The Guardian view on Brexit and publishing: a hardcore problem | Editorial
London book fair has shown how upbeat the literary world can be – and how worried our cultural businesses have become at the thought of losing old certainties
The mood at this week’s London book fair appeared upbeat, with hotly contested auctions leading to the return of the six-figure publishing deal. Musicians did particularly well, with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, Suede’s Brett Anderson and drum’n’bass pioneer Goldie leading the way. Rumours of the death of literary fiction appear exaggerated. A collection of short stories, traditionally regarded as commercial suicide, earned Orange prize winner Lionel Shriver a place at the top of the sales league. The razzmatazz of such deals, however, is only part of the story of the modern books industry.
Publishing is a commercial enterprise, and like all businesses it thrives in an atmosphere of certainty that ceased to exist the day the UK voted for Brexit. In a heated opening debate on the impact of the decision to leave the European Union, a succession of leading publishers rounded on the prime minister, Theresa May, for “playing with people’s lives” in her negotiations. The government emissary parried criticism by insisting that ministers were “at the fat end of the funnel”, sucking up information from businesses to understand how best to represent them. The information came fast and furiously, with much of the concern about freedom of movement. We have heard a lot about the fears of the university sector about the drain on research and student income, but we know less about the impact on the more cultural corners of publishing.