Brexit handling is 'a disaster', say indie publishers

Brexit handling is 'a disaster', say indie publishers

As the deadline towards finalising Brexit inches ever closer, independent publishers have warned the lack of certainty around a concrete agreement will pose multiple problems for them, including a hike in costs and a disrupted supply chain.

Many presses The Bookseller spoke to anticipate difficulties ranging from printing to posting items abroad, and most are not confident a beneficial deal will be negotiated at this stage.

Sam Jordison, publisher and co-founder of Galley Beggar, said the economic implications of hastily agreed deal are unlikely to be favourable: “There might be a deal—but whatever we're getting looks like it's going to be a disaster. Any deal is better than no deal—but at this stage we're only going to get very slim pickings compared to the advantages of actually being in the EU,” he said.

Like many other independent presses, Brexit poses challenges for Galley Beggar logistically, and looks likely to increase costs at a time when indies are weathering pandemic conditions, and retailers are closing again in line with government restrictions. “There are going to be huge impacts for us, ranging from the cost of printing right down to sudden potential difficulties related to posting and receiving individual goods from abroad, “Jordison explained. “That and the fact that it's going to smash into an already ravaged economy when we're already fighting to sustain sales and our subscriber base.”

He added: "The only good thing that's going to come out of it for publishers are the many books people are still going to be able to write about the criminality and stupidity of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings. But that won't make up for the shame and misery they've inflicted on us all.”

Oneworld publisher Juliet Mabey also suggested a hike in costs would be a likely outcome, influenced by a possible devaluation of the British pound. “It is hard to know what impact any as yet unknown deal will have on our business, but publishers did discuss the possibility of a no-deal Brexit 18 months or so ago, and the main concerns were the likelihood of increased costs due to a variety of possible factors,” she explained. 

“Among these are a possible further devaluing of the pound, along with likely delays at ports that in turn would increase transport costs and this might also require publishers to offer extra credit to export customers. The other cost factors relate to staff shortages, with a general increase in the cost of transporting books within the UK due to higher wages as a result of a shortage of truck drivers, and as most warehouse staff are EU nationals, wage bills could rise if they leave the UK and there is a resultant shortage of staff, costs which will be passed on to publishers.

She also said that delays getting Oneworld’s books to European accounts could mean a switch to sourcing books from American publishers—“a concern to all publishers here with Open Market rights in Europe.”

Sara Hunt, publisher and founder of Saraband predicted the interruption of production would be a major hindrance to presses nationwide. “The flow of goods across our borders will be very severely disrupted, so for the first quarter we’ll be suspending overseas production to avoid books getting stuck in transit for unknown periods,” she said. “But local production for everything will add to our costs. And, perhaps even more worryingly, the knock-on effect of every publisher doing this means that there won't be enough printing capacity – especially given that there's a backlog of all those books rescheduled during lockdown."

She warned that small and independent publishers would see delays in material supply chains and spike in costs for printing. “Small publishers won’t do well out of this squeeze in capacity and rise in production prices, because the suppliers will inevitably have plans in place to protect their large customers first. All this combined with likely continued social distancing in factories and warehouses, which will further slow down capacity and distribution, spells a vexed spring, to say the least,” she added. “I also anticipate sales being hit, both in European exports and perhaps rights, too.”

However Adam Freudenheim, publisher and managing director at Pushkin Press, said that he was taking precautionary measures by shoring up stock with European wholesalers, but felt that, in the long run, the publishing industry will weather the Brexit storm: “I feel like there are so many unknowns around whether or not they’ll be a deal, what kind of deal it would be, etc that we’re not doing a whole lot of preparation or worrying about this too much to be honest.

“We’re making sure we have plenty of stock of our bestselling back- and frontlist titles and asking European wholesalers to stock up before the end of the year if they wish. Though I still think—personally—that Brexit is terrible for the country, I suspect that it will be fine for publishers over the medium to long term, one way or another. Not to mention that there are so many other things to be concerned about at the moment due to the ongoing pandemic and the local and regional lockdowns including the temporary closure of bookstores in some places.”

Major publishers Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins said they are taking extensive measures to pre-empt the disruptions a no-deal Brexit would be likely to bring.

Ian Chapman, c.e.o. at S&S, told The Bookseller: “It is immensely difficult to predict how the Brexit negotiations will pan out. As such, we have to prepare as a business for any eventuality. We have a team of people, led by Russell Evans (the commercial director), who have explored all the areas which may be impacted and are working closely with our printers and freight forwarder to mitigate delays and disruptions.”

A HarperCollins spokesperson added: “With the deadline fast approaching for the end of the transition period and the beginning of border controls with the EU, we are preparing for a new trading environment. We have in place a cross-functional working party which is preparing the business for this change, looking at market access and new customs procedures to ensure as smooth a transition as possible and continuity of service to our customers.”

Despite the forecast disruptions, Jasmine Richards, editorial director at children's fiction development company Storymix, suggested publishers were looking past Brexit and focusing on rallying themselves in the long term. “Publishers still seem very keen to acquire and are pretty bullish overall,” she said. “The books Storymix are selling won’t come out for the most part until 2022, and publishers are definitely looking long term in the building of their lists.”