If you have any British friends feeling a bit downtrodden today, give them your sympathies. If they’re happy, congratulate them! Yesterday, the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, causing many experts to forecast the serious economic repercussions of the Brexit. That might not seem as if it is related to books at all, but leaving would have a significant impact on everyone in the book-world, from publishers to bookstores to writers. Here’s how:
Without getting too lost in the numbers and data trends, let’s cover some quick bases. The value of the British Pound has fallen to its lowest since 1985 (yeah, Thatcher era). Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of the “Stay” movement, resigned in disgrace. Throughout all this, the book community has been staunchly opposed to leaving the EU, but since they’re in the loser’s circle now, all we can do is figure out what damage is done.
The EU can now exercise its right to levy harsher tariffs on exports and imports, which will highly discourage any items considered ‘nonessential’ from being purchased or even passed between Europe and Great Britain. Because of the new weakness of the pound, prices on books will be raised, so fewer people would have access to them, less money will be made, and Britain-based booksellers and publishers will lose jobs. While the “Leave” faction is confident they will be able to find their way into a free-trade agreement with the EU, this unlikely measure would still raise the bar for what will come in and out of the country, including books. Moreover, there’s no making up the hundreds of thousands EU provides funding for translations and millions for academic publication for its members.
All the hard-to-parse data aside, there was a certain “battle for Britain’s soul” that was lost last night. Much of the “Leave” campaign was seeped in misinformation and nativism. The sacrifice that was made is the chance for more Britons to have access to books of wide topics and backgrounds. As one writer put it, the only way out is forward:
We emerge from the referendum a more divided society, one more insular and, for now, directionless. The referendum has created a hole at the centre of this society. It would be trite to say that books can play a part in filling this, but this sector must push to have a leading (and defining) role in the future UK. Our publishing must be broader, our audiences wider, our bases more evenly spread, our authors empowered and protected. We should use books for what they are for: to create a better place.
We should point out that, as has been the case with virtually everything political in this past year, the impossible cannot be ruled out. Maybe books will be safe and as accessibile as they always were. We’re not going to hold our breaths.
Featured image courtesy of Tony Kyriacou/Rex/Shutterstock