December 20, 2017
With Brexit imminent, British publishers worry over their futures on the European market
by Alex Primiani
The headline reads “Brexit will usher in a dark chapter for new British authors, warns publisher,” but two phrases that could send chills down one’s spine make up the lede in Mark Sweney’s recent (and rather ominously-titled) Guardian piece: “Brexit” and “Harry Potter.’ According to Nigel Newton of Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling’s British publisher, Brexit might make it much harder for British authors to land massive book deals.
Before the UK voted to leave the EU, British publishers had a leg up when it came to exclusive English-language rights throughout Europe. Now, US publishers see the playing field evening out.
Earlier this year, the Bookseller’s news reporter, Katherine Cowdrey, covered Simon & Schuster publisher Carolyn Reidy’s remarks at the Frankfurt Book Fair concerning the opening European market after the Brexit vote. It’s clear Reidy sees unprecedented opportunities for US publishers to lay more claim to a heretofore guarded market:
“You asked me about Brexit: I will say, to my mind at least, the argument the British have used to grab Europe as an exclusive market will then be over,” said Reidy. “They will try [to make other arguments],” she continued. “There are a lot of different issues as to the question of competitiveness in Europe and I don’t think there is necessarily a case to be made. If someone made a case that they could do better if they had it exclusively than if it’s an open market, agents will listen to them. If they can’t make the argument, they won’t. So, we’ll have our arguments too.”
(Reidy also used the panel to defend her company’s decision to publish hate-mongers like Milo Yiannopoulos.)
How will this affect writers? While the predicted outcome is in itself terrible, it doesn’t feel particularly new, at least not for American writers. “British publishers will be forced to focus on keeping their star writers happy, potentially offering them more lucrative deals to keep European rights. As a result, financially pressured British publishers are likely to become more risk-averse in signing and promoting new and aspiring authors,” Sweney writes.
A more open European market might also mean a more pervasive American presence on the continent’s literary scene. But with many already displeased that American authors have begun winning historically British awards (since the committee opened up the Man Booker Prize to all English-language writers, the award has gone to two American authors in a row), more change is likely to be unwelcome.
Sweney interviews Stephen Lotinga, the chief executive of the Publishers Association, who says, “The UK is the number one exporter of books anywhere in the world and it is incredibly important that we don’t do anything that undermines that. We have been urging the government to secure a deal with the European Union which ensures we continue to have the fullest possible access to our largest single market so that one of the most successful creative industries the UK has can continue to thrive.”
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.