Publishing in Context
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 £5.7bn of sales for UK companies (see latest Publishers Association (PA) statistics). In
another report for the PA, Frontier Economics reported that
the British publishing industry generates up to £7.8bn GVA for the
wider UK economy and supports more than 70,000 jobs in direct,
indirect and induced impact (see The contribution of the publishing industry to the
UK economy (2017)).
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and Scots that would not be published elsewhere.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, the predecessor
to Literature Alliance Scotland (LAS), set
out a strategic vision for literature in Scotland 2008-2018 in its
report Literature Nation (see the LAS website).
In a video made for VisitScotland's Business Events - Legend
campaign, James Crawford, Chair of Publishing Scotland, talks about
Scotland's rich history of storytelling and explains why people
come and visit Scotland's cities and experience the places that
inspired some of the greatest stories ever told. In Scotland
publishers nurture the next generation of talent, and help ensure
that new stories are being told. Watch it on YouTube.
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
On 2 October 2018, the Council agreed a proposal allowing member
states to apply reduced, super-reduced or zero VAT rates to
electronic publications, thereby allowing alignment of VAT rules
for electronic and physical publications. See the Press Release of 2 October
2018. The new rules allow EU member states to align
VAT rates but do not require them to do so.
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
Frontier Economics report for the PA: The contribution of the publishing industry to the
UK economy (2017).
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
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.