Joanna Prior, President of the Publishers Association
UK publishing is in rude health. It is currently worth £4.3bn to the UK economy, of which well over a third is now coming from digital sales – proof that our industry has adapted and embraced the digital disruption of the last decade. Encouragingly, the physical book market grew in Britain last year, for the first time in five years, by a very punchy 8.4% (source: Nielsen BookScan TCM). But beyond this narrow definition of our worth to the Exchequer, publishing contributes something more fundamental to life in the United Kingdom. So many of our nation’s proudest creative moments have their origins in the humble book. Take this year’s crop of Academy Award nominations as a sample measure: six of the eight nominations for Best Picture began life as books. In some cases we have British writers adapting UK published fiction and bringing these wonderful stories to new audiences, for example Nick Hornby’s adaptation of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn (a film with three Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress).
Looking to the year ahead, there is much to get excited about. The digital success story continues as publishers innovate with new formats, platforms and techniques for delivering our products and services. Such developments are already taking place in education and academic publishing and are revolutionising the learning experience and changing the way in which teachers and students interact with educational resources. In the consumer book world, enhanced customer insight will ensure that we find ever better ways for readers to hear about books and have access to content in the ways that best suit them. Mobile reading is taking over from device-specific reading and so our biggest challenge is not so much around how to deliver our fabulous content, but ensuring it is can be found in the first place and doesn’t get crowded out by others competing for our leisure hours. Live events and audio downloads are becoming an increasingly important part of the mix for bringing writers and readers closer together. The publisher’s job is to use insights to broker that relationship in ever more interesting and rewarding ways.
In order to keep moving forward, we need the best workforce possible, one which is skilled, creative and excited about the opportunities publishing offers. We are keen to shrug off old images of a traditional, closed and fusty publishing world and offer up instead the young, dynamic and entrepreneurial reality of today. We have to continue to challenge ourselves to be more diverse in our in-take of new talent. Not only do we need new skills in the industry but in order to compete and thrive as a creative industry we must attract the broadest range of talent and experience from all walks of life, all backgrounds and segments of our multicultural world. That is the surest way to secure our industry for the challenges and changes that lie ahead. Another vital way to futureproof not just the publishing industry but the whole of UK plc is to continue in our mission to promote the importance of reading for pleasure in the lives of all our citizens.
Our entire industry is underpinned by our ability to invest in the creative talent that is at the very heart of what we do: our authors, illustrators, academics and researchers. If it were not for the robust intellectual property framework which enables authors to be recompensed for their work, our business model would evapourate. Many countries across the world look to the UK’s model for guidance on how to build a similar infrastructure in order to create a beneficial system of payment and investment; and we will continue to work with them to facilitate a healthy and sustainable global publishing market. We have much to celebrate as we head into 2016.