Save our Books! Government Talks to Change Copyright Laws Could be Disastrous
By Katie Gough
Brexit thus far has brought with it issues of shipping, sales and VAT. Now it brings something more threatening to the publishing industry: a weakening of copyright rules.
Consultation on the Copyright Exhaustion Rule
On 7 June, the Intellectual Property Office announced a consultation on the copyright exhaustion rule, which essentially governs the author’s right to sell within a territory. Right now copyright is territorial. When signing a book contract in the UK, you may sign over English language rights in the UK and Commonwealth countries, or world rights, so the publisher can only sell the books in designated markets. Copyright exhaustion, when reduced to its simplest form, means that after the first sale, a copyright owner no longer has the ability to control distribution of the copyrighted property. The owner of a copy of that work has the right to re-sell, lend, give away or even destroy her or his personal copy of that work. Other markets would not be able to sell this book without a deal, which would include something of benefit to the author. With the “potentially devastating” change that has been discussed, these territorial aspects may be lessened, so editions meant for markets beyond Europe may be exported cheaply into the European market, reducing the money an author makes from a domestic sale. (For more information on copyright exhaustion, the Government website has posted this.)
According to Publishing Perspectives, changing this law could result in books being sold into an export market, then sold back into the UK with the revenue going to the buyer of the original copy, rather than the copyright holder (the publisher/author).
Philip Pullman and Kate Mosse
Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, spoke out against this, with the view that authors should be allowed to be paid fairly for their work, and losing the ability to sell their work abroad may hinder this. He also stressed the importance of copyright law on the reputation of British writing. He said:
“Copyright is simple to understand in principle: authors should have the right to earn a living from their work. If people like their books and buy them, authors should benefit, and the law should support their right to do that.”
Kate Mosse, founder of the Women’s Prize, worried that writers may leave the industry altogether if they are not being paid fairly, and the British cultural landscape will suffer, saying “It will become less diverse, less innovative, less inspiring.”
The 'Save Our Books' Campaign
Well, all is not lost yet. Industry partners The Publishers Association, the Society of Authors, the Association of Authors’ Agents, and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society have launched the ‘Save Our Books’ campaign. Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said:
“The strength of the UK's copyright laws is key to ensuring that authors and publishers are paid for their work. Weakening these laws would be devastating to authors' income and the wider UK book industry, resulting in fewer books, by fewer authors, for fewer readers. It's vital that everyone who values this country's literary future calls on the government to ‘Save Our Books’."
Isobel Dixon, president of the Association of Authors’ Agents, reiterated Kate Mosse’s views, saying that a change to international exhaustion would be:
“eviscerating, seriously impacting not just the incomes of publishers, agents and the authors who are at the creative centre of it all, but also limiting choice, quality and diversity.”
This has three knock-on effects, all of them negative. Authors’ livelihoods would be significantly impacted, with royalties on export sales much lower than on UK sales, and if all books are sold into the UK from other territories, domestic sales royalties would be at a high risk. There would also be the destruction of creative export markets. The UK Publishing industry’s revenue relies heavily on export, and it is predicted that this could result in a loss of 25% (or almost £1 billion). Finally, there would be damage to the high-street and the independent bookstores as books are sold cheaply online.
The ‘Save Our Books’ campaign is trying to fight this with appeals such as:
“If you turned to books for comfort in lockdown, or love this incredibly important creative industry – join us and help to Save our Books.”
You can get involved on Twitter. Their Twitter account has 322 followers, gained in less than a month. Their announcement tweet recieved
a great response with nine replies, 114 retweets and 109 likes.* The tweet directs you to the campaign website where you can send a letter to your MP. Here, you can find your MP and send a template email to them whilst the consultation occurs. For more involvement, the campaign has a selection of images and assets that can be shared to any Twitter account which you can find here.
The government consultation closes at 11.45 p.m. on 31 August. With so much industry support, can we save our books and the publishing industry as we know it?
*All numbers correct at the time of writing.
Waterstones Announces a Profit after Tax Drop
By Katie Gough
For Waterstones, sales for the year ending April 2020 were £376 million, down 4.3%. Despite this, there was an operational profit of £32.6 million up from £29.7 million the year before. Foyles also reported a loss on the previous year after taxation, at £1.8 million, having invested heavily into new stores and refurbishment costs.
The pandemic is to blame according to the retailer, with Managing Director, James Daunt, telling The Bookseller that “it took a while to sort of get to grips with it, you’ve got all the PPE costs and putting yourself effectively into sort of hibernation. I think we sort of did that, we certainly acted very quickly and that stood us in pretty good stead to take us through the year that then followed which has obviously been pretty frustrating.”
Central London branches have been hit the worst, with the stores in Leadenhall and Liverpool Street still being closed, as they are in other city areas.
Daunt celebrated their status as a huge board games and puzzles retailer, which helped to solve people’s lockdown boredom saying: “We literally sold every single puzzle that we could get hold of which is fantastic, we are a major puzzle retailer and always have been.”
Waterstones have benefited from the COVID-19 Job Retention Scheme, as well as business rates relief for the 2020/21 tax year. A further year, with similar dynamics, has passed since these results, but a spokesperson has voiced with positivity for the future: “We thank our customers for their loyalty and our booksellers for the discipline and steadfast commitment they have shown throughout this period. It allows the company to enter the 2021/22 financial year in a strong position and well-placed for a return to growth in both sales and profits compared to the 2019/20 financial year.”
This comes after news that Waterstones and Penguin Random House have had a difficult few months. It was announced at the beginning of May that Waterstones had reduced prominence of PRH books, leaving them on shelves, instead of displaying them in their usual hotspots due to a credit limit dispute. But, a huge relief followed on 4 June when the dispute was resolved. Authors caught in the crossfire welcomed the news, with agent Aitken Alexander hoping that “there might be opportunities to be found to pick up on some of the PRH books that were published into the last weeks of lockdown and re-opening during the period of the dispute, as there are many authors whose sales will have been adversely affected."
Bloomsbury Acquires Head of Zeus for £8.5 million
By Naomi Churn
On Wednesday 2 June, Bloomsbury announced that it had completed the acquisition of independent publishing house, Head of Zeus, in a deal valued at £8.5 million. This new move for one of the UK’s leading independent publishers comes off the back of a record-breaking year in sales for the company.
Founded in 2012, Head of Zeus has been trading independently for nine years. In that time it has built up a strong backlist, including bestselling authors such as Dan Jones, Cixin Liu, Victoria Hislop, Lesley Thomson and Elodie Harper, whose recent novel The Wolf Den was released last month to rave reviews. Details regarding the deal revealed that Head of Zeus will continue to function as an independent imprint within Bloomsbury’s consumer division. It will still be run by Chairman Anthony Cheetham and CEO Nicolas Cheetham out of their existing Clerkenwell offices.
Speaking about the acquisition, Bloomsbury founder and CEO Nigel Newton stated that Head of Zeus will “provide a strong addition to Bloomsbury's thriving consumer division and support our long-term consumer growth strategy, with new high-quality authors and effective publishing across all formats, including e-book and audio.”
Head of Zeus have echoed Newton’s positive sentiments. In a statement on their website, Anthony Cheetham announced: “after nine vigorous years as an independent publisher, I believe that Head of Zeus, our authors, our staff and our shareholders have found the right long-term home for our company with Bloomsbury.”
The news has also garnered largely positive reactions from authors and agents, many of whom believe the younger publisher’s prominent backlist heralds a particular area of growth potential for Bloomsbury. Head of Zeus are also known innovators in the market, particularly in the digital sphere. For instance, following their 2017 win of Independent Publisher of the Year, the competition judges stated: “from start-up to profitable multi-million pound business in just four years, Head of Zeus is one of the brightest stars of trade publishing – a textbook example of using e-books to get traction.” Eyes are now firmly on Bloomsbury to see how they will use their reach and thirty-five years of trade expertise to profit from Head of Zeus’ innovative approach to publishing.
However, there are those who express a note of concern about the deal, particularly what this will mean for existing staff and authors on Head of Zeus’ roster. Some have warned that takeovers are inevitably profit-driven, leading to redundancies and streamlining. Though Newton claims that no changes are planned, how the ramifications of this deal will play out for the publishing industry in the long term remains to be seen.