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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

Publishing News of the Week (20/07/2020)

Uncertain Future for Publishing Scotland in Post-COVID World

Publishing Scotland has warned that the sector is at risk of collapse after it saw a steep drop in income over the past few months as UK went into lockdown.

A survey carried out by the trade body of Scottish publishing found that 42% of publishers have experienced a drop of between 70-90% in sales since the start of lockdown and onwards. A further 33% have experienced a dramatic drop of between 50-70% in sales, whereas 5% have experienced a catastrophic loss of sales of between 90-100%. Overall, 75% of publishers are estimating a drop in sales, on average, of 50% in the next 12 months.

Not only has the sector been hit hard by the high discounting of books before lockdown, but the closure of bookshops and libraries, as well as book festivals/event cancellations, have also heavily rocked the industry. Social distancing measures will make the return of such in-person events difficult. Educational publishers have reported, and are expecting, a rise in piracy as more digital content goes online, particularly as there is a high demand for English language material. In total, 15% of publishers said that they would have to leave their business premises if sales continue to plummet. A further 35% reported they would have to begin looking at redundancies/cutting back on overheads.

The body said in response to these findings:

“If publishers are to survive beyond this immediate period, they will need support that will sustain them and their authors while they are incurring the very necessary upfront costs to get new books ready for the recovery.”

They believe it is “essential to find consensus (and agency coordination) on how best to support not just publishing but the culture ecology in Scotland in general” and suggested creating a digital development fund to aid publishers in reaching both established and new audiences, as well as a “safeguarding and rebuilding fund.”

Meanwhile, the UK government’s recent announcement of a £1.5billion bailout for creative industries across the country is a win for those who relentlessly campaigned for such support. However, at the time of writing this, it is not yet clear whether literary festivals will receive any of the funding. Decisions on where the money is directed is up to government officials and independent representatives from the sector, including Arts Council England, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.

Elsewhere, 150 members of staff at WH Smith’s head offices in London and Swindon, one of the world’s leading retailers for books and conveniences, have already begun redundancy consultations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Whether a pattern is emerging here regarding the economic impact of COVID-19 on the publishing/book industry across the country is likely to become clearer in the upcoming weeks/months. If anything is clear, it will not be like before and we could potentially see many losses throughout the industry, despite the much-needed governmental support.

The Publishers Association Present New Audio Reading List for Parliamentarians

The Publishers Association has produced a 2020 summer audio reading list for parliamentarians in a bid to abolish the VAT on audiobooks and make reading more accessible for all. The list, titled “Summer Stories”, is separated into five different categories, which demonstrate the variety of genres the audiobook market has to offer. They are as follows: “fall in love,” “laugh,” “learn,” “cry” and “gasp.” The Publishers Association also note that all the audiobooks on the list were nominated by their own members. The list itself includes exciting titles launched this summer, such as Two Stories by Sally Rooney, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite.  

Previously, The Publishers Association had a longstanding campaign against the VAT on digital publications. Their “Axe the Reading Tax” campaign helped remove the 20% VAT on eBooks, digital newspapers, magazines and journals, which came into effect on 1 May 2020. A move they also helped to get fast-tracked by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.  

Despite this, the Reading Tax still applies to audiobooks. In a statement released on the “Axe the Tax” twitter account, the Publishers Association expressed their disappointment “that the Chancellor had not taken this opportunity today to remove the discriminatory tax on audiobooks.”

The Publishers Association argue that the VAT on audiobooks now acts as a barrier to the reading and learning of many people. They have pointed out that the VAT particularly impacts “the 2 million people living with sight loss and up to 1 in every 10 people with some form of dyslexia in the UK.”

The campaign is also supported by the National Literacy Trust, who has revealed in a report commissioned by the Publishers Association that “69.5% of children and young people said that listening to audiobooks makes it easier to understand the content of a book.” Scrapping the VAT on audiobooks would, therefore, stop the evident penalisation the tax has imposed upon many different types of readers, some of which have no other way of accessing any form of literature. If the tax remains in place, could we see those who rely on audiobooks at a greater reading disadvantage in the future?  

Audiobooks have also surged in popularity due to the increasing inaccessibility of print books throughout the coronavirus pandemic. According to ComRes, which based its research on more than 2,000 people, there was a 58% interest in book buyers opting for more audiobooks during this time. And yet, even before the effects of the lockdown, the popularity of audiobooks was taking the publishing industry by surprise, which has had an 87% rise in sales since 2014.

Evidently, there is a demand for audiobooks. So why has the VAT on audiobooks not been abolished already? If the VAT were to be scrapped in the same way as digital publications, we would most likely see an ease in the financial burden for audiobook readers, while helping publishers increase their own sales. 

The Publishers Association are subsequently continuing with their campaign. We at The Publishing Post think that the “Summer Stories” list is a great resource to showcase what audiobooks have to offer. Hopefully, this spotlight on audiobooks not only serves to start a discussion on why audiobooks are a wonderful way to read, but that they should have no VAT imposed upon them.

You can access The Publishers Association’s Summer Stories list on their website.

Should Censorship Have A Place In The Publishing Industry?

Since the invention of the printing press, books have faced censorship. Trump has once again made headlines for his attempts to block the latest tell-all memoir on his character and administration. A temporary restraining order had been placed on Mary Trump’s memoir Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created The World’s Most Dangerous Man, despite thousands of copies already being printed. This decision was overturned on 1 July by another judge, and, despite Trump’s protests, the publication will go ahead as planned.

Perhaps in a bid to prevent any further attempts to suppress the book, Mary Trump’s publishers, Simon and Schuster, announced that the original publication date would be brought forward to 14 July. According to The Bookseller, this was due to the demand and high media interest. It has long been inevitable that any attempt to censor a book has resulted in greater interest and will convince more people that Mary Trump’s claims have some accuracy to them. An article by The Guardian revealed one revelation centred on Trump paying someone to sit his SATs for him, with the incident reflective of how Trump embraces lying as a way of life.

Adam Rothberg, US director of corporate communications for S&S, addressed the overturn:

“We are gratified with the Appellate Court’s decision to overturn the Temporary Restraining Order issued by the lower court against Simon & Schuster. We support Mary L Trump’s right to tell her story in ‘Too Much and Never Enough’, a work of great interest and importance to the national discourse that fully deserves to be published for the benefit of the American public.”

It’s being debated whether the book violates a twenty-year confidentiality clause signed by Mary Trump nineteen years ago as part of an inheritance settlement. Ms Trump now claims that this NDA is unenforceable due to fraud; the assets claimed in the will are not, as she once believed, correct.

Ms Trump’s spokesperson has said: “the act by a sitting president to muzzle a private citizen is just the latest in a series of disturbing behaviours which have already destabilized a fractured nation.”

Last month, a federal judge declined to block John Bolton’s, The President’s third national security advisor, memoir, The Room Where It Happened. In retaliation, Trump has claimed that the profits will be going to the White House for breach of national security.

This comes at a time that Donald Trump is launching an executive order to prevent online censorship of conservatives’ views. In May 2019, Trump launched a tool for Americans to share their stories of wrongful censorship on social media, thought to be a precursor for this order. Quoted in the order is the following statement:

“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to handpick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet.”

The irony is not lost that the President who champions free speech is the very same man blocking these books. Henry Mance writes in The Financial Times that Trump’s own words are against him:

“By claiming Mr Bolton’s material was classified, Mr Trump inadvertently confirmed at least some of it was accurate, because false information cannot be classified.”

The President is not the only one with a fear of books. The American Library Association also “challenge” books every year, by making formal requests to have these books banned. The three most challenged books of 2019 all have “LQBTQIA+ content” as their reasoning. The Handmaid’s Tale and the Harry Potter series also made an appearance.

We leave you with this:

What is Donald Trump afraid of? And is the pen still mightier than the sword?



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