Five for Fifteen

Blog (2014)

Richard Mollet, 07 January 2015

As well as being the Australian way of describing a likely England cricket score, here is a brief run-down of what we at The PA think will be the five most important things for us in the coming year.

1)     The General Election

It is pretty hard to see past the election on 7th May as the most important event for us this year.  This is not only because the prelude will dominate the political agenda until then (and we are already knee-deep in positioning documents and statements) but the fall-out from what is going to be an incredibly tight contest will occupy political debate for the rest of the year too.  It is also not beyond the realms of possibility that 2015 could see a second election in the Autumn as whichever of Labour or Conservative win the highest number of seats not only are they unlikely to have sufficient to command an overall majority but such a majority may only be achievable via a coalition with more than one other party.  While a Labour-SNP coalition might have more stability than a Conservative-Lib Dem- UKIP rainbow, any grouping will be prey to possibly fatal centrifugal forces, be they about devolution, immigration or EU membership.  For the political anoraks at The PA (and there are a number) this is almost as good as a World Cup year.

2)     The Role of Text Books

Nick Gibb may only have four months left in office as Minister of State for School Reform (see above) but he is likely to use the time energetically.  The returnee to the red box put a cat amongst the pigeons at The PA/BESA conference in November with a pointed critique of the quality of some British text-books, and railed against the under-use of text books in English schools compared with those of Singapore and Shanghai.  Whilst we can only applaud the sentiment that calls for greater use of publisher-produced resources, the view that these should be made to meet a political objective, rather than the demands of the education market itself, is problematic – to put it mildly.  We look forward to continuing to engage on this issue.

3)     Open Access

Government policy on open access to publicly-funded research was determined back in the summer of 2013 when it adopted the Finch Report recommendations.  Since then we have moved from the policy-design debates to those around policy-implementation.  These will gain force this year as Research Councils UK prepares its first report into how its adoption of OA policy (closely based on the Finch recommendations) has taken root.  Those with a – shall we say – less benevolent view of publishers are likely to seize the opportunity to try and unpick the whole Finch edifice; whilst it is to be hoped that wiser counsel sees the area as one in which it is far too soon to tell exactly what the implications of adoption really are.  Expect to see the phrase “open access is a journey not an event” in great use.

4)     The e-book Market

It is an article of faith that consumer publishing is moving towards a hybrid economy with a rich blend of physical and digital books on sale and making up the revenues.  Talk should be less of identifying a “tipping point” to digital than an “equilibrium point”.  Digital revenues’ vertiginous ascent in recent years is now taking on more of the profile of a challenging fell walk.  At the same time the competitive situation in the market is not going to get any easier.  The PA’s Publishing for Britain manifesto, published last September, called on the competition authorities to take a look at how the UK market is evolving and to unearth the statistics and figures which are not publicly available.  We continue to press that case.  Into this mix will be thrown the results of The PA and Society of Chief Librarians study into remote e-book lending models in the public library system.

5)     Europe

It is not just David Cameron and Nigel Farage who will be obsessing about the EU this year: members of The PA team have been known to talk to Commission officials in their sleep.  The proposed reform of copyright is front and centre of our policy programme this year.  The lines of debate are beginning to emerge: Vice President Ansip (head of the Digital Single Market mega-portfolio) wants legislative proposals on his desk as soon as May; it appears that Commissioner Oettinger (who has control of the Digital Economy & Society brief which includes copyright) may wish to take a more considered view.  From our perspective, rushing policy is always a bad idea; but then again, if they were just to disinter the White Paper which never made it to full publication under the last Commission it would not be such a bad thing.  This document was full of sensible language about the importance of allowing licensing solutions to be developed to meet new consumer demands, and of the recognition that legislating for still maturing markets is always likely to end in failure.  However, it never pays to be too optimistic about sensible proposals as far as the Commission is concerned.

This is far from an exhaustive list of the 2015 agenda.  It does not include The PA’s on-going work on reading for pleasure, on recruitment and workforce development and tackling online copyright infringement.  All of us at The PA are greatly looking forward to working with members in what promises to be a very exciting and challenging twelve months.