Alongside the meetings and stalls at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which Tommi and I attended last week, there were also talks and discussions on topics of general interest to publishers. One that caught our eye on the Publishing Perspectives stage was entitled “Debate on Brexit and the Potential Impact on Academic Publishing” and I went along to hear the discussion. The panel comprised Richard Fisher, an academic policy correspondent, Richard Mollet from the RELX group and Andy Robinson from the publisher Wiley.
The general feeling among academic publishers is that the UK’s vote to leave the European Union is troubling and of great concern so the panel began with the discussants being asked if it is all doom and gloom as we suspect, or if there are in fact some silver linings to the situation. The panellists managed to come up with 4 positives, such as the short term currency gains which publishers with high exports are enjoying, potential beneficial changes in VAT laws, a renewed focus on emerging markets and UK research possibly being able to reposition and rebuild itself – particularly in some areas of science research, such as clinical trials, where the UK’s formerly strong output has fallen apart. We were also reminded that there were pockets of support for Brexit among some UK academics and that we need to respond to and work for the 52% who voted for the UK to leave the EU.
The above positives aside, the discussants identified several major concerns of Brexit for the publishing industry which were grouped into 3 main areas: people, funding and regulations.
The UK publishing workforce has a higher than national average percentage of workers from abroad and we do not know what the implications of Brexit will be for employment. The same goes for researchers at UK institutions and EU students, who bring growth for our economy as well as numerous other societal benefits. The panel mentioned anecdotal evidence of academics now refusing positions at UK universities and UK academics being taken off grant applications or side-lined within existing projects. Furthermore, the UK will now be relegated to the position of an observer rather than a participant on discussions around matters such as Open Access in academia.
Regarding the concern of funding, the panel felt that the sector needs to make a clear case to the government for research funding to be maintained and provided, especially as the terms of Brexit are negotiated and we are in a state of flux. Universities shouldn’t resort to pleading and requesting a special case, but rather they need to stress to the government the importance of the industry to our society and economy.
Finally, on the topic of regulation, the conversation moved to areas such as copyright law, data protection and medical trials, all of which are currently governed to some extent by EU law but which need not be in the future. We were reminded that the UK has traditionally had a good research reputation but, where Britain now goes the world won’t follow. Our decreased voice on topics of international concern is troubling.
The session was wrapped up with an optimistic view that British publishing is international in scope and outlook and that that is unlikely to change, especially in the humanities where relations are as much transatlantic and global as they are European. Brexit will no doubt have an impact on the industry but perhaps not as much as other concerns of 21st century publishing, such as mass piracy and green open access, but those are topics for discussion another time!