Thursday, 14 July 2011

Authors? What do you do all day?

I was rather inspired by the short series Evan Davis (one of the BBC's treasures, I feel) did on how Britain pays its way, called Made in Britain. Okay, it was a bit heavy on stunts, like Davis taking a ride in a jet fighter or a Davis-stand in doing a rooftop chase (see below) - but it was enjoyable and helpful in encouraging us to think about whether we should stand around bemoaning our loss of manufacturing, or get on with earning export revenue regardless.

The programme divided the opportunities for making money into three - manufacturing, intellectual property and services. Davis argued that we actually do more manufacturing than we think - it's just that we have moved to more high end, high price manufacturing - and that we should not discount the importance of the other two. On the IP side, for example, he showed how chip designer ARM makes loads of export money without manufacturing anything. On the service side too there were hidden exports which happen within the UK, as when, for example, a foreigner buys and staffs a house in London.

It inspired me to think about us writers. When the bureaucrats do the export statistics, do they remember us? After all, quite a lot of my books go to other countries, and then there are rights deals were a foreign publisher buys the rights to produce a local version, another hidden export. I also wondered just what it is that we authors do in terms of those three headings. Obviously there is an intellectual property component in producing the content of the book - and when it is sold as an ebook, I guess it is almost entirely IP. But a paper book also involves manufacturing, often still in the UK. And to complete the set, most authors offer the service of giving talks (though this is less likely to involve exports).

All in all, I'm rather proud of the contribution us authors make to Britain. We might not have made Evan's programme, but we're in there in all his sectors, turning brainpower into cash. So authors, next time someone asks you what you do all day you can proudly say 'I'm responsible for manufacturing, intellectual property and services earnings for Britain.' Or at least you can think it - you'd probably sound a bit silly saying it.

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