If you hire a sharp-elbowed businessman you shouldn’t be too amazed when he uses business tools to attempt to solve his problems. Are you able to add to the cost burden of your competitor? Do it: can’t fail to put you at an advantage. The imposition of tariffs as a substitute for diplomacy is now pretty well established.

Books imported into the USA from China and Mexico will now be subject to import duties. These countries were both at one time looked on as sources of cheap manufacturing by US publishers, though over time the cost advantage has narrowed. The Hong Kong print industry has evolved from what thirty or so years ago was basically a labor-intensive, slightly old-fashioned print business into a slick modern one now with efficiency increases keeping step with rising wages. True you had to wait four weeks or so to get a book across the Pacific but the reduced cost made the deal a good one.

A recent post noted that at a Book Industry Study Group meeting in April it was suggested that publishers deploy international connections to alleviate the capacity problems in the current US book manufacturing industry. Well, that just got a bit harder, didn’t it? There has always been a European option. Italy always had the reputation of printing a handsome book but at a relatively high price. As far as I know France and Germany don’t seem to fish in transatlantic waters. Great Britain has the advantage of speaking the same language as we do. When I was working for British publishers there tended to be a tidal effect under way at almost all times: sometimes books originated here might be printed there, while at other times the opposite effect was under way. The variable was always the £/$ exchange rate. Brexit chaos has surely tipped the price/exchange rate scale in favor of UK manufacturing. Of course, I have no idea what their own capacity problems may look like. Surely there have been plant closures there too.

No tax on knowledge they used to cry, though nowadays in most places sales tax will be added to the price of that book you buy. So why not a tariff too? We’ll all get used to paying more as we wave goodbye to free trade.