With the notion of Britain leaving the EU becoming closer to reality than simply prime material for inflammatory journalists and edgy comedians, it is time to consider the threat posed by a no-deal Brexit to the UK’s independent publishing industry.
There is an ever-increasing fear that smaller publishing houses may be put out of business as a result of potential changes to requirements surrounding distribution of literary materials. Sam Jordison, founder of Galley Beggar Press, expressed particular concerns over the potential need for country of origin stamps on all of their inventory. He exclaimed “the book might be printed in the UK, but the paper might have come from somewhere… At what point do we have to stop specifying country of origin?” In addition, the general cost for paper and transport will increase as a result. Jordison notes that “the main concern is that this is potentially going to put people out of business. Not even potentially, it is going to put people out of business”.
While major publishing houses such as Penguin Random House may provide us with cult classics and the works of literary giants, independent publishers create a great number of opportunities for writers who are yet to establish themselves in the industry
However, it is not simply the potential for a no-deal Brexit that is worrying publishers, big and small, but also the lack of communication and organisation surrounding the UK’s date of departure. With ever-changing deadlines (the UK was due to leave the EU on the 31st October) there are growing concerns over delays at the border and in receiving supplies. This also poses an issue in regards to consumer and author confidence: how will this affect book launch dates? Are prolific authors more likely to turn to rival international and US publishing houses in order to ensure a greater sense of security for their work? Such potential threats are so severe that the UK Publishers Association has made the decision to coordinate free legal clinics in their London offices to discuss and advise on the issues facing the industry currently. These may be particularly beneficial to smaller, independent publishers with lesser access to consistent expert legal advice.
But why are UK publishing houses, in particular independent publishers, so important? Despite the exponentially-growing digital industry, print publishing is still a major UK export, supporting more than 70,000 British jobs, generating more than £1.1 billion in trade surplus annually and exporting more physical books internationally than any other country in the world. While major publishing houses such as Penguin Random House may provide us with cult classics and the works of literary giants, independent publishers create a great number of opportunities for writers who are yet to establish themselves in the industry.
Independent publishers are also more likely to place their trust in texts that push literary boundaries in respect of form, structure and ideas
“The Big Five” (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster) are more likely to support writers who have already proved themselves, limiting the amount of talent they attract. Independent publishers are also more likely to place their trust in texts that push literary boundaries in respect of form, structure and ideas. Without them, we may not have a great number of incredible texts, for example, Harriet Page’s Man with a Seagull on his Head published by Bluemoose Books and subject to critical acclaim and nominated for the Not the Booker shortlist in 2017.
However, it’s not simply aspiring novelists who benefit considerably from the existence of smaller publishers. Houses such as Notting Hill Editions run competitions to allow recognition for essay writers as well as novelists by organising a biennial competition whereby they attempt to seek out the best essays written in the English language and offer prizes of up to £20,000. Smaller houses are also able to vet and publish public reviews of books written by up-and-coming journalists and writers; the independent publishing industry is not a microcosm, but has links to a variety of different fields.