CICGiven all the hysteria around the Amazon-Hachette faceoff in UK media, you could be forgiven for thinking that the UK publishing industry was on its last legs. Not so, according to the latest Create UK report, the main strategy document from the Creative Industries Council, available here.

As part of the media circus surrounding the release of the report, UK Prime Minister David Cameron publicly undertook to double the value of exports from the UK’s creative industries, currently running at £70 billion ($120 billion) a year, with a growth rate five times that of the wider economy over the past three years, according to the Financial Times. That doesn’t sound remotely like an industry in crisis, let alone one that’s terminally challenged by digital disruption.

“The UK is home to the some of the world’s biggest publishing companies,” states the report. “The estimated value of the entire UK publishing industry is £10 billion [$17 billion], with 40% of revenues coming from exports.”

The Creative Industries Council is definitely an industry lobby group rather than an independent platform for creatives of all kinds. Headed by Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade, “The Creative Industries Council is a joint forum between the creative industries and government,” according to its official description.  And its overall engagement with digital media is anything but Luddite. “The UK’s creative industries have adapted to the digital environment, offering consumers a great choice of innovative digital services across a wide variety of devices featuring huge catalogues of digital content, based on a variety of different business models including fabrication, purchase, rental, subscription, free-to-consumer advertising-funded models and more,” states the report.

The more alarming detail in the Create UK report concerns the intellectual property regime. “Copyright is, internationally and domestically, a property right,” it declares. “Any proposals to change the basis of copyright that would erode the ability of rights holders to exploit their works could undermine incentives to invest and hence inhibit the growth of the UK creative economy. Furthermore, the uncertainty generated by such proposals – even if they are not ultimately carried through – can itself act as a disincentive to investment and destabilise the market.” And just in case anyone missed the point, the report repeats it in a huge banner headline.

In other words, the UK’s prime creative industries forum is arguing that even any attempt or proposal to alter current property regimes is already a destabilizing threat to the UK’s creative industries. Never mind that other UK government departments, let alone independent international forums, may have already made such proposals. The CIC appears to be arguing for gag orders on any such proposals.

The full report contains many more details on the implementation of specifics around this policy, which thankfully do not go so far as recommendations on how to gag copyright reform proposals. But the drift of the overall strategy should be worrying enough. Especially with a shaky government eager to make political capital out of it.

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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


  1. Actually, the UK is doing one thing right.

    Used books I order from there from third-party vendors, even thick hardbacks, ship to the U.S. for $3.99 and arrive quickly. The Royal Mail is making selling books abroad easy and cheap. In contrast, the USPS has a complicated pricing scheme that depends on weight, on distance, and costs as much as ten times as much. Boo… hiss…

    I just got a copy the book below today from the UK. It was a used but in great shape. The book, shipping and all, came to $6.61, and it took less than two weeks to arrive.

    The key is to use:

    To set up a price watch on a book. Every so often one that’s been selling used for $40-50 will be sold by someone for $4-5. It’s an excellent way to build up a good library.

    Your article is a great illustration of why publishing is in a mess right now. The industry hasn’t had to deal with a major technological change since steam-powered printing came along in the mid-1800s. The only changes since have been associated with the retailing or format (i.e. paperback). Now everything is in flux and efforts to shape the law to fit those changes are unsettling those corporate offices.

    That makes no sense. It’s trivial for a publisher to test the waters for various changes with a 100 or so books on their backlist and see what happens. At worst, a little money is lost and valuable experience is gained. That’s certainly better than being late to the party like the major publishers were when they let Amazon beat them to online retail.

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