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Incoming President Charlie Redmayne calls on publishers to adopt literacy 'cold spots'

Incoming president Charlie Redmayne urges publishers to raise literacy levels in disadvantaged communities

Charlie Redmayne HarperCollins (AGM 2018) (2).jpg

Incoming president Charlie Redmayne (CEO of HarperCollins) delivered his first address to members at our Annual General Meeting, outlining the key themes of his presidency: copyright, competition and opportunity. He urges publishers to sign up to The Literacy Project and lend their support to areas with the greatest literacy needs. Read Charlie's full address below.



 

Over the last few months, I have been thinking about what I should do on taking over the presidency of the Publishers Association [PA] and what the key themes of my term should be. From a business perspective, it really writes itself. On 29th March 2019during my termthe UK will leave the EU and the government will seek to find a new direction for the country with the goal of creating a globally competitive economy. This will mean a redefined relationship with Europe and a new focus on closer trading with the rest of the world.

Throughout this period, it is critical that publishers make a strong case to government for the unique value that our industry brings to the economy and broader society; the strength and global influence of our publishing industry is a tremendous competitive advantage for Britain.

Stephen Lotinga has done a fantastic job outlining the contribution of the UK publishing industrynot least of all with the publication of the recent report that he commissioned from Frontier Economics. As the report outlines the UK’s consumer, education, academic, professional and journal publishing industry is worth over £5.1bn per annum and directly contributes over £3.2bn per annum to UK GDP. It has grown 25% faster than the UK economy since 2012, has productivity levels that are twice the national average, employs over 29,000 people directly and supports up to 70,000 related jobs across the value chain. It also makes a sizeable contribution to the UK’s trade balance of £1.1bn, versus a total trade deficit of -£38.6bn. And with £2.9bn in export revenues, it is the largest physical exporter of books in the world, ahead of the US, Germany and China.

The statistics are mightily impressive and speak for themselves, but the value of the publishing industry goes far beyond the numbers. Put simply, our authors fire the imagination of the world. From Agatha Christie to JK Rowling, from Ian Fleming to EL James, we make an unparalleled contribution to Britain’s cultural influence and standing in the world. Not content with entertaining, we are also a major force in global learning. Our educational publishers serve children across the world from the Caribbean to Africa, through the Middle East, India and Asia, and our academic publishers are fundamental to the dissemination of research and to our world-leading academic institutions. 

It will be my job as PA president to support Stephen and to work with partner organisations such as the Booksellers Association, the Society of Authors and the Association of Authors' Agents in telling this story at all levels of government. We will follow through on the PA’s Blueprint for UK Publishing and its 10 Point Brexit Plan that was launched at The London Book Fair and that is so crucial to our industry’s continuing ability to thrive. In doing so, my particular focus will be on three key areas: copyright, competition and opportunity.

On copyright, I will aim to ensure the government implements no weakening of our own gold standard copyright regulations.  Through our membership of the European Economic Area, the UK is currently part of a regional exhaustion regime which allows us as copyright holders to prevent the unauthorised resale of books which were initially sold outside the EEA. Some non-EU countries choose to follow an international exhaustion regime, allowing parallel importers to undercut domestic prices by importing the same or similar products from overseas. We currently have no indication from government as to how it intends to approach this issue, and with Stephen and the broader Alliance for Intellectual Property of whom the PA is a key member I will argue to government that the adoption of a national exhaustion regime is the only solution if we are to protect the UK’s creative industries. 

The arguments for this are powerful. We already face a global retail platform, in Amazon, that is pushing boundaries and testing publishers’ resolve to enforce their copyrights. Amazon’s so-called ‘global store’ allows unauthorised US editions to be sold in the UK. This is only the first step as we saw by the launch, only last week, of its tailor-made international shopping app. It has also failed to prevent the sale of pirated editions at scale through its marketplace around the world. Amazon has thereby proven itself a powerful engine for the infringement of copyright. 

The result of unchecked erosion of copyright and any changes in the law that hasten it would be to reduce investment in UK publishing to the ultimate detriment of consumers, authors, agents, booksellers, publishers and the broader economy with the resultant loss of jobs. 

Another goal as we leave the EU will be to ensure that the UK government and the CMA continue the tough approach to competition that the European Competition Commission has taken in recent years. I welcomed the Commission’s influence in ending the exclusivity obligations concerning audiobook supply and distribution between Amazon's subsidiary Audible and Apple in 2017. Also encouraging were the commitments that the Commission obtained from Amazon in May 2017 to cease enforcing MFNs in its ebook contracts. It gave those commitments because the Commission suspected that Amazon was abusing its dominant position by requiring parity conditions in its e-book agreements with publishers.

The Commission has a sophisticated understanding of the risks to competition posed by dominant technology platforms and Margarete Verstaeger has taken a brave approach in pursuing these firms. The onus is on the UK Government and CMA to demonstrate they can take as bold a line at a national level as the EU has at a supranational level.  

When discriminatory and abusive practices from dominant technology firms go unchecked they have the potential to do enormous damage to consumers and to the economy, and the PA must be clear on this point with Government and the CMA. For instance, the CMA must be prepared to prevent unfair promotion of technology platforms’ own products and services over those of third parties, as the Commission did in the Google search case. 

We can see that the House of Lords has just recommended that the CMA should carry out a market study into digital platforms and the government has also published a Green Paper asking whether the CMA needs new powers to tackle ‘dominant digital platforms’. Working with government to secure fair digital markets and protect our IP and copyright is fundamental to our ability, whether a big publisher or an SME, to grow and contribute to the economy.

As we underline the unique value of our industry to government and lay out what is required for us to continue to flourish, we must also make clear our commitment to tackling some of the enduring social challenges in Britain today, not least those caused by significant variations in literacy levels around the country. Literacy is a key driver of social mobility and as publishers, we are uniquely placed to affect change.

As an industry, we have, in recent years, been focussed on widening our talent pool. Understanding that we must better reflect the society in which we operate if we are to broaden our audiences and attract more readers. This is not just a moral imperative but a commercial one. 

Over the last few years, there has been some great work done in our industry to drive diversity, including attracting more people from BAME backgrounds to our workforce through schemes such as targeted traineeships at HarperCollins and Faber & Faber and creating new initiatives to attract more writers from BAME backgrounds.

It is something that has been championed by my PA predecessorsand also by the great work done by many of our publishing companies. Driven by a demand for it from across those companiesour own Staff Diversity Forum is one of the things at HarperCollins that I am most proud ofthey have helped drive change within our business and ensure the leadership remain focused on this hugely important issue. And whilst there is still much more to do there is real momentum and a hunger to put things right. 

The area we have been less impressive on is broadening social diversity and geographical representation in our sector. We remain a predominantly middle class and London centric industryhow do we attract kids from a broader socio-economic background and from all parts of Britain to the publishing industry?

If we truly want to be representative of the society that we publish for then this is an area we must now focus onwe must now attract a pipeline that comes not only from London and the south-east and we must do so by breaking down the twin barriers of geography and opportunity. There is already great work going on in this area, including Penguin Random House who has been leading the field with their outstanding Creative Responsibility programme and Cambridge University Press’ Apprenticeship programme.

Shockingly, we still have low levels of literacy in Britain, often in concentrated areas of poor social mobility and significant deprivation. As an industry, we have a long-supported literacy through initiatives such as Book Start, World Book Day and indeed Quick Readswhich reached millions of readers over twelve very effective and fruitful years and I am very sad it has not received the required funding to continue its good work.

And many publishers and charities are supporting literacy in communities in innovative ways. PRH’s Read North East campaign, Hachette’s heroic fundraising for literacy and Pearson’s Project Literacy are three such examplesWe want to build on these efforts and create a coordinated approach to confront low levels of literacy and improve social mobility in the poorest communities in the UK.

Projects like the NLT’s Literacy Hubs have demonstrated what it takes to create a reading culture in these communities. The excitement around author visits, access to free books, support for teachers and librarians, show that the best literacy interventions can make a real difference. For example, their four-year focus on Middlesbrough has halved the number of children starting school with lower than expected levels of literacy. That is why I am asking the industry to collectively give its support to communities with the greatest literacy need and signing up to what we are calling “The Literacy Project”. This not about creating something completely new but about taking what is already being done, building on it and focussing it into clearly defined target areas.

The NLT working with government has identified literacy ‘cold spots’ that are most in need of our support. And we are urging publishers to adopt one of these areas, to focus their resources and to partner with charities, businesses, media partners and sports clubs to drive up literacy levels and support increased educational attainment and employability skills.

By committing to this initiative, we have an opportunity to effect real, measurable change on a local and, ultimately, national level.

At HarperCollins, we will be linking over three years with two cities, Glasgow and Stoke, creating author and staff ambassadors who will work together to help create a reading culture in these areas. In Glasgow, home to half our workforce, we will be concentrating our efforts by supporting early years’ literacy in two areas of the city; volunteers will be working with the Early Works Together programme, pairing with families to support language development and school readiness; we will be opening our site for bespoke visits and tours, creating targeted author events, working with local businesses including our sister organisation News Scotland to get books into the hands of young readers and working with schools facing funding challenges to provide books and resources for libraries and classrooms. 

In Stoke, an area where four-fifths of the local population are at the highest risk of low literacy, we will support vital initiatives that provide; skills development, employment training, mentoring for young people at secondary level, the provision of books for school libraries as well as regular author visits and events.

Low literacy costs the UK billions and remains a barrier to the true diversity of our industry. My presidency will focus on utilising publishing’s best assets to address one of the UK’s biggest challenges and reduce that cost.

As I said in the beginning, I’ll also work with Stephen and his fantastic team at the PA to ensure that leaving Europe does not mean that the defence of competition and copyright are left behind and that our fundamental ability to compete and grow is not affected.

UK publishing is the envy of the world and we have a lot more to contribute yetwe will need government’s help if we are to continue to flourish, to boost the nation’s literacy levels, social mobility and cultural well-being, and to continue to make a major contribution to the UK economy and to the world.