It is with great pride that I write about the work that was carried out in 2017, a most significant year for the National Book Council. After years of work, lobbying and development, the Council has finally been legally recognised by a legal notice for the very first time. 2017 also saw the creation of a Council registry and an archive in line with public service standards. Three employees of the Council attended a course run by the civil service so as to acquaint themselves with the handling and use of official documents and public registries. In line with this administrative and legal build-up, at the end of the year, the Council also released the first ever Author’s Manual in order to help authors acquaint themselves with the complex legal and financial aspects of copyright law and the book market.
Lobbying efforts also continued on the financial front. Complementing Government’s investment for next year’s celebration of Valletta as European City of Culture, the Council was prescribed a total budget of €490,000 for 2018. This is a 69% increase on the 2017 Government allocation of €290,000. This is a far cry from the annual budget of €40,000 we had inherited from the previous Council in 2013. Also, in 2017 the Lands Department confirmed the decision to grant an unused public building in Old Mint Street, Valletta, to the Council following our lengthy lobbying efforts to acquire a historic building in Valletta in order to create a book centre which would host a book and literature museum and a private bookshop. Funds are needed to restore the property and make it usable.
In 2017 we have continued increasing our investment in our initiatives mostly in the Malta Book Festival and in our promotional and marketing work. We have ended our weekly TV programme “Xi Qrajt Dan l-Aħħar?” in its second season and started a new TV programme called “Paġna minn Ktieb”, in which Antonella Axisa reads excerpts from contemporary Maltese literature. A longer version of the programme, “Wiċċ imb Wiċċ”, features a 20 to 30-minute interview with the author and is directly uploaded on our Facebook and Youtube pages. In the production of these programmes, we are now saving lots of money by producing the programmes in-house, using the filming facilities of Ministry of Education rather than sub-contracting audiovisual companies. This has helped us re-arrange our financial projections for 2018 to invest more funds in the Malta Book Festival instead. We have also started a new radio programme on PBS’s main radio channel “Radju Malta 1”. After CEO John Bundy rescinded PBS’s commitment to supply equipment and resources for the NBC-PBS Literary Short-Film Contest, the difference had to be offset with increased investment by the Council. Renewed discussions with PBS are set to continue once it appoints its new CEO.
The Malta Book Festival remains our biggest investment since it is the most important commercial, cultural and educational event of the Maltese book industry. From our financial projections and data gathered from Festival exhibitors, book sales at the 2017 Festival kept the record high of the previous year, but did not increase. Sales at the Book Festival are an important source of revenue for local publishers and given the decrease in revenue from book shop sales, more effort is being made by the Council to help publishers increase their revenue through our festivals. This was also why in 2017 we initiated a new book festival in Gozo. This increased investment is set to continue to grow in 2018 both for the Malta Book Festival as well as for other ancillary festivals.
Lobbying on an institutional level to guarantee the rights of both publishers and authors continued. In lobbying to introduce official representatives of authors and publishers in the Language Council, the government has granted the Council representation for the publishers in the Language Council by law. The Council also brokered an agreement between publishers and the Ministry of Education for the introduction of copyright licenses. Now, we are at the stage in which publishers are writing the required agreements so as to have them signed. The signing of these licenses is important to make the government compliant to current copyright regulations, and also with the upcoming education exception as proposed in the European Commission’s proposed copyright directive. On the proposed copyright directive, which is still being discussed on a European Union institutional level, we are also undergoing lobbying efforts to ensure that the directive does not hurt local authors and publishers. In this regard we would like to see various changes made to the directive, including changes to articles 11,12 and 13.
Our work to promote Maltese literature abroad kept going at a strong pace. Our participation at the London Book Fair is becoming ever more successful and we hope to keep building on this success so as to see more Maltese authors published abroad. Arts Council’s grant is useful to get Maltese authors translated and thankfully, Arts Council increased its translation grant yet again in 2017 to a total of €40,000. We hope that Arts Council will keep its commitment in the coming years. Our work abroad is not only limited to Europe, but now extends to the Arab region and to Latin America, yet our funds in this sector are still very limited.
In an increasingly challenging market environment, the Council aims to continue increasing its efforts to help publishers and authors increase their sources of revenue – this aim is not intended purely for commercial ends. A strong and thriving book industry is essential for the cultural, educational and intellectual development of our country and this is why we take our aim and work very seriously hoping that it will eventually contribute to a better society.