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In a wide-ranging speech that celebrated the gains made by the publishing industry during the pandemic and the way books helped people cope, Bloomsbury founder and chief executive Nigel Newton, speaking as the new president of the UK’s Publishers Association (PA), also warned of the dangers posed by the power of the tech companies.
“We have to address the issues which threaten the financial viability of book publishing [including] what has now become a dependence on tech platforms as a major route to our customers. It is not in the long term interest of readers, authors or the UK’s world leading publishing industry when that dependence can be exploited by those platforms.”
Newton feels that too much power lies with Amazon, though he didn’t specifically name the online giant. He said: “That is why I am calling today on the Government to live up to its commitments and bring forward legislation in the Queen’s Speech next month to give the Digital Markets Unit at the Competitions and Markets Authority the power and the teeth it needs to do its job.
“This is the only way that we can ensure fairness reigns in negotiations between tech platforms and their suppliers as it now does in the grocery industry since similar action was taken thirteen years ago for that industry. I hope we will soon see action at a European level, with the EU already agreeing legislation to regulate digital market “gatekeepers”.”
He said that he was worried about the dependency of the industry as a whole on large tech platforms as gatekeepers to retail markets, saying it gave rise to a gross imbalance of power. His message to the Secretary of State at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport was simple: “You must restrain the tech platforms through legislation now or we risk publishing’s future.”
But in his address at the PA’s AGM he also praised one tech platform for driving people into bookshops: TikTok. He said TikTok had has empowered a new generation of readers to engage with each other in a more powerful and authentic way than ever before. A clear trend emerged in the pandemic for cathartic books that moved readers to tears. BookTok in particularly taught publishers that trends can’t be solely manufactured or dictated by companies – it is a social network that thrives on fun, authentic, ephemeral content from real readers”.