Culturel fights against “very archaic” book vision (Tunisia)

Culturel fights against “very archaic” book vision (Tunisia)

The impressive establishment shines even more at night, when lights from within illuminate the facade designed by Nja Mahdaoui. Probably one of the greatest calligraphers of the Arabic language in the world, he put his knowledge to the service of this extraordinary showcase.

A book in Tunisia

Hassen Jaïed was born in France, where he lived for 24 years, before moving to Tunisia. ” I decided to set up my company, Afrique Culture, to dedicate myself to the book market: there was, and still is, a lot to do in Tunisia “, he tells ActuaLitté.

Emancipate yourself a little

The company, founded in 1999, began distribution in 2003: it immediately specialized in the import of works in the French language. But the limits of the project are quickly revealed: “Our traffic depended on mass distribution, and sharing value wasn’t really their credo“, he recalls.

To guarantee diversification, he turned to a network of bookstores. The fragile network and structure of the company lead to another conclusion: the need to establish a marketing network that can meet the needs of customers, while ensuring the beginnings of financial independence.

Cultural, alternative

Five years later, Afrique Culture opened the first Culturel boutique: a bookstore whose vocation from the earliest days was to initiate the creation of a chain. “The profit was returned to the overall growth of the business», notes Hassen Jaïed.

In 2022, Culturel grew: six outlets gathered under this banner. Five bookstores and a concept store, called Culturel Kids, which offers toys and educational games. Not losing sight of the original DNA: distribution.

Readers and their wishes

«Our distribution activity allows us to supply all bookstores in Tunisia, as well as two Fnac stores and the Carrefour brand — two supermarkets and about forty stores“enjoys Hassen Jaïed. The grid is getting interesting, but still weak.


«Bookstores, bookselling, import: we work tirelessly, because I am deeply convinced that this is a business with a future. Everything needs to be done, everything is missing“, he continues. To begin with, with the support of the Government, more precisely the Ministry of Culture.

«We desperately need a National Center for the Book, like the one that exists in France“, he observes with hope and regret. “In fact, Tunisia has a very archaic approach to the book industry.»

Harsh words, but which reflect the real experience of exchanges with public authorities: the former president of the Tunisian booksellers’ union, Hassen Jaïed, repeatedly experienced the silence of the administration. “While we are professionals, they refuse to listen to us, take our remarks into account. Now people would like to read more.»

But as things stand, even though the book is still one of the cheapest entertainment products, you still need to have the funds.

A complex market

Tunisia nevertheless benefits from several achievements, favorable to the literary industry: the absence of VAT on books, “an achievement obtained under President Habib Bourguiba“, emphasizes the presenter. At the head of the state between 1957 and 1987, Bourguiba left the memory of an intellectual and an ardent defender of knowledge.

Similarly, books are exempt from customs duties: concessions compared to their Moroccan or Algerian neighbors that should benefit trade. “The reality is that Tunisia has so many difficulties to solve that culture is the least of politicians’ worries.»

Read and let read

In Tunisia, faced with a large number of publishing houses whose production is predominantly in the Arabic language, the investment of the public authorities in the coming years will be decisive: “Our role, as a distributor, is to provide services to bookstores: the volumes we import allow us to continue our activities where a conventional bookstore could not.adds Hassen Jaïed.

This is also what explains why a book player such as Fnac, with the financial strength of the group and the procurement center in France, decides to join forces with Afrique Culture, a certain success arises. And the business manager underlines:In Morocco, Fnac made the mistake of managing imports directly. Conclusion, too French a choice, and titles that tend to mislead readers.»

With its growing network of bookstores, it’s a whole cultural battle, for access and distribution, that it intends to wage from here on out.

Authors of the photo: Hassen Jaïed

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