1 What's your company called?
Saqi Books. Our imprints are The Westbourne Press and Telegram Books.
2 What do you publish?
Saqi is a specialist Middle East publisher with fiction and non-fiction in a wide range of fields, from history, gender studies and politics to art, poetry and cookery.
Telegram, a ‘choice list of international fiction’ (Independent), is committed to publishing the best in new and classic international writing, from debut novelists to established literary heavyweights. The Westbourne Press publishes engaging non-fiction offering an alternative, progressive perspective on the leading issues of our time.
3 What's the story of the company?
In 1978, lifelong friends André Gaspard and Mai Ghoussoub resettled in London as a result of the Lebanese civil war and founded the Al Saqi bookshop. They yearned to recreate something of the heady intellectual freedom of pre-war Beirut, and to supply a then-untapped market for books, in both English and Arabic, on the Middle East and North Africa. The bookshop became a leading light of multicultural London during the 1980s, serving expatriate Arab communities in the UK and inquisitive British readers, as well as travellers unable to procure books banned in their native countries.
André and Mai ventured into publishing as an extension of the bookshop’s activities and founded Saqi Books in London in 1983. Over the past 30 years, Saqi has released seminal works about the Middle East, North Africa and beyond, becoming an essential independent forum for writers and artists from around the world. Saqi has become a byword for the development and promotion of Middle Eastern culture.
4 How's business?
Our Middle Eastern history, culture and literature books remain steady sellers. Our humour books are enjoying good growth, which is great to see and not an entirely surprising response from readers in light of the current political climate. We are always looking to the future and when the market is challenging—which I think we would all agree at present it is—we try to look for new opportunities. Ebook profits are spiralling downwards, but we have started experimenting with audio. It’s still early days, but the audio market is showing overwhelming signs of growth.
5 What do you enjoy about being independent?
The freedom to publish works that we believe in and move us, but that may not necessarily turn a profit. Having an impact on every aspect of the business, and forming strong working relationships with colleagues, the trade and all our authors.
6 What do you think is the biggest single issue in publishing right now?
High discounts. Since the repeal of the Net Book Agreement books have been devalued to a point where readers expect them to be cheap—though these same customers can spend the same amount or more on a pastry and cup of coffee. Too many independent retailers have been forced to close; in fact, too many chains have had to close! The repeal of the NBA continues to be highly detrimental to the book market.
7 What one piece of advice would you give to a fellow independent just starting out?
Focus on publishing less, but better, ensuring those books stand out in an overcrowded market.
8 What do you get out of belonging to the IPG?
Support, a sense of community and information.