Scholarly research has always been a global affair, which is why, explained a panel of stakeholders at the London Book Fair on Tuesday, Brexit may hit the U.K. scholarly publishing community hardest of all.
“Brexit will rewrite rules governing partnerships with European colleagues,” noted Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally, who moderated the discussion. “If the nature and even the timing of Brexit remain unclear, one may still confidently predict that Brexit will mean important changes for the U.K.’s scholarly publishing industry.”
The session gathered just hours before the U.K. parliament, for a second time, overwhelmingly rejected Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal. But the panelists agreed, deal or no deal, Brexit has already had a negative impact on the scholarly research enterprise.
“I think at the moment the most significant consequence comes purely from the currency exchange,” said Outsell’s Hugh Logue, noting that the prospect of leaving the E.U. has hit the pound hard, something acutely felt by academic researchers, whose funding is fixed. “When they are buying equipment or other consumables, those are already 20% more expensive.” And that has a “knock on effect” for scholarly publishers, he said, because when trimming costs, scholarly publications are often the first cut.
“It’s an easier cut to make than making people unemployed," Logue said, "or closing down departments.”
Logue also addressed the possibility of more acquisitions of scholarly publishers, or potential moves into Europe, to take advantage of the labor pool. He conceded that the weaker pound could mean some bargain-hunting for international publishers seeking to acquire British firms. And, though he said he’s heard of some British firms (broadcasters, mostly) already planning to relocate to Europe to take advantage of the labor pool, U.K. publishers are largely staying mum on those kinds of plans as the political process plays out.
Meanwhile, Logue said he has also heard “anecdotally” of British lead scientists being dropped from projects because “the likelihood of getting renewed funding is diminished.” Further, the issue of immigration looms as one of the biggest challenges of Brexit, he said, adding that around one-in-six researchers in the U.K. comes from outside the country.
Other panelists agreed that Brexit was complicating what has always been an international enterprise.
“I actually think at this stage it’s a psychological thing,” observed Tim Britton, formerly of Springer Nature. “Would you move your family here? Would you build a house here?” Britton wondered. “If I was coming out of Berlin having just finished my post-doc, would I come to London? Absolutely not.”
Britton said that the “psychological effect” on researchers, “which is impossible to measure” could potentially have a far bigger impact than any of the actual policies Brexit may eventually settle on, making it harder for U.K. institutions, including publishers, to recruit and retain the best talent.
Offering an E.U. perspective, Petra Labriga from Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB), in Germany, agreed. “London is still London,” she said, suggesting that whatever happens, London will surely retain an international flavor. But, without question, Brexit has impacted how European researchers view opportunities in the U.K., saying the drive to leave the E.U seems “illogical” to many in Germany.
“I think everyone is really tired. The Brits are really tired. I think the rest of Europe is very tired, too,” she said. “We feel it’s divisive, and that’s what’s hard to accept.”