The National Writers' Congress: Our strategy

We hope to be much more advanced thanks to the achievements of the Congress, which gives a platform for authors to openly participate in those government policies which directly affect them

We believe in what we do because sustaining a book industry is not only important for its own commercial end, but also for its national importance in terms of its cultural, educational and intellectual contribution to society
We believe in what we do because sustaining a book industry is not only important for its own commercial end, but also for its national importance in terms of its cultural, educational and intellectual contribution to society

Last September, the National Writers’ Congress chaired by the National Book Council was attended by more than sixty authors and supported in writing by more than another sixty who, for various reasons, could not attend the Congress in person. A historic first in Malta, authors gathered together to have their own economic rights recognised.

The Congress and the Charter of Authors’ Economic Rights – which was unanimously approved during the Congress – is another major step we have taken in our long-term and multi-pronged strategy to revive the local book industry. The Writers’ Congress and the Charter were also needed to begin the regularisation of the industry in relation to the recently approved European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single-Market and its transposition to our local law.

It is no secret that the book industry is facing serious economic challenges. Internationally, Amazon, with its cut-throat competition in pricing, has exacerbated already existing low profit-margins in the industry, where prices of books remain static compared to inflation and the value of property. Malta is no exception to this experience. We believe in what we do because sustaining a book industry is not only important for its own commercial end, but also for its national importance in terms of its cultural, educational and intellectual contribution to society.

In the beginning stages of our work at the National Book Council, we addressed some important fundamentals. We aided the ministry in its policy for the supply of new books to schools and turned the Book Festival from a declining-sales, commercial event, into a cultural event of national importance with consistent record-breaking sales.

Thanks to these measures, we have ensured increased revenues for publishers which would offset their declining sales in local book stores. We have also proceeded to expand the revenues of authors by introducing public lending rights; we provided funds for literary exports and audiovisual productions and consistently increased the prize money of the various categories in the National Book Prize.

Simultaneously, we have acquired a derelict government property in Valletta, which we are currently restoring into a new point of sale for books and as a literature museum. In these multi-faceted measures we are reviving the local book industry, and inducing it to grow and invest more. All of these measures are heavily subsidised by the government – and thankfully so, otherwise we would be in a completely different set of circumstances.

The EU directive on copyright gives us the opportunity to continue and consolidate renewed economic relationships among our stakeholders. We cannot have a situation where arrangements are made by word of mouth and everyone is ambivalent about their own rights and obligations. Apart from consolidating the importance of having a written contract between authors and publishers, the Charter of Authors’ Economic Rights provides authors with a definition of their economic rights and calculates the minimum of what is considered to be a fair remuneration in relation to the EU directive. The Congress of Authors has also unanimously approved to convert the subsidiary legislation of the Council into an act of parliament, a process which is also crucial for the reforms in relation to the mentioned EU directive’s transposition.

The Authors’ Charter was also extensively discussed with several publishers, especially with the one publisher who is currently part of the Council’s Board. We have made the promise to publishers to continue our work by introducing fiscal incentives and also by making the ISBN service free in order to keep supporting them. By the same token, we would also like to see publishers adhere to the charter, although it must be said that most publishers are already very loyal and observing to their obligations to authors. Additionally, during the Congress I also made the commitment to work on fiscal incentives and reiterated the importance of publishers in the local book industry.

It is also important to keep investing heavily in the export of our literature – and doing so we are breaking new grounds. For us, as a small nation, this is an existential issue.

The value of exporting our literature in other languages is priceless in cultural and existential terms, and we are doing this diligently, learning and developing as we continue to break new ground. There is a lot of work to be done and it is an ongoing effort, but as always we are maximising the use of our resources to expedite the process.

Last but not least, I am very proud, yet very saddened, at the fact that Malta was the only EU member state which raised concerns about authors’ rights during the EU Council’s negotiations on the Copyright Directive. Authors in Europe as a lobby have an uneven relationship with their legislators, compared to the relationship that publishers have. Only Italy, with the social-democrats in power, has supported our concerns. In this respect we hope to be much more advanced thanks to the achievements of the Congress, which give a platform for authors to openly participate in those government policies that affect them directly.

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