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
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and Scots that would not be published elsewhere.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
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
- account for a sales turnover of approximately £343m at invoice
- 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
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.
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.
Sources of information about UK publishing and publishers
For a recent profile of the UK publishing sector, see the Creative
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
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.