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Independent publishers fear “no-deal Brexit disaster”

Independent publishers in the UK fear they could be forced to close as a no-deal Brexit pushes tight publishing margins into the red

Independent publishing companies in the UK are warning of a potential “disaster” in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which could see companies forced to close.

Peter Buck, Director from Elsewhen Press, a small independent publishing house specialising in speculative fiction, said: “When it comes to the likely impact of a no-deal Brexit disaster, we know the costs of printing (books and also marketing material etc.) will go up as paper and ink is predominantly imported from mainland Europe. If there are the predicted queues/delays at the ports then printing will take longer (and probably become more expensive again as printers compete for reduced supply) as most printers don’t have the capacity for large stockpiles.”

He also warned that shipping costs were also likely to increase, definitely when distributing to the EU, but potentially also within the UK in the event of fuel shortages, which were revealed to be a planning assumption of the Government in leaked ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ documents.

Forced to “give up publishing”

Further delays to shipping and distribution are also expected as a result of new customs processes, which could also add to the tax burdens publishers face, squeezing already-tight margins and potentially making publishing an entirely unviable prospect.

Buck explained, “Our margins (like most indies) are small, so increasing costs of production and shipping (our two largest costs) will quite possibly make continuing no longer viable, it’s not really feasible to put the cover price of the books up. We are digital first, so one option would be to switch to digital-only. But I think the authors would object to that as the physical feel and smell of a new book is one of the experiences they all crave (whether they are first time authors or long-standing bestselling authors!).

“Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to give up publishing within a year if there’s a no-deal Brexit.”

Peter Buck, Director, Elsewhen Press.

“Terrified”

Other independent publishers are equally pessimistic about the impact of a no-deal Brexit. Sam Jordison, founder of Galley Beggar Press, told The Bookseller:

“We’re terrified, we are genuinely terrified. There’s all kinds of other reasons to object to Brexit but from a practical point of view it’s going to completely screw us. The main concern is that this is potentially going to put people out of business. Not even potentially, it is going to put people out of business. Our margins are small so rising costs are already a nightmare – that’s only going to get worse. Paper, transport are going to go up – even with a deal that stuff is problematic.”

“The costs have already begun”

And for independent publishers, these fears aren’t simply speculation. For many, the impact of Brexit is already being felt.

With the pound having sunk in value by 16% since the referendum in 2016, publishers have already been feeling the impact of Brexit in terms of increased costs due to the exchange rate slide. Alongside this, multiple independent publishing companies are reporting a drop off in sales, as readers are forced to prioritise where they are spending reduced funds.

David Henningham, of Henningham Family Press, said: “For me the costs have already begun, and it is production costs mainly. I had to re-cost an entire project and relocate production to UK because of inflation and currency fluctuations effecting leases on printing machines and consumables like ink. With a no-deal it will effect coloured foils and pigments that come from USA and Korea via the EU.”

And HFP, who have won awards for their production of beautiful, hand-crafted books, added that while some companies may just about be able to manage, the scale of the economic challenge of no-deal could be catastrophic for the rest of the industry. Henningham explained:

“The second problem [with Brexit] has been inflation from building in a buffer of up to 20% on individual printing processes for the first no-deal deadline that was extended, and now has been extended for a second time. That’s between 10% – 40% increase in costs so far for no reason other than meet inflation. And this is while the rest of the world is leaving recession behind. I’m flexible enough to find solutions, but I worry about bigger Indies with higher overheads and less flexibility.”

No clear solution?

Yet with an incumbent Prime Minister with no majority, who has now been found to have broken the law, misled the queen, and unlawfully suspended Parliament, yet who says he will refuse to obey the law binding him to ask for an extension to Brexit, the deadline for a potential no-deal could be just weeks away. For an industry that relies on certainty, the biggest constitutional crisis for centuries threatens to destroy the livelihoods for writers and publishers alike – potentially decimating British literary culture in doing so.

But what do publishers see as the solution? Of those we spoke to, all were united in their belief that everything must be done to avert no-deal, and provide businesses like theirs with clear time to prepare for a more certain outcome.

For Henningham, he said he favoured the idea of a long extension, saying: “I’d support the French idea of a two-year extension to keep prices under control.”

Whether or not this is the outcome we’ll end up with remains – as with so much of Brexit – unclear.

Want to support independent publishing? Why not consider buying some books from some of the 50 independent and alternative book publishers we’ve featured in this list.

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