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Brexit – the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) – poses a threat to the diversity of the UK and European publishing market, Faber chief executive Stephen Page told delegates in his keynote address at the Quantum Conference in London, ahead of the London Book Fair.
“The number of ways a book, or a writer, can be published and gain attention have, happily, expanded in interesting directions,” he began, after giving a potted history of how the industry has changed in the last 25 years. “The danger is that this diverse ecosystem is built on foundations that are open to threat. The dominance of the US digital businesses referred to as FAANG – Facebook, Apples, Amazon, Netflix, Google – are tearing up many established and valuable structures in many industries, and sustaining much of the diversity in the publishing dependent on sensible controls being applied to these businesses to ensure that fair competition remains. Once we leave the EU, our chance of ensuring that fairness seems to be to be reduced significantly as Brussels has demonstrated greater appetite for this than Westminster.”
He believes that what can seem like a domestic problem for the UK can have global implications. He thinks there are rising issues of particular importance to publishers in the UK that result from, or are greatly exacerbated, by Brexit. He observed: “While [publishers] seem aligned on the critical importance of copyright, it is also true that territorial copyright must be at the centre of our future ecosystem. I fear there are those who believe that global English language markets are in their interests, both retailers and publishers. They are not. If you look at the brilliant publishing being done in the independent sector by small, British companies, you can see why readers are so well served.”
He went on to list successful British houses such as Pushkin and Cassava Republic, and hail the vibrancy of an independent sector that supports writers from many backgrounds, a diversity that can be socio-demographic, racial, regional or sexual. “This depends on a rich ecosystem within bookselling, publishing and media. Allowing breaches of territory will erode this ecosystem and dilute our rich environment.”
His views put him at odds with HarperCollins whose UK CEO Charlie Redmayne is keen on global publishing.
Finally, he ended on a positive note, stressing the importance of editors to publishers, the responsibility of publishers to society and the energy and different values of a younger generation coming in. “There is a generation entering publishing today that will make if their own, they will make it new. I find them to be vocational, political, diverse and highly educated…We need to be open to this new generation. We need to have the courage to fight for the values we believe in – freedom of speech, respect for ideas and intellectual life, for copyright and the right for an artist to make a living, and for our local market….And as Faber looks ahead to its one hundredth birthday, we will hope to put these values and the centre of our continuing story.”