Bloomsbury c.e.o. Nigel Newton has added his voice to concerns about UK publishers retaining European rights after Brexit.
Speaking to the Guardian, Newton said that once Britain leaves the European Union, Europe will become an open market for British and American publishers to share.
Meanwhile, an unnamed senior publishing executive warned in the same article that the situation could lead to a "really brutal battle and price war" between publishing houses, which could see increased pressure on star authors to maintain profits while newer and less established authors suffer.
“Quite often now, a British publisher of a work will have exclusive rights in Europe – because Britain is part of [the EU],” said Newton. “When Britain isn’t part of Europe, it is possible that it will become more of a shared market with American publishers, an ‘open market’ as it is called. There is a potential issue where more American editions of books could come into the continent than under current arrangements.”
The unnamed senior publishing executive said that some American publishers felt Brexit provided an opportunity to "aggressively assert themselves into Europe" in a way they haven’t been able to previously.
"For very big authors, you could argue there will be more competition for their signatures, they may earn more money post-Brexit," they said. "A really brutal battle and price war between UK and US publishers would see a focus on big names to maintain and drive profits. But everyone further down the chain from star author status is likely to be worse off.”
The executive added: “UK publishers are likely to take less risks on new incoming authors, including paying them less and forcing them to sign away global rights sooner than they would normally, to take a bigger share of earnings. As a new incoming author, it would be hard to resist those sorts of demands. For new and smaller authors, it is likely to be a lot tougher.”
Their comments follow a report by Arts Council England released on Friday (15th December), which warned the outlook for literary fiction was "negative", in part because "risk-averse" corporate publishers were looking after their "bottom lines" and not nurturing midlist authors over the course of their careers.
Trade figures have previously spoken of their concerns over the subject of European rights after Brexit, with the issue a hot talking point at Frankfurt Book Fair this year. At that time Carolyn Reidy, c.e.o. of S&S, said the arguments used by UK publishers to gain exclusive rights to publish in Europe will be redundant after the UK exits the EU.
“[Following Brexit] 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]. 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.”
However, agents have dismissed Reidy’s assertion, with Gordon Wise, agent at Curtis Brown and president of Association of Authors’ Agents, saying that the argument supporting the UK publishers’ claim to exclusivity was “extremely clear”. Wise said: “Why would a British author want their books supplied from America to Europe—Britain’s nearest market—Brexit or no Brexit? Why would a US author want to wait for stock to ship transatlantically when it could be swiftly supplied from within the European geographical continent by their British publisher?”
Conceding that the UK’s EU membership was “technically the strongest argument”, agent Lorella Belli said there were other reasons for UK publishers having exclusivity. She said US publishers often “insisted” on North American rights including Canada for reasons of geographical proximity, arguing “the same logic has to apply to both cases. As far as agents are concerned, we want the publisher who can sell the most books in Europe and at the best possible terms and royalties for our authors. So far, UK publishers have done much better.”
Following Newton's comments, Stephen Lotinga, the chief executive of the Publishers Association, said it was "incredibly important" that nothing was done to "undermine" the UK's position as the number one exporter of books anywhere in the world. "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,” he said.