Publishers say Maltese book trade healthier than ever

While print appears to be 'in decline', publishers seem to think differently, indicating that a new era of innovative Maltese literature is on its way

Maltese books are selling more than ever, thanks to a new era of innovation and creativity taking over the book industry.

Publishers at this year’s Malta Book Festival said innovations were enticing people to get back to reading in their native language, reporting rising sales in publications.

NSO data reports that the Maltese spent less on books, newspapers, and magazines between 2014 and 2016, down by 18% over the two years.

Even book imports declined, from €10 million in 2014 to €8 million in 2016.

But while print appears to be ‘in decline’, publishers speaking to MaltaToday at the book festival were of a different opinion, indicating that a new era of innovative Maltese literature is on its way. 

While Maltese speakers also seek English-language books, the new wave of Maltese literature is attracting more to read in their native language, Chris Gruppetta from Merlin Publishers said. “By default, Maltese people usually ask for English books,” Gruppetta said. “But when they see the Maltese books on the shelves, they’re usually interested.” 

A new range of literature by Maltese writers like Ġużè Stagno or the political fiction Kapitali by Wayne Flask, are quickly attracting readers to read in their native tongue, thanks to unique story lines and creative book covers. 

Clive Perini from Millers Distribution agreed that Maltese literature is on the rise, citing as an example romance novels and children’s literature selling quickly. “Maltese books are selling more than ever,” he said. 

Perini believes eBooks and online reading have not affected the industry as much as expected. “At the beginning, we thought it would take over, but in reality it hasn’t,” Perini said. 

The Labour Party’s publishing arm, SKS, also believes the industry has survived any past fears of the Internet dampening enthusiasm in the book. The author of various books works on Maltese history and personalities, Claire Xuereb Grech said that intimate accounts of Malta’s history are not easily found online, which is why books are so important for the Maltese. “Since you don’t find Malta’s stories online, people often want to have these books in their personal library,” she said. 

Xuereb Grech also said that because publishing in Malta is limited and some books are only printed once, people are often quick to buy them before they run out.

But Gordon Pisani from Kite Group said much of their Maltese output – now a range of political, humorous and art books – are being republished more than once due to their popularity. Former European Commissioner and PN grandee Tonio Borg’s collection of humorous anecdotes, Nidħqu Bina Nfusna, is now on a third run.

Pisani said despite the challenges, innovative Maltese works will always pique readers’ interest. “Creativity and innovation are the hallmarks of Kite Group.”

As an example, the self-titled art collection of Gabriel Caruana was published in four different colours, each representing an area in the veteran artist’s work. Architect Richard England’s Sanctuaries of the Soul includes a limited edition of 20 books with individually-drawn jackets and signed by the artist himself. “Our books are complemented by works of art by renowned award-winning artists. We’re interested in adding value to people’s libraries.”

Merlin’s Chris Gruppetta adds that innovation is also changing Maltese children’s literature. “Children often read more Maltese works than adults, usually because schools and parents urge them to do so. But it’s also easier to attract children to Maltese work. Once they identify with a character, they are hooked to the story regardless of the language.”

And it’s not just characters on print… some of them are literally jumping out of the books: writer and publisher Ruth Frendo recently introduced augmented reality to her books, where pictures scanned by a device can reveal movies and stop motion clips to go with the stories.

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