Trade vows to face challenge of Brexit

Trade vows to face challenge of Brexit

Amid a mix of shock, dismay and jubilation at the "Leave" camp's victory in the EU referendum, senior industry figures have vowed to hold off on taking any steps in response until the implications of the result become clear, and to take a positive approach to the challenges ahead. But there have also been warnings of an "enormous amount of work" in the future.

Waterstones m.d. James Daunt, a strong Remain supporter, said: "We will do nothing in the short term. We face deep uncertainty and will learn over the next months quite how challenging the retail environment may become. Personally, I will be turning off the radio and putting aside the paper to seek solace in a good book. The Essex Serpent looks excellent."

Tim Godfrey, chief executive of The Booksellers Association, called the vote “a seismic decision", saying: "With so much uncertainty prevalent, what the Government has to do is to introduce as much ‘Certainty’ as possible for consumers and business. We need to have clarity on how the disengagement process will work? And what will be the ‘shape’ of our future relationship with the EU?”

Tim Hely Hutchinson, Hachette UK c.e.o., who has also been an outspoken "Remain" supporter, commented: "My colleagues and I are disappointed at the outcome of the EU referendum. We wanted a Remain vote for both cultural and economic reasons. The various uncertainties are likely to be bad for business but Hachette is a strong, international publisher and we will stay strong whatever happens. We are not planning any action until there is more clarity, and we shall always be more interested in any case in the long-term success of the house."

Many took a pragmatic line. In a note sent to staff this morning, Penguin Random House UK c.e.o. Tom Weldon said: "Whatever the headlines or immediate financial market response, it is worth bearing in mind that there is a two-year minimum period of negotiation before Britain will actually leave and during this time our country will still have to abide by EU law. This is uncharted territory and no-one knows what the full impact of this change will be – either positive or negative.

"We will spend the coming months evaluating the long term implications for how we will trade and do business and will ensure that we are in the best possible shape to thrive in the new world. We are fortunate to be able to do this from a robust financial position and as part of a global company and for now it is very much business as usual."

Bonnier Publishing group c.e.o. Richard Johnson said: "The sensible approach is to avoid making long-term decisions in the chaos of the next few weeks. For us, we will hold the line and keep our market share whatever the short term profit consequence. Our significant expansion plans remain unchanged, though we are likely to now shift where that growth will come from."

Pan Macmillan m.d. Anthony Forbes Watson sounded a philosophical note, saying: "I'm disconcerted by the new reality, but remind myself that change can bring fresh perspectives and opportunities.  I'm testing the old cliche about clouds, and am starting my search for that silver lining!" Marcus Leaver, c.e.o. of The Quarto Group, also took a pragmatic line: “This isn’t the outcome I was personally hoping for but it is now time to look forward in this new reality. While it is too early to understand fully the potential implications for businesses, Quarto is well-equipped to deal with any potential logistical, financial or legal fall-out. Our international outlook is part of our DNA and will not change. We have reached out to all our partners around the world to offer our support during this uncertain time as we focus resolutely on making and selling great books.”

Alessandro Gallenzi, m.d. of Alma, was also resolute, saying: "I am absolutely devastated with the result of the EU referendum. However, I'm more than ever determined to continue working on the promotion of European literature in Britain, because I love this country and I believe that Britain – historically and culturally – belongs in Europe and is at the very heart of it."

Juliet Mabey, m.d. Of Oneworld, said: "I believe the British publishing industry almost wholly endorsed the Remain campaign, for very good reason. The 10% reduction in the value of the pound will be a huge blow to the industry, in terms of export income. Whether publishers sell rights - and that income is consequently devalued - or like Oneworld publish a large portion of their list in the English-language market themselves, the depressed exchange rate will be hugely significant. A large part of our fiction list is translated, and if the pound stays at this low level it will have obviously further increase the costs involved in publishing fiction in translation, just at the time when it is having something of a revival here as well as in the US and Australia."

The Publishers Association vowed to support members in handling the consequences of the vote. Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association, said: “The result of the referendum must be respected, but will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the UK publishing industry.  We will work with our members to ensure that their interests are protected and their concerns addressed as the Government now embarks on negotiating the manner of the UK's exit.”

Meanwhile author Philip Pullman, president of the Society of Authors, called the result "dreadful". He said: "The politicians responsible for what Sadiq Khan called Project Hate will be judged very harshly by history. Everything in Britain, including the book trade, will be worse off for this; I can't see any good coming out of it at all."

Writer Cathy Cassidy was equally concerned, saying: "I woke up today in a country I didn't recognise... it's a bit like finding yourself in the middle of a Dystopian novel, a badly written one with an implausible but terrifying baddie and that feeling that you're heading for a very scary ending. I thought I understood what we were voting for, but this morning Nigel Farage tells me it was all about war, and that the war has only just begun. His sick parody of the 'I have a dream' speech frightens me. The vote was close, so close - half of the UK is reeling today, the other half joyful, but I am not sure how long that joy will last. I fear that the poorest will be the first to suffer in our brave new Britain, that our NHS will vanish before our very eyes like a half-remembered dream, that our children are heading into a harsh, cold future, a bit like Narnia... always winter, but never Christmas. "

Gordon Wise of Curtis Brown, president of the Association of Authors Agents, commented: "I'm extremely disturbed and depressed. There will be an enormous amount of work to do together to mitigate the damage this will cause to both our international networks of relationships and the livelihoods of us all - not only writers and those in publishing and allied industries. The potential ripple effect is horrific on so many levels." He added: "I think many of us will feel only shame and embarrassment when we next talk to European colleagues. A whole lot of people here have said out loud that they think they are somehow better than others in Europe, and they've done something that's going to affect those people in ways not even imagined, not only ourselves. Of course we will attempt to be resilient, as we all will and always do, but in our line of work we're not used to throwing away ideals, or not working towards them, so it's truly shocking."

Meanwhile Brexit supporters within the trade were jubilant. Biteback publisher Iain Dale commented: "It’s the momentous day of my adult political life. No one should view what has happened as a threat.  It’s only a threat if we let it be a threat. There will be a few bumps along the road but there are tremendous opportunities for Britain as a result of the people’s decision today."

Agent Diane Banks said: "Unshackling from a protectionist, undemocratic, 1950s style regional customs union is the sensible, outward looking course of action for the world’s fifth largest economy in the twenty first century.  It makes particular sense for an industry which produces an English language product and whose natural talent and customer base is in the wider world. In so far as trade agreements will remain relevant, we will be free to negotiate our own terms with those parts of the world which should constitute our largest markets, and to select talent from wherever we like.  I am hugely excited by the possibilities and relieved that the UK has rejected the insular, backward looking entity which is the EU."

Author Susan Hill said: "I voted Leave and am pleased. But re the book industry as any other,or anything else, in the longer term NOBODY KNOWS. So stop doom prophesies ..in the short term, nothing will change. Things always settle down. So...best to wait and see. But it's very exciting ...and hugely challenging. So let's try accepting the challenge."