The UK Publishers Association has put out an interesting communique in the aftermath of the release of the BFI’s Statistics Yearbook, the annual statistical digest of the British Film Institute. As that document apparently points out, “of the top 20 grossing films worldwide, 40 percent were based on British novels, while of the top 20 British grossing films 18 were based on novels, including works by and inspired by Ian Fleming, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and JK Rowling.”
Now there are two interesting things that come out of this. One is typified by the statement by Richard Mollet, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, that: “UK Publishing continues to be not only a hugely innovative and successful creative industry in its own right but also an industry capable of driving enormous creative success in other sectors and inspiring audiences around the world.” This chimes nicely with the recent government-led Create UK ballyhoo around the creative sector of the UK economy, and certainly contrasts well with Britain’s pretty shoddy record in overall productivity, education, and social development. But then, when you’re mismanaging an increasingly dysfunctional and ineptly run economy, it’s good to have a fat deep cushion like Britain’s immense intellectual and cultural legacy to fall back on.
What’s also symptomatic is publishers’ bid to steal the credit. Are the publishers themselves responsible for the value of a Lewis or a Tolkien? Absolutely not. But they, rather than the UK Society of Authors, are the first to push to share the glory, even though it’s surely the writers themselves who are the key value creators here. And interestingly, at least one of those Brit writers, C.S. Lewis, is already out of copyright and downloadable for free in Canada, meaning that you don’t have to pay actual publishers a single Canadian cent for access to his work.
The UK’s Creative Industries Council, meanwhile, appears eager to push for more restrictive copyright terms that could hinder free access to the UK’s literary legacy in future, and even to block debate about the status of copyright. Meanwhile, as the UK Society of Authors observes, UK publishers in fact appear to be sticking by contract terms that leave no way for today and tomorrow’s Flemings and Tolkiens to make a living from their work. A real boost to UK creativity for sure.