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'An internatinal community'

4 July 2016

From a London perspective the British vote to leave the UK seems seismic, especially if you were a Remain supporter, and no-one could have predicted the intense political turmoil that has followed. What it has also brought about is some musings about the highly international nature of the publishing world and the way that authors can find audiences all over the world.

To a greater extent than for other countries, the UK's book business and community of authors has always faced outwards to the rest of the world. This may be a relic of empire but it is based on the fact that the export market is extremely important to the UK, whereas for US publishers it was in the past a bit of an afterthought.

The carving up of the English-speaking world after the Second World War only gave the US the Philippines as an exclusive American territory (see Inside Publishing: the English Language publishing world). Although this has changed radically because of the rise of English as an international language, British publishers - trade or general publishers especially - are still more engaged with the rest of the world than their American counterparts.

Canada has become an independent territory or usually goes to the US publisher. Australia has built its own publishing. But Europe has become effectively an exclusive territory for UK publishers and if it reverts to being an open market where the cheapest edition wins out, the British edition may still have the advantage because of the low pound which is likely to result.

The shock amongst British authors and commentators is palpable. Author Peter James wrote in the Bookseller: "I personally felt always that we should remain and try to turn the EU into less of a blunt bureaucracy, but do it by negotiation from within. I think at a time when the world is more dangerous than it has ever been in all our lifetimes, what we need more than anything right now is unity, not division. This vote will cause argument and division for many years if not decades to come. I'm currently on book tour in North America, first Canada then the US. Everyone I have met, in Canada and New York is both incredulous and very sad."

On Twitter the bestselling writer Robert Harris wrote: "Watching PM resign, Governor of Bank of England appealing for calm... Feel as if I'm living in a bad dystopian political thriller."

Philip Pullman, also on Twitter, said: "We had a headache, so we shot our foot off. Now we can't walk, and we still have the headache."

Liz Thomson, veteran British book trade journalist, wrote in Publishers WeeklyInternational news website of book publishing and bookselling including business news, reviews, bestseller lists, commentaries "No doubt, there are a few people in the book world who voted to leave, but I don't know who they are. We are a broad-minded bunch, generally speaking. Books make us so. When we land in Beijing, Bologna, Frankfurt, Guadalajara, or Sharjah, we feel part of an international community."

This highly international orientation of British publishers and authors is part of who we are. We will be devastated if this referendum result ends up destroying this and don't believe that withdrawal and isolation is what most British people really want.

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