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06 July 2020

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 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be vital in providing a written record, particularly championing areas of culture such as Gaelic and Scots that would not be published elsewhere.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, 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 standard rate.

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 2018The new rules allow EU member states to align VAT rates but do not require them to do so.


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 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 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. 


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.