One of the world’s largest online retailers, amazon.com, has rejected a Maltese attempt to publish e-books in the Maltese language.
Maltese readers anywhere in the world would have been able to read great fiction in Maltese by clicking on Amazon
Readers would have been able to download and read Maltese books on Kindle, Amazon’s electronic book device.
However, it all went up in smoke when, at the very last minute, amazon.com pulled the plug. Despite the fact that the language fully conformed to the Kindle publishing requirements, the US based company retracted its initial acceptance to publish in the Maltese language.
Chris Gruppetta, director of publishing at Merlin Publishers, said he approached amazon.com in July, expressing his interest and querying whether it was possible to publish Kindle e-books in Maltese. Mr Gruppetta was aware that till then they only published in six main languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and English.
A representative of amazon.com wrote back saying if the Maltese language consisted only of Latin alphabet and unicode – which it does – “you can certainly publish it through KDP”.
On hearing this, Merlin publishers immediately started working with an IT company to convert three of their top-selling titles – Trevor Zahra’s Penumbra and Nanna Genoveffa and Pierre Mejlaq’s Lejl – into professional Kindle e-books.
“For the first time ever, Maltese readers anywhere in the world would have been able to read great fiction in Maltese just by clicking on amazon.com,” said Mr Gruppetta.
Amazon.com would have kept 65 per cent of the income generated through sales of the e-books. The publishers would have pocketed less than 35 per cent as they would have had to deduct the EU VAT rate as well as the US income tax, since amazon.com sales are generated in the US.
“Admittedly production costs of e-books are lower because you’re doing away with printing, however, there are other costs, such as programming, marketing and so on,” said Mr Gruppetta.
Within a few weeks, all the technology was in place and the trial runs worked smoothly. However, a few days away from the official launch, Mr Gruppetta was contacted by a representative of amazon.com and was told he had been given “incorrect information”.
“We will not be publishing your book. Please be sure to check back in the coming months as we’re working to support titles in more languages,” the representatives said.
When contacted, a representative of Kindle Direct Publishing said: “Although we don’t currently support publishing in this language, we’re continually working to expand the number of languages and titles that are available to our worldwide audience.”
They were unable to say when Maltese might become one of their supported languages. Attempts to get an explanation for the sudden change of policy proved futile.
Mr Gruppetta said representatives of amazon.com told him at the Frankfurt Book Fair that unless someone within amazon.com company spoke the language they would not publish books in that language. “Apparently, this is to ensure there’s no pornographic or otherwise objectionable content,” said Mr Gruppetta.
When he suggested setting them up with an official government language board to reassure them the content was fine, they refused and kept insisting they had to check it themselves.
Merlin is now exploring other possible avenues for e-books.
In the meantime, the issue has been taken up by the National Book Council, which has decided to officially write to Amazon, hoping to add some official clout.
Will e-books eventually eradicate the printed book? Council chairman Ġorġ Mallia believes they are one of the ways forward for Maltese books as they seem to be for books in most countries.
“What I am hoping is that the fascination with e-books will be of added value (and) e-book reading will help increase reading which, in the end, is what the National Book Council would most like,” he said.