This year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair began with “a positive vibe” for many UK fairgoers, despite some anticipating a “rocky road” ahead as the impact of Brexit begins to hit their businesses.
A large UK contingent is at BCBF 2017—122 UK companies are exhibiting, second only to Italy’s 148—in the week after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, the clause that formally begins the two-year process of the UK leaving the European Union.
Usborne UK and commercial sales manager Christian Herrison noted a “positive vibe” at the fair, and said Brexit had rarely been mentioned in meetings at the fair. But he added: “I’d say Brexit is not at the forefront of people’s minds, but it’s there. It’s a concern. The only effect we’ve felt is the drop in the pound, which is hurting lots of publishers and making print buying more expensive. We will have to review r.r.p.s and how we produce books, and consider things such as whether we can afford to put as many stickers in our sticker books.”
United Agents’ Jodie Hodges echoed Herrison’s concerns. She said: “I worry about the costs of expensive books: picture books, novelty, pop-ups, board books etc. If the pound continues to suffer then the costs associated with producing these books will rise and inevitably start having an effect on authors and illustrators... It’s possible that advances and royalties will be hit.”
Hodges also pointed out the “Catch-22” for illustrators: they “are already barely earning enough from their advances and royalties, and they are also discouraged from publishing too widely for fear of cannibalising their own sales (domestically and internationally)... If it becomes even harder [for them] to earn a living from books then this will become a bigger issue.”
Agent Ben Illis said “the path ahead is a rocky one”, and he too envisioned a squeeze on authors and illustrators as publishers’ costs rose. Yet there may be a bright side, he said. “This may provoke a shake-up in the standard terms of agreement between authors and publishers. It may even open the door to some interesting new contractual models, which many would say would not be before time.”
David Bucknor, group sales and marketing director at Little Tiger, said “all of the indicators are positive” for the publisher at this year’s fair. Like Illis, he saw some benefits to Brexit. He said: “It’s very early [to discern its full impact] but we are seeing some benefits, such as exchange rates with our North American customers.”
Carine Delagrave, foreign rights director at Quarto, said: “We have good distribution and growing business abroad but we do have some concerns about Brexit. We have many Europeans working in the business— especially in the rights department and most of our customers are European. But so far, we have not been affected. Our orders are growing.”