The next generation of British authors could struggle to land a book deal after Brexit, according to the publisher who launched Harry Potter writer JK Rowling’s career.
The UK’s close ties with Europe meant British publishers enjoyed a huge financial benefit from exploiting the exclusive English-language rights to books sold across the continent.
However, US publishing companies such as Simon & Schuster believe Brexit will open the door to competition and break the cosy historical deals enjoyed by British publishers.
Under such a scenario, British publishers will be forced to focus on keeping their star writers happy, potentially offering them more lucrative deals to keep European rights. As a result, financially pressured British publishers are likely to become more risk-averse in signing and promoting new and aspiring authors.
“Quite often now, a British publisher of a work will have exclusive rights in Europe – because Britain is part of Europe,” said Nigel Newton, the chief executive of Bloomsbury, the publisher of the Harry Potter books.
“When Britain isn’t part of Europe, it is possible that it will become more of a shared market with American publishers, an ‘open market’ as it is called. There is a potential issue where more American editions of books could come into the continent than under current arrangements.”
Europe is the biggest export region globally for UK-published books, accounting for more than a third of the almost £1.2bn annual sales of English-language print titles.
A senior publishing industry figure said that if a “really brutal battle” between UK and US publishers was to emerge over European book deals there would be major financial implications for British publishers.
“There are some American publishers who feel that Brexit provides an opportunity to aggressively assert themselves into Europe in a way they haven’t been able to previously,” said the senior industry executive.
“For very big authors, you could argue there will be more competition for their signatures, they may earn more money post-Brexit. A really brutal battle and price war between UK and US publishers would see a focus on big names to maintain and drive profits. But everyone further down the chain from star author status is likely to be worse off.”
Each year, 200,000 books are published in the UK, the highest number in the world.
The senior executive said that budding authors would not only find it harder to get their books into print; if they did get offered deals, they were likely to be asked to sign away more rights, on less lucrative terms, earlier in their careers as publishers seek to make their investments pay off.
“UK publishers are likely to take less risks on new incoming authors, including paying them less and forcing them to sign away global rights sooner than they would normally, to take a bigger share of earnings,” said the executive. “As a new incoming author, it would be hard to resist those sorts of demands. For new and smaller authors, it is likely to be a lot tougher.”
Book publishing is one of the UK’s biggest success stories: Britain is the biggest exporter of books in the world with a 17% share by value, ahead of the US (15%) and Germany (10%).
“The UK is the number one exporter of books anywhere in the world and it is incredibly important that we don’t do anything that undermines that,” said Stephen Lotinga, the chief executive of the Publishers Association. “We have been urging the government to secure a deal with the European Union which ensures we continue to have the fullest possible access to our largest single market so that one of the most successful creative industries the UK has can continue to thrive.”
Follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk, or sign up to the daily Business Today email here.