Sporting Club, City View, Ma’adi, with the odd Alef beside Ain Shams University.

Sure, you can order things online, but these friends don’t have access to the Internet.

Much is said about how Cairo’s children aren’t interested in books (oh, they prefer television; oh, they like their video games; oh, reading is a solitary activity and Cairenes like to chat). But I promise you, this little girl was in love with my sons’ books. The more she saw, the more she wanted to see.

Fortunately, I had an extra فيزو يعرف … يعرف on hand, as well as a couple other books. It occurred to me that I should buy a case and start selling them on the metro. Much more useful than a pair of nylon stockings or some hair gewgaws!

Reason No. 2: Don’t Touch!

Last week, I was in a major bookstore with my two sons. My six-(and three quarters)-year-old immediately began to engage with the books. It took my two-year-old a little longer to warm up, but finally he got out of his stroller and was about to look at a book.

My eyes were only halfway on him at that second, but as he reached toward the book, a store clerk’s hand shot out and either slapped his fingers or brushed his hand away from the book. She told him, “Don’t touch!” Of course, my younger son was terrified and spent the rest of the visit clinging to me.

It’s not crystal, for goodness sakes. (Oddly, whenever we are in a store with a lot of breakables, the clerks are always laughing and encouraging my younger son to charge around like a maniac.)

There are a number of bookstores with child-friendly attitudes. Two that spring to mind are Bookspot on Road 9 in Ma’adi (which, alas, doesn’t have a very large Arabic section) and Adam bookstores. Both of these places are inviting to children, with toy corners and an implicit invitation to browse the stacks.

(Decently behaved) children should be welcome in bookstores.

Reason No. 3: Plastic!

I know I said there were two reasons, and I meant this to be part of reason No. 2. But perhaps it deserves its own header: The plastic shrinkwrap in which many books are ensconced is not only very, very bad for Cairo’s environment (ask Tamara if you don’t believe me), but also un-inviting for consumers who need to browse a copy before they can know if they want to buy it.

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