Dubai: Dubai-based startup Edutech has launched a digital library for researchers in Saudi Arabia – the first subscription-based scientific literature library of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Academic literature is usually hidden behind expensive walls or is restricted to those of large organizations. Developed by Knowledge E, Zendy provides users with affordable access to scientific work around the world.
In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development agenda and its efforts to promote a culture of research, innovation and entrepreneurship, Zendy will provide students, professionals and hobbyists access to thousands of articles, e-books and scientific resources.
“Zendy is a huge online library available to everyone in the region,” Kamran Cardin, Knowledge E founder and CEO, told Arab News.
“If you look at the current state of access to academic content, books, magazines and literature related to this, it is very complicated,” he said.
“It has to be part of an institution, university, or larger organization like the Ministry of Health, or somewhere where they can actually afford to access the content. Not all institutions can afford to access all available editors.”
Zendy’s goal is to break down barriers to scientific discovery by providing individuals with affordable access to the latest research and publications around the world – inspired by the evolution of music and television consumption.
“The whole idea arose from what’s going on in the entertainment and music industry, like Netflix and iTunes, and applying it to academic content, making it accessible to everyone,” Cardin said. “So the idea was to unblock all this content and make it available to everyone, with a monthly subscription or an annual cost.”
With a background in publishing at Oxford University Press in the United Kingdom, Cardin made it his mission to promote open access and help higher education institutions discover new research strategies through different frameworks. He moved to Dubai 15 years ago to boost researchers’ access to universities, companies and federations in the region.
“When I moved in 2006, it was the beginning of the transition from the world of printing to the world of electronic printing,” he said. “Libraries were mostly shelves full of books and magazines, and if you can imagine a researcher trying to find something, it was an effort to browse through all of those different indexes you have available.
“Finding almost any relevant information you were looking for was a task of its own.”
In the years that followed, Cardin worked with consortia in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt to provide scientific access at the national level. “A lot of universities didn’t have much access at that time,” he said.
“I remember a university in Kuwait where I had one of the most comprehensive magazine collections from a major publisher, and during that transition to get everything online – getting more digital libraries in the region was the history of those days.”
Besides developing the digital infrastructure itself, publishing has also had to take into account the slow pace of cultural change, with many people continuing to prefer books in paper form for all reasons, including the aesthetic of touch and simple scent.
So far, most of Zendy’s content is only available in English, though some are being offered in French and other languages, with the goal of further diversifying the language in the near future.
“The idea is to have a comprehensive online library available to everyone,” Cardin said. “It is no longer an issue that you cannot deal with, wherever you are, if you are not part of a larger organization. We do not target organizations, we target individuals.”
After launching in Jordan in 2019, Zendy has expanded to include the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Bahrain, and from this month it will be available in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The online library has since collected thousands of users across the Arab region and hosted more than 120,000 publications, including more than 30,000 magazines and 30,000 e-books.
Zendy also allows users to save searches, export quotes, and easily navigate by article type, topic, article title, language, etc.
“You can search, find the article, download the PDF file, and you can use it as many times as you want,” Cardin said.
We’d like to have more publishers, and that’s something that’s growing. We have three of the five best publishers in the world, and you can imagine that for publishers who have existing business models with organizations, it’s hard to change everything and achieve success. Accessible to everyone.
“So it’s also a big step for publishers and that’s why we want to break this barrier.”
To access the content, users sign up for a free trial period before choosing between a monthly or annual subscription. Zendy’s business model is based on sharing revenue with publishers based on usage. And according to Cardan’s ideals, some content will always be free for everyone.
He said, “There is some free content that will be available in open access format around the world in a few months’ time.” “Therefore, people who are happy with the free content can keep that up. Then, to access more premium content, users will need to sign up for Zendy Plus, which is currently available.”
Cardin hopes that Zendi will have a significant impact on the countries of the MENA region, as he plays a role in creating diverse knowledge-based societies and economies. He is convinced that providing easy access to information, open to all, is one way to achieve this goal.
“We are also participating in other ways to build this by organizing workshops in universities and building capacity,” he said. “No matter how young you are, you can still make a change. In everything we do as a company, we try to make that change and that influence and we believe Zendy is one of those with the power to make a global impact.”
Although in its early days in Saudi Arabia, its subscribers include entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses. Kardan’s goal is to extend the platform into a global operation to allow easier access to content for many people around the world.
It is also planned to include summaries of videos, books and magazines.
He said: “It is really an increase in the number of readers in all these areas and the transformation of this literary world to the Internet.” “For me, success is ultimately about looking back and seeing the impact I have been able to have on the people and society around me.”
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