The close of 2018 marked another consecutive year of growth for the National Book Council with further increase in government funding, and new services and projects granted under its remit. With all the new targets and additional tasks, this was one of the most challenging years so far.
For the very first time in Malta, in September, together with the International ISBN Agency, we have organised the ISBN and ISMN Annual General Meeting. 72 delegates representing 49 different ISBN agencies around the world attended the conference. It was a great experience hosting this prestigious and important event, which was very successful and served as an excellent means to contributing to put our country on the international map of the book industry.
The most daunting test during the year was meeting the performance targets we had set on the Malta Book Festival. Separate halls were allocated to publishers and booksellers, and having doubled the exhibition space as compared to last year had put on us the challenge of exponentially increasing the attendance rates. Most of our targets were achieved, having in particular hit once again record sales and increased attendance rates. In particular, the number of schools and students attending the Festival this year has significantly grown. The expansion of the exhibition space was only possible thanks to the considerable increase in government funding. This was a necessary requirement as part of our commitment to keep boosting the Festival as a source of revenue for the publishers – thus offsetting losses in brick-andmortar sales.
Year 2018 saw a larger reach of our promotional and literary export efforts outside Malta, in particular in Europe and the Arab region. An important part of our work is brokering publishing deals and providing translation funds, as well as facilitating direct-export funding, for instance by sending authors abroad to festivals and book fairs. Foreign publishers releasing translated Maltese literature are also supported in various ways. For instance, translation funds are allocated yearly to various projects, and in 2018 we have commissioned three different language translations (Arabic, Italian and English) of the work of our national poet Dun Karm. Finding professional translators from Maltese into other languages can prove to be a daunting task, but we are working towards commissioning two more translations in order to fulfil the government’s electoral manifesto obligation to translate Dun Karm in a total of five different languages.
This year round we have increased public lending rights payments and capped the maximum amount to €5,000 to ensure that there is more value in distribution. Money prizes for the National Book Prize have also increased, and our aim is to further boost them in 2019, as we value our authors’ work and their need to be able eventually manage to earn a living from writing and book sales. Public funding and increased strategic coordination with the book industry stakeholders is a means to help increase revenues, and we have ensured our work with authors and publishers alike in various fields is progressively intensified.
According to the legal notice published in 2017, the National Book Council as a representative body of the publishing industry stakeholders was obliged to hold yearly consultation meetings with authors and publishers. The meetings were held for the first time in 2018 and were successful and productive. We are looking forward to the 2019 meetings, where we expect more publishers and authors to attend and voice their requests and concerns.
We have also started preparations for the renovations the 16th century baroque palace that he government allocated to the National Book Council. The palace will host a museum of literature, a bookshop that will serve as a cultural agent, and the head office of the National Book Council. Works on the palace will start next year after the restoration plans and tendering process are completed and approved. Our plans to restore the palace back to its original state had to change, as we encountered a stumbling block when new plans had to be drawn up as the Attorney-General’s office, our new neighbour, refused to transfer to the National Book Council the British-era addition on the roof of our palace: this connects their building to our palace, but actually belongs to us.
We have kept our audio-visual projects ongoing throughout the year with a radio programme on Radju Malta and a five-minute programme on TVM every week. Eventually, PBS dropped the TVM programme and gave us a ten-minute daily slot on TVM2. Economic priorities may lead us to drop the programme on TVM2 (especially since TVM2 attracts very low audience rates according to the Broadcasting Authority report), but we expect to launch a completely new product in 2019. As a matter of fact, we plan to keep producing audiovisual work to promote authors for commercial and public broadcasting, but we also intend to keep expanding our film projects based on literature. To date the NBC Short-film Literary Contest has been a great success and all winning films have participated in festivals abroad.
The growth in the employee number (administrative and management staff ) remained conservative as compared to 2017, but a bigger team is a priority, even if central government is not being very forthcoming when it comes to our HR requests. Public funding for the National Book Council’s projects in 2019 will hit the all-time record of more than €910,000 (which excludes the restoration works of the palace). The government’s continued financial support to the National Book Council is the government seal of approval for the success of our work.
We have also been very busy on the copyright issues in the Digital-Single Market Directive, lobbying in favour of authors with regards to article 12, and lobbying in favour of authors and publishers with regards to articles 11 and 13. We have been the first EU-member state to initiate a compromise debate on article 12 at a EU Council level, and we also thank the central government for backing the National Book Council in all of our stances and successfully delivering them during the EU Council discussions.
We are looking forward to 2019. More projects and bigger challenges await us. As well as strengthening our domestic reach, we intend to start increasing our work abroad. The local book industry is facing various challenges, but never before has the National Book Council been such a key player in it. We will keep on working towards our goals and following our vision, while remaining humble, accessible and transparent.