Coronavirus Worklife: UK’s Publishers Association Issues Government Requests

In News by Porter Anderson

‘Concerned about future solvency as a consequence of supply chain interruption,’ British publishers appeal to the UK government for swift financial aid in the coronavirus crisis.

A shot from one of the 8 p.m. community applause events for National Health Service medical workers at Trellick Tower in London’s Kensal Town. Image – iStockphoto: Iain Tall

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Publishers Are Facing Incredibly Difficult Decisions’
Among a list of five key points the British Publishers Association is pressing with the government, the demand to be included in the “business rates holiday” may be among the most important.

In late March, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced a 12-month business-rate taxation exemption for retail and hospitality firms, along with a package of £330 billion in loans (US$410 billion). Not included in that exemption are publishers—which have seen crippling disruption with bookstores sales and normal supply chain activity derailed during lockdown orders for the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

As the BBC reported Monday (April 27), the government’s package of aid also leaves many startups and newly self-employed workers out of the running, as well, and this, of course, can affect authors and others in publishing.

The association’s CEO, Stephen Lotinga, at the end of last week produced an open letter about how the association is talking to the government about this.

“The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the books industry,” Lotinga writes.

“Booksellers, authors and freelancers have all seen their work significantly disrupted. Publishers are facing incredibly difficult decisions about how to respond to the pressures on their businesses and how best to support their employees.

Stephen Lotinga

Stephen Lotinga

“These five requests are the result of consultation with our members,” he writes. “With the right support from the government I have no doubt that we will come through this challenging time and continue to thrive.

“Despite the challenges they’re experiencing, publishers are making incredible contributions to society at this difficult time.

“Publishers have been prioritizing publication of COVID-19 materials,” Lotinga writes, “donating ebooks to National Health Service workers, making resources freely available for families who are suddenly finding themselves embracing home learning and creating content to entertain the millions of people now self-isolating.”

The UK Publishers Association’s Five Requests

An April 25 shot of London’s Lambeth Bridge. Image – iStockphoto: Niel Herdman

The text here for each of the five points from the association is that from Lotinga’s letter, which can be found at the organization’s site here.

Business rates relief
The publishing industry’s supply chain is facing significant disruption following the closure of central distribution centers and bookshops. Publishers are therefore concerned about the consequences of these closures on their income, despite the value they offer research creation, learning and entertainment. Publishers are directly involved in the retail of books but are not currently eligible for this rate relief and we believe this should change.

Extended interest-free period
Publishers have a long receivables timeline with 90 – 180 days normal for payments. Additionally, publishers work to long lead times, often preparing products for market nearly a year in advance. In light of this business model, the publishing industry would like the interest-free period of the business interruption loans on offer extended to two years, instead of one, to allow publishers breathing space to repay their loan in alignment with their income cycles.

Part-time furlough
The package of measures provided for employed and self-employed workers is welcome. However, while our industry has many global success stories, it is predominantly made up of many small, independent and micro businesses. These businesses still have work to do and so are unable to furlough their staff in order to make use of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Moreover, a significant proportion of their overhead expenditure is in preparation for 2021 and 2022; to drastically reduce their workforce at this time would therefore cause long-term damage to businesses. Publishers need more support to keep staff employed and working, though at a lower level. We urge the government to introduce further economic support measures to allow employers to reduce full-time staff to part-time working hours, as an alternative to furloughing employees altogether.

Supply chain clarity
As alluded to above, the closure of bookshops, the complete and partial closure of distribution centers such as Bertram’s and Gardners, plus ongoing uncertainty about the status of warehousing and printing staff, means the publishing industry is extremely concerned about disruption to supply chains. The impact of this will be felt by our customers. The industry is also concerned about its future solvency as a further consequence of supply chain interruption. Publishers, booksellers, authors – everyone in the books industry relies on a robust, functioning supply chain. We therefore ask the government to provide further clarity over supply chain workers so publishers can prepare accordingly.

Funding for education resources
At a time when huge numbers of people are at home obeying government instructions, we would request that the government ensures that schools, colleges and universities have sufficient funds available to smoothly transition to home learning environments. Publishers are making significant discounts to these products to help schools make the purchases that are needed, but targeted funding would go a long way to help adequately equip learners from all backgrounds. Digital infrastructure will be key to ensuring continuity in our education system, along with funding for the physical resources that are better suited to households without adequate access to devices or internet connectivity. There are also logistical challenges here, and the industry stands ready to work with government in ensuring the right resources reach learners’ homes.

At this writing, the 10:31 a.m ET update (1431 GMT, 1531 BST) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center tallies shows the UK reporting 158,353 confirmed cases (sixth in the world) and 21,158 deaths.

In London’s normally teeming Covent Garden, April 26. Image – iStockphoto: Niel Herdman

More from Publishing Perspectives on the UK market is here, and more from us on the coronavirus pandemic is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.