The art of storytelling is, historically, a cultural cornerstone in the Arab World. And for (some) of us growing up - especially in the 80s when entire books would be read out on Egyptian radio - aural storytelling brings a sense of nostalgic comfort.
While podcasts might reign supreme right now in the audio market, audiobooks are part of a timeless and essential reading industry that takes into account people with visual impairments or learning disabilities like dyslexia. It broadens the market and, also, can be listened to anywhere.
The Arabic audiobook industry, while not in full bloom yet, has been steadily growing for the past few years, especially with the help of startups that are trying to tap into the market, helping make Arabic books more accessible and merging them with the audio market. So we’ve gathered some of the best Arabic audiobook platforms to see you through those long days of homebound isolation amid the coronavirus pandemic…
1. Kitab Sawti
Kitab Sawti, founded by Sebastian Bond, is the world’s largest publisher of Arabic audiobooks. Inspired by a project in Sweden aiming to support Arabic-speaking students - particularly Syrian refugees - Kitab Sawti catapulted into the global market, now reaching around 1 million registered users. It’s now available via both website and app.
With high quality recordings, soothing sounds, and an aural backdrop of dramatic music, MijoBooks is an audiobook library rich with Arabic and translated literature. It provides free audiobooks from a variety of genres, including classics, sci-fi, and romance.
Inspired by the endless time spent in traffic jams in Cairo, Egyptian engineers Abdelrahman Wahba, Abdallah Ehab and Ramy Gamal came together to launch Iqraaly in 2011, an Egyptian app that offers over 200 audiobooks and subscription plans that give you unlimited access to Arabic audiobooks for you to download and listen to offline.
Freely available in both website and app form, ArabCast streams over 5,000 audiobooks from a diverse range of classic and contemporary authors, like Taha Hussen, and more contemporary novelists like Radwa Ashour. It also offers translated versions of foreign-language books, children’s books, non-fiction and self-help.
With titles being released regularly, Booklava is an Arabic literature haven - scan the app for classical favourites of Khalil Jibran read by professional voice actors, or a self-narrated poetry collection by Ibrahim Nasrallah.
6. Al Rawi
Both a social network and audiobook library, AlRawi is a cultural platform and app that invites people to both listen to and create audiobooks, forming a community of authors, narrators and artists. Cofounded by three partners, Hala Sulaiman, Ameera Al Qubaiti and Mohammad Ebrahim, it now has a burgeoning network of nearly 400 narrators from Bahrain and other parts of the world.
The Saudi-based audiobook startup attracts a worldwide audience with its variety of titles, some free and some for purchase. Founded by Manar Saud Al-Omayri in 2016 as a way of strengthening her own Arabic and helping others do the same, Dhad has now garnered over 200,000 audiobook downloads.
8. Esma3 Kitaab
Founded by Khalid Al Fahham, Esma3 Kitaab is an Egyptian audiobook app that aims to mainstream the culture of audiobooks and reading more generally, offering a wide variety of novels and books that come with their own exclusive musical soundtracks for each book.
Jordanian startup Masmoo3, founded in 2008 by siblings Ala and Alaa Suleiman, is reportedly the first Arabic audiobook platform to be launched in the Arab world. It now has over 1000 titles to its name, from Arabic poetry to Islamic history books.