Not one of the publishers contacted for this report had a single positive thing to say about the impact of Brexit. Everything is more expensive, from printing to warehouses, and there’s a lot of extra, Brexit-induced bureaucracy, particularly regarding shipping, with endless customs forms and returned packages. Things have settled down slightly since 2021, but that doesn’t mean that publishers are happy with the “new normal.”
When it comes to foreign rights sales, the industry has certainly changed. It is simply harder for agents and publishers to get to European book fairs–Sara Hunt at Saraband mentions “the bureaucracy and hassle involved in going to Frankfurt last year, compared with previously”– to make deals, and exchange rates are down, meaning that overseas fairs are effectively more expensive.
Liza DeBlock, foreign rights manager at Mushens Entertainment, feels that Brexit has “undoubtedly” changed the industry. Although she has faced no resistance from anyone when it comes to completing deals with a U.K. agency, there is considerably more red tape, with issues with international tax forms as well as posting or receiving anything from abroad.
“When it comes to tax forms, international publishers have been ever more diligent about requesting further information about authors’ domiciled statuses, and HMRC have been horrifically slow at dealing with the increased applications for international tax forms,” says DeBlock. This clogs up payments needed by authors to subsist, and there are publishers who cannot publish the books until certain payments have been met, thereby pausing the whole process of international publication.”
Michael Schmidt, publisher and managing director at Carcanet, says one of the main issues is the “erosion of exclusive rights territories.” He has found that Brexit “has made negotiating contracts with American and other Anglophone publishers more complex in that most will no longer allow the E.U. to be a reserved or Exclusive Market.” Ireland is one of Carcanet’s major customer bases for poetry, and he feels the publisher “cannot function without exclusivity in Ireland.” He has pulled in “old friend publishers in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia etc” to find a way; however, the issue has still affected sales.
Shipping has emerged as a key issue: postal services between the E.U. and the U.K. are slower, longer, and less reliable; customs forms are dull and time-consuming; and parcels are often returned to sender, seemingly without reason.
For Jack Thompson at Cipher Press the biggest issue is no longer being able to send orders to Europe. “We have a lot of readers across Europe, and still receive emails from people asking why we can’t ship. Even sending review copies and proofs–mostly the books come back to us, or else the recipient is charged customs fees, often more than the postage itself. We’re losing a lot of readers.”
Hannah Bannister, operations manager at Peepal Tree Press, spends at least an extra hour each week filling in customs documents, and reports that European website customers are now being charged around eight euros to receive items, often doubling the costs of their purchases. Unsurprisingly, Peepal Tree now receives fewer European orders.
Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar has found that Brexit has “hugely increased the cost of posting parcels to Europe. It’s made the postal service less reliable, as you never know what is going to clear customs and why it might be rejected. It’s also added hours and hours of stupid tedium as we now have to attach customs notices to every parcel.” Juliet Mabey at Oneworld adds that delays in exporting books due to extra customs paperwork may also incur unseen costs, such as late arrivals and missed review slots.
Exporting to Ireland has been a particular bugbear. Mabey has had proofs intended for Irish media returned with a note saying they “didn’t get through customs,” despite the books having no commercial value and the forms being correctly filled in. Kevin Duffy of Bluemoose Books reports that the extra bureaucracy of returning books from Ireland means that he now has to agree that Bluemoose books are pulped instead of returned.
In 2021, Prototype Publishing had to suspend sales to its readers in Europe, and although it has started to send books out again, publicity officer and associate editor Rory Cook says: “We are still caught up in regular shipping complaints, returned items, and difficulty in getting our publications to stockists overseas. Brexit has had a wholly negative impact.”
Vertebrate Publishing once had a mission to be Europe’s top player for adventure books, but now managing director Jon Barton is no longer even considering E.U. sales. “Big Trails Central Europe was one of our early books and we had several more in the series underway: due to Brexit we just cancelled the whole program.”
Extra work and chaos
As an agent, Liza DeBlock has also had problems with shipping and the mushrooming of customs forms. “Forms are required for everything being sent abroad, which can create confusion for foreign postal systems, which will simply return things to us without even trying to send them on to the intended recipient. This was reiterated to me when I spoke to a book buyer in Paris at Shakespeare & Co last summer who said trying to get any stock in from the U.K. was near impossible and chaotic.”
At Saraband, Sara Hunt has found that things have “settled down to some extent, in that we have found workarounds for most export issues.” However, those workarounds involve a lot of extra work and cost compared to pre-Brexit, and Saraband has not yet found a solution to selling directly from its website. Pete Duncan, managing director at Duckworth Books, says that Brexit has meant pushing back the publisher’s plans to expand export sales. He sums up the issue succinctly: “Quite simply, Brexit has made physical sales to Europe harder.”
Publishers cited other Brexit-related problems. Juliet Mabey at Oneworld says that “staff shortages have pushed up costs for both logistics and warehousing, which are unlikely to come down in the foreseeable future,” while Michael O’Mara at MOM feels that “the sinking value of sterling has made foreign printing more expensive. Things that used to be simple and cheap, like Frankfurt and Bologna, are now complicated and more expensive.”
Peter Gill, managing director at Graffeg, says: “I don’t expect there will be a ‘new normal’ in the climate of uncertainty we’re living and working in now. Brexit triggered more than import export issues, it destroyed the prospect of working with European partners on development projects, where benefits and outcomes could be shared alike.”
Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar Press sums it all up. “It is a gigantic nightmare. Where to start? It’s increased print costs. It’s made it harder for printers to source the materials they need. It’s disrupted everything in the U.K., helped wreck the economy, and that of course has a big impact on people’s ability to buy books. It’s made us an international laughing stock and made the U.K. look unreliable, unpleasant, and stupid–and that makes it harder to do foreign rights deals. It’s made travel in Europe harder, with longer queues and worse exchange rates. On top of all that it’s given us seven years of uncertainty and disruption, and I’m sure there’s still more pain to come. There is no new normal. There is just ongoing agony.”