Local book publishers struggle amid rising costs and falling sales

Local book publishers are facing a combination of falling sales and rising paper costs, calling for urgent government support.

Paper prices have doubled since 2017, while local book sales have halved, according to data collected by leading publishers.

We feel the pressure.this is unprecedented—Joe Mizzi, Midsea Books

They called for financial support, possibly in the form of aid to cover the cost of paper and aid to increase the visibility of local publications.

“We felt the pressure. It was unprecedented,” said Midsea Books’ Joe Mizzi.

Mizzi said he collected data from major publishers such as Merlin Publishers, Midsea Books, Kite Publishing and Horizon to understand the realities facing the local publishing industry.

‘Book dumping’ is a problem

Using 2017 as a baseline, the data shows that paper costs have doubled since then and sales have fallen by 50%.

Like other industries, he said, local publishers have seen rising costs of raw materials – in this case paper and ink – but that has changed due to lower sales due to changing reading habits and competition from international publications worse.

Another hurdle is “book dumping”: other companies import boxes of books from abroad, often paying by the weight and selling them at low prices in bulk book sales.

Chris Gruppetta, from Merlin Publishers, said rising costs meant his company would not be attending this year’s National Book Festival because the costs involved in setting up a stand meant it was not financially viable.

He explained that as a publishing house focused on books in the Maltese language, Merlin faced more challenges.

“We live in a bilingual country that is predominantly English. Local publications need more attention,” he said.

“We need help at the government level,” he added.

Paper prices have risen 50% in the past year

During the virus pandemic, newspaper publishers received a subsidy of 500,000 euros to offset some of their paper costs.

National Book Board board member Mizzi also points to the lack of quality bookstores.

He agrees that more support is needed.

In the past year alone, paper prices have risen by 50%, said David Bezzina, director of Horizon Publishers.

“We can cover part of the cost, but not all of it, because we can’t price a book, like a novel, for more than 12 to 15 euros, otherwise people won’t buy it at all,” he said.

He explained that distributors get 50% of their revenue from sales, which makes publishers’ profit margins even tighter, even as they face rising costs.

Measures to promote local publications

National Book Council chairman Mark Camilleri said he had been negotiating with the government for the past few months to secure paper subsidies for local publishers. Discussions are still ongoing and the Treasury Department is reviewing the matter.

The number of authors, including self-published ones, has increased over the years, but sales per person have declined, Camilleri said.

He said that while local and international publishers faced many obstacles, the council was doing a lot to promote local talent on various platforms, both locally and internationally.

Several initiatives have raised the profile of local publications and provided financial support to authors and publishers, Camilleri said.

These include the Malta Book Fund, through which prizes of up to €5,000 per author can be distributed; the National Book Award, which includes cash prizes ranging from €2,000 to €4,000 per person; All get paid to borrow their books from the library, and the annual National Book Festival runs from November 23rd to 27th.

5€ student voucher for the Book Festival

This year, the festival will follow the National Book Awards ceremony – which will take place on Nov. 4 – to give award-winning authors more visibility in the space for a wider audience.

Camilleri said all registered students at the festival (about 10,000 in total) will receive a €5 voucher to support the publisher.

The committee also produces podcasts that include interviews with people in the publishing world, he said.

“We also introduced local literature during our participation in the London Book Fair in April,” he said.

“There are many connections to exporting our local literature in various languages. Foreign publishers are also showing interest in locally published content.”

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