The UK’s Dan Conway: Election Platforms and Publishing

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The UK’s Publishers Association sees positive signals for publishing in political parties’ platforms on AI and more for upcoming elections.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Claudio Divizia

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

Conway: ‘Good To See Policies That Would Benefit Publishing’
In this summer of elections, even Germany has heard some calls for a snap election following the weekend’s European Parliament elections, following Emmanuel Macron triggering one in France for June 30.

In Germany, chancellor Olaf Scholz’s office seems to have said no to early elections, but in the post-European United Kingdom, of course, Rishi Sunak has called for a July 4 snap general election for the country’s 650 parliamentary constituencies.

At the Publishers Association in London, CEO Dan Conway today (June 11) is congratulating election manifestos—platform position statements in some other political systems. Despite UK government plans that have disappointed publishers in the AI arena, these new polling-booth pledges may have more for publishers to get behind.

At the time of London Book Fair in March, Conway and the association released a report, Vision for Publishing: The Role of Publishing in the United Kingdom’s Success, designed to prompt politicians to recognize the book business’ importance in the market’s economy.

That report made the good move of putting across some of the strong performance of the publishing industry, which is too easily overshadowed by flashier brothers and slicker sister industries such as film and televisions. Some of the top-line figures to refresh your memory:

  • In 2023, the UK market’s publishing revenue surpassed £7 billion (US$8.8 billion); coming in at £7.1, this 2023 level of performance represents a 3-percent increase over that of 2022, and the highest recorded for the industry
  • Export market revenue was £4.4 billion (US$5.5 billion), up 4 percent, while the home market’s £2.6 billion figure (US$3.3 billion) was flat, a negligible change from the 2022 numbers.
  • Digital revenue was £3.2 billion (US$4.5 billion), up 5 percent
  • Total trade publishing revenue was £2.4 billion (US$3.4 billion), up 4 percent 
  • Fiction revenue was £907 million (US$1.135 billion), up 8 percent

Today, Conway is pointing to encouraging mentions in the pre-election manifestos of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, with Labour to issue its manifesto later this week. Conway writes:

“It is good to see policies that would benefit publishing announced in the manifestos published so far, as we called for in our Vision for Publishing.

Dan Conway

“In the Conservative manifesto, we particularly welcome the pledge to ensure creators are properly protected and remunerated for their work when used in AI.

“Across the Liberal Democrat and Conservative manifestos, we also support the commitment to greater research and development funding—to back our world-leading research sector—and support for creativity in schools and creative enterprise zones from the Liberal Democrats.

“The UK publishing industry is worth £11 billion [US$14.11 billion] and contributes to the UK’s health, well-being, and success. We hope to see more commitments backing this world-leading sector in the coming days.”

‘Creators Properly Protected and Remunerated’

A quick look shows us just what Conway is seeing.

The 80-page Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto—titled with all the modesty common to great parties approaching the ballot box Clear Plan, Bold Action, Secure Future—on Page 70 does indeed pledge: “We will ensure creators are properly protected and remunerated for their work, while also making the most of the opportunities of AI and its applications for creativity in the future.”

Of course, that’s a tall order the Conservatives are signing on to, as publishing markets have learned in facing up to what the Association of American Publishers ‘ chair YS Chi has called the actual business model of generative artificial intelligence companies. During May’s AAP annual meeting, Chi said, “We now know that illegally mining copyrighted works is not merely an unfortunate side effect of building large language models. It’s the basis of their entire business model.

“And when big tech leaders are asked about this, they don’t even try to hide what they’ve done. Instead, they argue that breaking the law will be worth it in the long run.”

Nevertheless, Conway is right that seeing the Conservatives step up and acknowledge as part of their pledge package for voters that creative workers need their intellectual property protected and their work correctly paid for is a substantial gain for a point too frequently left out of overheated AI debates and business circles that somehow whistle past the creative industries as if they can live on applause.

And in the days to come, more such positions should be available to examine. One point well worth noting is that the difficult work of engaging with government debates and policy process may well be paying off for Conway and the Publishers Association.

Leveraging this year’s galloping pace of international elections makes perfect sense for those in publishing who know how to work with their associations to gain traction in their own political systems—and then rouse reader-voters to rally in support.

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto is here, titled For a Fair Deal.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the UK’s Publishers Association is here, more on the United Kingdom’s publishing market is here, more on politics and international publishing is here, and more on industry statistics 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.