98 UK publishers have gone bust over the last 12 months
by Amy Conchie
You’d think that by now the damage to the publishing industry inflicted by the rise of the internet might be bottoming out. Not so. Ninety-eight publishers declared insolvency over the past year in the UK, including Evans Brothers, which had been in business for over one hundred years and was the original publisher of popular children’s author Enid Blyton. This represents a 42% increase over last year, when the number of insolvent publishers was sixty-nine.
The numbers were released by accounting firm Wilkins Kennedy, which attributed the rising bankruptcies to a combination of steep discounting on ebooks, textbook piracy, and a huge expansion of the online discount and second-hand book market thanks to Amazon.
Publishers in the UK were formerly protected by the Net Book Agreement, which was in effect from 1900 to 1995 and kept book prices static for all merchants. Books could only be discounted if they were second-hand or damaged, which led to many booksellers defacing books with markers or hole-punching the covers in order to offer reductions.
In 1991 there was a minor scuffle as competing chains Dillons and Waterstones both flouted the pact to discount bestsellers in the lead-up to the Christmas season. As more booksellers joined in the discounting the agreement fell apart, and was ruled illegal in 1997 for opposing the public interest.
While booksellers were initially buoyed by the dissolution of the Net Book Agreement, posting record sales, it opened the door to competitors such as supermarket chains and online retailers who offered books at even steeper discounts. According to one BBC report more than 500 independent booksellers had gone out of business between 1995 and 2009.
Booksellers haven’t given up though: 2012 saw 39 new independent UK booksellers opening their doors, just over half of the number that shut down in the same period.
Amy Conchie is assistant to the publisher at Melville House.