To look for books in Arabic, on free websites, means to enter a cycle of endless electronic links, which might sometimes be unsafe. However, there could be a solution - Open Araby.
“People searching for free online books are facing a common problem,” said Bashar Douba, Cubic Connect CEO, creators of the platform. “It resides in the fact that they find themselves being directed from a webpage to another without getting the desired result.”
Launched in August 2014 by the Beirut-based digital asset management and content licensing company, the idea was to create a search engine for Arabic e-books.
The “birth” of the concept
Every Friday the company hosts brainstorming sessions called Friday Project. It was during one of these sessions that Cubic Connect designer Sarah Hoteit suggested the Open Araby concept.
Until this point the Cubic Connect team had found that while there was a plethora of Arabic e-books out there, there was no single platform to find them. Searches also often let to downloading book files that were infected with viruses.
As well as difficulty in taking the idea from concept to practice, the building of a business model was a challenge for the team.
“We needed more time to highlight the concept in details,” said Douba. “In addition to the display method of the books, their indexes and presentation in the best possible way.”
They wanted to index the principal websites that offered books for free, then write an API (application programming interface) that enabled direct searches that kept the user away from broken links. And this led to another challenge - finding reliable and virus free sites with e-books.
The second problem was to find the suitable method to gather information about these websites in a direct and swift way, when websites do not normally offer an open API.
Not hosting websites or copying books Open Araby simply puts the first page of a book and a link to where it can be downloaded - basically a Google for books.
Furthermore, there is still one problem facing Open Araby until the date, which is marketing.
Marketing can be a real challenge for startups. And for Open Araby it’s been no bed of roses apparently. Despite the fact that websites often like to link to one another, said Douba, they found it very difficult to advertise their platform through other sites. “It seems that the Arabic culture is afraid of the competition.”
Other methods? Douba told Wamda that they had resorted “to some social networks but they were not as effective and sufficient as obtaining a sponsor for the website”, a problem that has yet to be solved. “We tried to connect with large companies even in Tunisia, they were impressed by the website but did not show any interest in the whole issue.”
Despite getting around 3,000 users a month to the site they are not interested in designing an app, just yet. “We would have to allocate a specific application for every single system and to modify its codes with every update in a time when it does not provide any profits for us,” Douba told Wamda.
There’s no real rush though. The company is pretty busy working with a client list that includes Istikana, Media Link International in Lebanon, the Saudi company Al-Wasaet, as well as telecommunications companies such as Ooredoo, Djezzy and Mobilis in Algeria.