A few days ago, Abjjad became the first Arab cultural website to exceed its crowdinvestment target amount on Eureeca, the first global crowdinvestment platform that is focused on the Middle East. Abjjad managed to raise $161,000 USD in 88 days from 43 regional donors, over $40,000 USD over its initial target.
29 year-old Imane Hylooz, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, with a background in software engineering and market research, launched Abjjad just 48 days after obtaining $15,000 USD in seed financing – and training – from Oasis500, the Amman incubator.
Since then, Abjjad has emerged as the first Arab social network to connect readers with publishing houses, bloggers, and authors in the Arab region. Designed to enable the reader to review notes on a book they read, access others’ notes, share experiences, keep up with authors, and create personal reading lists, the website won the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Best Arab Start-Up Business Award for 2013.
Hylooz believes that the reasoning behind many of her contributors’ investments is an achievement in itself: “a large proportion of investors decided to participate to fight the common perception about the declining culture in the Arab world,” she says. Hopefully, Abjjad can be for these donors what she describes as a “cultural investment.” She’s looking forward to the input of her new investors, which she thinks will add great value to the work of her startup.
Hylooz’s personal passion for reading is what inspired her to launch an Arabic reading community. “I got access to statistics from the Syrian Ministry of Information, which indicate the existence of 10,000 publishing houses in the Arab world with no online presence. So, I decided to provide them with a channel that allows them to be present online and to reach readers through social media who are interested in their products,” explains Hylooz.
In a year and a half, Abjjad has managed to draw 33,000 registered readers who view 250,000 pages per month. The website has also recorded 9,000 book reviews, more than 60,000 book ratings, and 20,000 additions to reading lists. There are currently 20,000 Arabic books available on Abjjad; for books unavailable on Abjjad, the site automatically links the reader to Amazon.
Hylooz’s success comes a time when the region is witnessing a significant trend towards digital publishing; several projects in the region are working on digitizing Arabic content.
Qordoba recently launched its Books and Digital Publishing Solutions to convert printed books into electronic ones. Kotobarabia in Egypt has become the first virtual online library, as well as Tunisia’s Sanabil is the first digital channel that publishes edutainment books for children.
Hylooz is planning to invest the Eureeca money in several ways, namely the recruitment of a sales teams in various Arab countries, mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, followed by Syria and Lebanon.
Despite the political tensions that Syria is currently experiencing, Hylooz affirms that Syrian publishing houses are still operational, pointing to the fact that Syria is one of the top publishers of Arabic books.
Hylooz also plans to add a special section in the website dedicated to publishing houses, where they can display their contact details, logo, and the books they have available. Eventually, the website will create the possibility for users to buy print or electronic books straight from publishing houses through the website.
Based on user demand, Abjjad is also expecting to launch an Android and iOS app within four months at the latest, according the Hylooz.
As for Abjjad’s returns, Hylooz is counting on publishing houses who will get access to the service in return for a monthly or yearly subscription fee. The greater the demand for a certain book, the higher the subscription fees will be.
So far, Hylooz is taking steady steps towards her goal to make Abjjad the Arab World’s Goodreads. Why not? The latter took seven years to get noticed by Amazon, but when the giant did notice, it was to the tune of $150 million USD.
Will Abjjad follow the same path?