Digital library gives Saudis affordable access to university research

DUBAI: A Dubai-based edutech start-up has launched a digital library for researchers in Saudi Arabia – the first subscription-based library for such scholarly literature in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Academic literature is usually hidden behind expensive pay walls or limited to those who are affiliated with large organizations. Now Zendy, developed by Knowledge E, offers users affordable access to scholarly work from around the world.

Aligned with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development agenda and its efforts to foster a culture of research, innovation and entrepreneurship, Zendy will give students, professionals and amateurs access to thousands of articles, e-books and academic resources.

Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

“Zendy is a huge online library accessible to everyone in the region,” Kamran Kardan, founder and CEO of Knowledge E.

“If you take a look at the current state of how you can access academic content, books, journals, and literature related to this, it’s very heavy,” he said.

“You have to be part of an institution, university, or larger organization like the Department of Health, or somewhere where they can actually afford to access the content. And not all institutions can afford to access all the multiple publishers available. “

Zendy’s goal is to break down barriers to scientific discovery by providing individuals with affordable access to the world’s latest research and literature, drawing inspiration from the evolution of music and television consumption.

“The whole idea grew out of what’s going on in the entertainment and music industry, like Netflix and iTunes, and its application to academic content, making it affordable,” Kardan said. “So the idea was to open up all this content and make it affordable, on a monthly subscription or an annual cost.”


  • Zendy was first launched in Jordan in late 2019.

  • The digital library houses more than 120,000 publications.

  • Subscribers in the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

With a background in publishing at Oxford University Press in the UK, Kardan made it her mission to promote open access and help higher education institutions discover new research strategies across a variety of business frameworks. He moved to Dubai 15 years ago to promote access to academics among universities, businesses and consortia in the region.

“When I moved in 2006, it was the start of a transition from the world of printing to electronics,” he said. “Libraries were mostly shelves full of books and magazines and, if you could imagine a researcher trying to find something, it was such an effort to go through all these different indexes that you have.

“Really finding all the relevant information you were looking for was a task in itself. “

Kamran Kardan, Founder and CEO of Knowledge E. (Provided)

In the years that followed, Kardan worked with consortia in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to provide scientific access at the national level. “A lot of universities didn’t have as much access back then,” he said.

“I remember a university in Kuwait where I had one of the most comprehensive journal collections from one of the best publishers and where I went through that transition of putting everything online.

Beyond the evolution of 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 over paper for all kinds of reasons, including the simple aesthetic of touch and smell.

So far, most of Zendy’s content is only available in English, although some is offered in French and other languages, with the goal of further diversifying linguistically in the near future. .

“The idea is to have a complete online library at the fingertips of everyone,” Kardan said. “It’s no longer a problem that you can’t afford it, no matter where you are, if you’re not part of a bigger institution. We are not targeting institutions, we are targeting individuals.

Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

After launching in Jordan in 2019, Zendy has expanded to UAE, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Bahrain, and from this month it will be available in Saudi Arabia. The online library has since accumulated thousands of users across the Arab region, hosting more than 120,000 publications, including more than 30,000 journals and 30,000 e-books.

Zendy also allows users to save searches, export citations, and easily navigate based on material type, subject, post title, language, and more.

“You can search, find the article, download the PDF, and you can use it as many times as you want,” Kardan said.

“We would like to have more publishers, and this is something that is growing. We have three of the top five publishers in the world, and you can imagine that for publishers who have existing business models with organizations, it’s hard to change and make everything accessible to all individuals.

“So that’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 revenue sharing with publishers based on usage. And, true to Kardan’s ideals, some content will remain free for everyone.

“There is some free content that will be available in open access format around the world in a few months,” he said. “So people who are happy with free content can keep it. And then to get access to the most premium content, users will need to sign up for Zendy Plus, which is currently available.

Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

Kardan hopes Zendy will have a big impact on countries in the MENA region, playing a role in building diverse and 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 involved in other ways to strengthen this in terms of organizing workshops in universities and capacity building,” he said. “No matter how small you are, you can always make a change. In everything we do as a business, we try to make that change and that impact and we believe that Zendy is one of those with the potential to make a global impact.

Although in its early days in Saudi Arabia, subscribers include entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses. Kardan’s goal is to turn the platform into a global operation to allow easier access to content to many more people around the world.

It is also planned to include videos, book summaries and magazines down the line.

“It’s really about increasing readership in all of these areas and changing this world of online literature,” he said. “For me, success is looking back and seeing what impact I have had on the people and the society around me.”


Twitter: @CalineMalek

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