Skip to main content

The network for trade,
training and development 

19 June 2018

About the Industry

A major creative industry

Publishing is a major creative industry in the UK context. As a term, 'publishing' is a fairly elastic one, encompassing the traditional notion of a printed book to digital versions (e-books), and multimedia products. Books remain the single most popular product in the crowded entertainment and leisure arena, accounting for approximately £4.1bn of sales for UK companies.

It's also a global business which, partly due to the widespread use of the English language, and partly due to merger and acquisition activity, sends its books and products all over the world.


Culture and education

Publishing is a cultural and educational industry and in a small country such as Scotland can be vital in providing a written record, particularly championing areas of culture such as Gaelic and Scots that would not be published elsewhere. The wide range of non-fiction published in Scotland fosters and promotes notions of Scottish cultural identity.

In 2009, the Literature Forum for Scotland (LFS) set out a strategic vision for literature in Scotland 2008-2018 in its report Literature Nation (download PDF). For more about the LFS, see its website.


Some publishing numbers

There are around 110 publishers in Scotland, from large conglomerates such as HarperCollins to sole traders, employing a total of around 1,500 people, excluding freelance workers.

In a typical year, Scotland's publishers:

  • produce 3,000 titles - fiction accounts for around 30% of this
  • account for a sales turnover of approximately £343m at invoice value
  • pay royalties to over 14,000 writers
  • launch the careers of hundreds of new writers


VAT on books

The UK and Ireland negotiated a zero rate of VAT on certain goods including printed books when they joined the European Union. Almost every other EU member charges a rate lower than their standard rate on printed books. New members cannot charge a rate lower than 5%. Under EU law, ebooks are to be charged at the full standard rate.

We've compiled a list of current members and the rates of VAT they charge on printed books and ebooks: VAT rates on books and ebooks in the EU.


Environmental impact

With all these titles, publishing clearly has environmental impacts. In recognition of this, publishers are stepping up efforts to go green. The industry is moving towards increasing use of FSC-certified paper but it is clear that there is significant progress still to be made in terms of the waste implicit in unsold books and emissions caused by global shipping. There is some guidance for book publishers on the FSC website.


Sources of information about UK publishing and publishers

For a recent profile of the UK publishing sector, see the Creative Skillset website.

The Publishers Association compiles an annual summary on the UK book industry and a summary is available on its website. It  provides supply and demand data on the industry as well as number of titles, publishers and booksellers.

The trade magazine is The Bookseller.

Other publishing bodies in the UK:


Sources of information about international publishing

The International Publishers Association (IPA) is an international industry federation representing all aspects of book and journal publishing. Established in 1896, IPA's mission is to promote and protect publishing and to raise awareness for publishing as a force for economic, cultural and political development. Amongst the useful information on its site, is its annual global survey on the application of VAT/GST on printed books and e-books.


Research into the industry in Scotland

Although a diverse industry and operating in highly competitive markets, there has been little research in the area. However, that is beginning to change.