What Brexit Means for English-Language Rights

A new revolutionary war could be waged with the United States of America’s greatest ally: the United Kingdom. The battles will not be on the sea nor in the sky, nor will they be fought with firearms. Instead, it will be fought behind closed doors as the American publishing industry fights against the United Kingdom for the English-Language rights to publish manuscripts in continental Europe.

When the UK voted to leave the European Union, the publishing industry held its breath. Overnight, the playing field changed for the UK. No longer did they have justification for the rights to publish in the European Union. The UK had always argued that—being a part of the European Union—they should have the English-Language rights for publications due to the open market of the EU.

But, starting as early as 2018, American publishing companies can fight for those English-Language rights.

Those two years as the UK negotiates its separation from the EU will set the field. Currently, with the sudden drop in value, Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch explains that “their [UK publishers] advances (and royalties) are worthless to trading partners.” This means that UK publishers may find themselves having to pay more to outbid others for manuscripts and the corresponding rights, potentially limiting their reach. With the American publishing industry considered the largest in the world, Brexit is offering a new opportunity to grow globally.

CEO of Penguin Random House UK Tom Weldon said in a note sent to staff the day after the referendum: “This is uncharted territory, and no one knows what the full impact of this change will be—either positive or negative.” Other publishing companies, such as Bonnier Publishing Group, Pan Macmillan, and Alma also took a pragmatic look at Brexit—embodying the British “Keep Calm and Carry On” attitude.

Brexit is casting ripples across the global market causing stock and currency values to plummet, with interest expected to rise and questions of access to the open market building. Contracts that UK publishing houses were negotiating dropped in value overnight, royalties dropped, and incentives are tempting with the turbulent market conditions. As with the other industries, the UK publishing markets will take some time to steady.

American companies, while hesitant to watch their colleagues and friends struggle in an industry they love, will be ready to react once the exit negotiations have been completed. The pound sterling may not recover its value, UK publishing houses simply may not be able to afford to acquire as many titles, and they definitely will find it harder to compete with their neighbors across the pond when it comes to bidding for rights.

While it is unlikely that Ooligan Press will enter the international bidding rings, we will feel the aftershocks of these effects. If the English-Language rights across continental Europe become hotly contested, the financial effects will spread across the industry. New markets will open, trends will change, competition will rise.

No one really knows what the long-term effects will be. The reality of Brexit still being rejected. Those in the publishing industry can only wait, breath held, while forming their strategies.

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