When we think about publishing challenges after Brexit, it can be difficult to know where to start. The UK's leaving the European common market was a major event of the last decade and one that will influence both sides' future. Let's dive into the relationship between Brexit and UK publishing, issues around copyright regulations after Brexit, and the potential book export opportunities post-Brexit.
Brexit and UK Publishing
When Brexit was voted on way back in June of 2016, things were very much in the balance. Would the result be to remain in the European Union (EU) or leave? Ultimately, the leave vote won out, but it did so by the narrowest of margins. The results were 51.89% voting to leave, while 48.11% voted to remain. It was far from a landslide victory, and the tension over Brexit remained high for years after the results due to the large number of people who wanted to stay in the EU. As a matter of fact, two of the countries in the UK saw a majority remain in the vote; these were Northern Ireland and Scotland. There were various differences in the voting choice of demographics; for example, research after the fact showed young people were more likely to vote. Brexit was a political issue that proved to be very divisive and still exists in the UK to this day.
When it comes to Brexit and UK publishing, the book trade is heavily opposed to Brexit. Like many industries, there was a great fear that the publishing industry would suffer if the Brexit vote went through. In particular, there were fears of recession and the obvious loss of connection with the EU market.
Brexit Challenges for UK Publishing
Inevitably, when Brexit was eventually ratified and the UK officially left the EU, the economy plummeted. The value of sterling (the UK currency) went down dramatically and everything became more expensive. While the cost of living shot up, businesses also saw their expenditures go through the roof.
When it comes to the relationship between Brexit and UK publishing, one of the many negative things that affected the industry was the basic cost of production. Books have to be printed (studies show print books are still preferred among the majority of readers), so there is a need to spend money on electricity, which has become more costly. On top of that, in order for books to be printed, it's necessary to get materials. But the issue is that because Brexit meant leaving the EU, it is more difficult to import necessary materials from around Europe (or even outside Europe if they have to come through the EU). It's difficult and more expensive to get the basic stock into the country to print the books. As well as this, the raw materials of books and the finished books themselves have to be stored somewhere, but warehouses have become much more expensive. This also holds true for the workspaces required for work. Of the Brexit challenges for UK publishing, the major one is the increased cost of everything in a country where cost-cutting has become necessary.
Another of the publishing challenges after Brexit concerns the UK, which would traditionally be the market leader in producing English-language books. Due to leaving the EU, the UK no longer has English-language rights to their entire market, which results in the need to find new business and negotiate new deals.
UK Book Exports
When it comes to exporting books to the EU or to other countries within the EU, the UK is facing challenges due to Brexit. It is now more difficult for UK parties and EU parties to work together due to changes in law.
EU citizens are free to move throughout the Union, and it is easy for goods to travel throughout EU states. Since Brexit, however, it has become more complicated for people and products to move between the UK and EU. The UK not being a member of the EU anymore has reduced their right to travel throughout the EU.
One of the post-Brexit challenges for UK publishing (and other areas of business) is that there is significantly more bureaucracy involved in importing and exporting goods. It costs more money to send things from the UK to the EU, and the EU has to pay more to receive them. Aside from the financial cost, there is also a cost of time and labor. There is significantly more complicated paperwork to be filled out each time something is exported. With these issues added to the worldwide cost of living crisis, the majority of the time it is not worth the hassle for EU member states to import things from the UK. Since Brexit was officially ratified, it has become common for stores in EU countries to simply stop bringing in supplies from the UK due to the expense and time-consuming nature.
Copyright Regulations After Brexit
So what about copyright law? Like all other legal issues, Brexit has influenced this too, and there has been a change in the relationship between the EU member states and the UK.
As we've mentioned, the UK had the publishing rights for English-language books in the EU (this is naturally because English originated in the UK, and when they were part of the EU, they were the member states with the most native English speakers). However, since the UK left the EU, they no longer have automatic rights to this market. Basically, they are no longer a part of the EU, so they don't have as much sway in the EU market. So in order to get deals done, publishers from the UK would have to negotiate with countries individually. But due to Brexit, this has become more complicated.
The EU has its own laws, and its law relating to copyright is that publishers must have the rights to sell books in all the EU states, not just a few individual members. So basically, if a UK publisher wanted to strike a deal with the EU, they would be negotiating with every country that is a part of the Union, and if they are rejected by one, they are rejected by them all. This is one of the complex challenges for Brexit publishing that has come up due to EU law.
While that's the case in the EU, there has not been much change elsewhere. If a UK author wants to have publishing deals throughout the Americas, Africa, or Asia, their now non-EU member status doesn't really influence things too much. Authors and publishers negotiate exclusive territorial rights on their own and make a contract for publishing in various countries, so for places outside of the EU, there is not much change.
Publishing Challenges After Brexit
So there are many Brexit challenges for UK publishing, with issues from the UK point of view and the point of view of countries trying to work with the UK. Here's a summary of three of the big issues that have arisen between Brexit and UK publishing.
- Following Brexit, there were fears of recession, and after the world experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, those fears came through. Adding to that, global political unrest has led to a cost of living crisis. This means that people in the UK and further afield are eager to spend less money. Brexit is one of the many global issues that have led to political tensions. These tensions have had a knock-on effect because people are spending less, and as mentioned earlier, everything is more expensive these days. That means UK publishers can't gamble on books they print as much, and average people in the UK have to be more careful of what they spend their money on. So people can't afford to buy as many books. Everything from production to publishing to purchasing has changed with Brexit due to price inflation.
- Traveling to and from the UK is a major issue that has been brought about by Brexit. This means people going to the UK for book fares or meetings regarding publishing will have a more difficult time just getting into the country. At the same time, it's harder to get from the UK to anywhere in the EU. So, really, visiting the UK in person to book fares is largely impractical for a lot of people.
- Goods being shipped too and from the UK take longer to travel through the EU due to Brexit. Because the UK and the EU are not in the same common market anymore, there is significantly more hassle in trying to transport goods. There is so much paperwork, and any kind of mistake will result in goods being returned to the sender. It has become very common for products (including book shipments) to be sent back with a note saying that they did not clear customs. Previously, there was freedom of movement for goods from the UK to EU countries, but Brexit has meant this is no longer the case.
The publishing challenges after Brexit have a global impact and will not be solved anytime soon.
Book Export Opportunities Post-Brexit
We've established then that there are issues due to Brexit and UK publishing, and the industry has to learn how to deal with them. At the same time, with all challenges, there are opportunities that come along too. Let's look at some of the potential opportunities that have appeared for US-based publishers since Brexit.
- A major impact of Brexit has been the weakening of ties between the UK and EU, and as we've looked at, this has meant it is more of a hassle for these two entities to do business. That does, however, offer an opportunity for the USA. There are close ties between the UK and the USA and between the EU and the USA. These relationships could be boosted due to the loosening of ties between the UK and USA.
- The USA is a major English language distributor and could benefit from Brexit as EU members and other countries could now look for an alternative to the UK as a major seller of English language texts. The USA is one of the most influential countries in the world in terms of the economy and cultural exports, and with English being so widely preferred as the language to conduct business in, Brexit has offered the USA a chance to strengthen their grip on the English-speaking market.
- Now that the UK is no longer a part of the EU, UK-based authors need to seek out new contacts. As the UK and USA have long had a close relationship, and with the shared language, it would be a natural step for UK authors to attempt to establish ties with USA-based publishers and look for US dollar income.
These are three ways in which the USA-based publishing industry could get more business due to Brexit. While there are publishing challenges after Brexit, some of them are possible to work around. For starters, online shopping has become so globalized that digital distributors can still be very successful. In addition to this, remote working and meetings have become more common, so there are ways to get around travel issues too. It is also possible to promote books globally through online means, so there are reasons for hope. The world has become a very globalized, connected place, which is why, even at TUW, we have writers from all over the world. So, there are both publishing and book export opportunities post-Brexit in the industry.
Brexit is a complex matter and, to this very day, remains contentious both in the UK and around the EU. There are new Brexit challenges for UK publishing; however, there are also opportunities. There are many issues when it comes to Brexit and UK publishing, but these have led to book export opportunities post-Brexit in markets further afield, such as the USA.