Defending UK success

When I stepped down as president of the Association of Authors’ Agents last month, I thought about the challenges that authors and agents face in today’s creative and publishing landscape, and also about what the AAA has been trying to do about them.

A few years ago, with the rise of self-publishing, some were asking what role agents would play in the future. Couldn’t their functions be replaced by an automated copyright licensing "hub"? Any agent has a battery of responses to assertions such as these, beginning with discovery and development, but never ending with the deal alone: good agenting is an ongoing relationship with a client, and with a publisher on their behalf. But the AAA, and the agenting profession, has also grown in profile in recent years.

Comprising around 100 member agencies, who represent the majority of mainstream trade authors published in the UK, the AAA is now a named body that the Intellectual Property Office has consulted on various publishing-related matters. It provided evidence that helped to shape the UK’s response to Europe’s Digital Single Market proposals. And it’s kept abreast of the implications Brexit could have on our businesses and our clients, whether participating in round-tables on Brexit "opportunities" for business and seminars on the future of IP, or providing one-on-one feedback to Downing Street on the concerns of our sector and stressing how these should be taken into account as laws are transitioned. We’ve also introduced agents and authors to parliamentarians in the course of events such as British IP Day.

I noted something said by a senior lawyer, Sally Britton of Mishcon de Reya, on one such occasion: "The opportunity for the creative industries with Brexit is to be engaged, not to come in as an afterthought or be reactive." And every MP, government representative or civil servant I have met in the past six years has said: "Tell us what you need from us." In this spirit, the AAA co-sponsored a drinks reception at Parliament on 17th January to launch Trading Places: The UK’s IP Future, a report published by the Alliance for Intellectual Property to which the AAA, and other industry bodies, contributed. It took as guests two authors, Misha Glenny (of McMafia fame), and Deborah Moggach, whose film forays have had phenomenonal success. Each exemplifies superlative British talent, achieving bestseller status and having been translated into all the major foreign-language territories, but they also demonstrate the creative and commercial ripple effect that British IP can cause, whether gripping viewers worldwide as they watch our locally produced international drama, or triggering alternative explorations of retired life.

In the course of the AAA’s public affairs work, it’s become used to citing a few key statistics. It won’t hurt to spell them out here.

The UK’s creative, branded and design industries are a global success story. The Creative Industries Federation estimates that they contribute over £92bn (gross value added) to the UK, with 1.9 million jobs directly created. The Publishers Association has estimated that the publishing industry’s total revenues were £4.8bn in 2016, with exports of our authors’ works worth £3.1bn.

UK publishing’s export trade is not restricted to physical copies. The UK hosts a significant publishing rights licensing industry: rights income in 2016 amounted to £510m. AAA members reported a total value of licences of £381m in 2016, of which approximately 50% were derived from sales overseas (21% of the overall figure in the US, and 27% in translation). It is in this sector that AAA members are seeing significant growth (55% of members reported their sales were up in the US, and 39% up in translation, in 2015–16).

To defend and nurture these extraordinary achievements, we’re urging all parliamentarians to consider the following five key things as they review the report and any legislation.

1. Maintenance of, and respect for, the UK’s robust IP regime: copyright, in the case of authors. It’s a global gold standard, and UK government should promote this to those with whom we trade. Without this guarantee, an author, the initiator of IP, cannot afford to invest in the creative act.

2. As our nearest, and potentially largest market, we need to retain a positive influence over European legislation such as the Digital Single Market; the outcome of EU debates about copyright will still affect the UK.

3. We are all concerned about potential higher costs of doing business: higher import costs, or higher costs selling to the EU. There is also a practical need to synch the requirements of different tax regimes in order to facilitate rights trading and the collection of monies by authors—currently a frustrating, time-consuming process.

4. There are also the challenges of markets that allow parallel imports; of preserving exclusivity in markets in accordance with the licence granted for online or other sales; and policing piracy. All are factors that leave British booksellers and publishers vulnerable to incursions.

5. The creative industries need to be able to continue to recruit workers with languages and country-specific knowledge in relation to our licensing export markets, ensuring our skilled workforce is as diverse as the readerships we wish to reach.

Without these provisions, projects such as Glenny’s and Moggach’s simply would not exist.

The event was addressed by the (freshly reshuffled) Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, Matt Hancock. He was bang on message, saying: "Imagine there was no James Bond. Imagine there was no Harry Potter. Imagine there was no ‘Imagine’. Who can say what cultural brilliance would have been robbed from our nation if artists couldn’t reap the rewards of their creation? We have one of the best IP regimes in the world... IP is vital to encouraging creativity and as a government we are committed to protecting it and closing the value gap that fails to reward our creators. It is no exaggeration to say that respect for IP underpins this nation’s prosperity."

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.