Show Me the Money: Making a Business Case for Accessibility in Small and Large Publishing Organisations

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As the European Accessibility Act (EAA) and similar legislation start to trickle in to wider awareness, staff at publishing houses are increasingly getting to business and working towards implementing accessibility features into their workflows. 

But despite herculean efforts from Production staff, eventually this requires money. And due to the way most publishers are structured, this means one thing: sooner or later, somebody high up is going to ask you for a business case.

This article won’t provide you with a fully-formed business case specific to your organisational makeup and target markets. But there are some major do’s and don’ts to be aware of. Below is a summation of things I’ve learned from talking to different publishers and attending many different meetings and conferences in the last number of years, as we hurtle towards full EAA enforcement on 28 June 2025.

Usually I like to lead with a positive, but in this instance, we need to start off with a common mistake:

DON’T: Say it’ll increase sales

Let’s be clear – making your publications more accessible most certainly will open them up to wider audiences. This includes academic curricula, which has a higher and rising bar for content accessibility. My friend Stacy Scott from Taylor & Francis frequently talks passionately about the ‘Purple Pound’, and she’s right to do so. 

But here’s the thing: Many print-disabled readers use services like the RNIB’s fantastic Bookshare service, or have other ways of obtaining materials. The power of the Marrakesh Treaty means in most jurisdictions readers have a right to an accessible version, and won’t always be charged.

So, while there will certainly be instances where having accessible content will open up sales channels, it’s really not a simple or predictable calculation to make. Once you get into those sorts of conversations, you’re likely to be asked for predicted numbers, and you really just can’t give them.

Remember: This is the whole reason for the EAA and similar accessibility legislation. If there was a really robust commercial argument from sheer sales, legislation wouldn’t even be necessary – competition would resolve the problem. This is manifestly not the case and may be a part of why many publishers have been hesitant to make significant investments into accessibility. It’s never ‘too late’, but to start really unlocking those resources now, we have to make a subtle change to our language.

DO: Talk about compliance

This much-feared word has special power at the corporate level. Whilst ethics and ‘corporate responsibility’ have their own public-facing value for most firms, ‘compliance’ is much more unequivocal and clear-cut – and with the right advocacy, any in-house legal counsel will support you.

Regarding the EAA, if you have any intention of selling into EU territories at any point, you need to be EAA-compliant. And while this is just a directive, and EU states are interpreting it in subtly different ways, the reality is that as long as one of them takes the strictest interpretation, that becomes the standard you have to meet. So any perceived ‘gaps’ in the legislation to ‘get around’ the trickier parts, like image description or the dreaded backlist remediation, really are of null value.

Instead, consider leaning in. Not only does it make sense to take the strict reading of the EAA, you should also be pointing at similar legislation in the US, Canada and Australia. Sense the direction of the regulatory wind. These changes are happening almost everywhere and almost certainly will be mirrored in the UK, and failure to at least seriously begin a transformation in earnest would be critically short-sighted.

The EAA in particular also applies to retailers and other distributors of electronic publications, and you may well find higher accessibility requirements from bookstores, libraries and institutions. Given many of these are international and cross-jurisdictional, don’t count on a UK exception for any of this.

In economic terms, compliance equals ‘market access’. This does mean you’ll need to spend money on developing the right processes now – but is vastly preferable to going back and fixing issues with any content you publish in the meantime – which can incur more costs in the long run. It is always cheaper to build things right in the first place than to have to come back and fix them later.

Compliance also has an evil twin: risk. Pushing things down the road creates risk, both of future cost crunches and legal and reputational trouble. Risk is another word that has special power when you’re talking with people higher up the ladder. Couching your argument in terms people are familiar with is a key technique for advocacy and building bridges within an organisation, and is absolutely vital for pitching a business case.

DON’T: Pretend to be a lawyer

The legal background to accessibility compliance is complicated, variegated and subtle. You are probably not a lawyer, and I am certainly not. But as I noted above, you really don’t have to get into the weeds most of the time – clearing access to international markets and future-proofing your content means hitting the highest reasonable bar for accessibility. Whilst this may seem daunting, rest assured that for most content from most publishers, the majority of what you have to do is eminently achievable, with the right help and provided there is the right willpower and investment to build out change.

DO: Speak to a lawyer

Whilst I’ve just argued that most of the time you really don’t need to get into the legal weeds, any in-house or retained counsel your organisation has will often be your best friend, and most valued secret weapon, when it comes to making a business case for accessibility. This comes back to our new favourite words ‘compliance’ and ‘risk’ – once you alert your legal team to this, if they weren’t already sounding the alarm they most certainly will right after. This goes doubly if your target markets include academic and/or educational settings.

DON’T: Promise AI will fix everything

This is really a topic for a post of its own, but as a broad summary: AI is not a magic bullet to accessibility problems. Whether it’s for semantic enrichment of code (i.e. tagging, logical hierarchy etc), metadata automation or the dreaded image description, companies are popping up with AI-powered solutions to the most tricky and expensive accessibility problems.

But these are in their infancy, and there are a lot of factors to be aware of when evaluating them, for instance who owns/hosts the AI, is your IP protected, will it use your material for learning? Then there’s the question of quality – without the wider context of the book or knowing your company or author’s values, will the image descriptions even be useful? How will the author feel about it?

None of this is to say that AI can’t help – quite the opposite, it absolutely can help – but it’s not a magic bullet and human checking is required. Which is generally not free!

DO: Explore vendor options

AI or not, there are some truly fantastic and innovative companies offering accessibility-related services to the industry at the moment. I’ve been saying publicly for some years that there would be a ‘gold rush’ of companies looking to cash in on strengthening compliance requirements forcing publishers to get their accessibility game up to scratch, and anyone who was talking to companies in the vendor section of the London Book Fair this year will have seen that trend writ-large. There are loads of different solutions out there, and plenty of important conversations to go and have.

Among those important conversations is one with your existing suppliers. Typesetters and other production-related companies are all abuzz about this topic right now, and they may have something to offer you that neatly slots right into your existing workflow. Adding company names and numbers to your business case, even as a starting-off point, really gives it teeth and makes it feel ‘real’.

DON’T: Narrow the conversation solely to print disability

The term ‘print disabled’ is broad, and covers anyone whose needs are not met by printed works – people dis-abled by others not catering to their requirements. These can have physical and/or cognitive reasons behind them. It is very easy to get lost in the details of talking about exactly what features help which groups. However, this is another of those issues where you really don’t need to be too detailed – because the effect is the same. Well-structured, semantically-enriched code provides the right hooks for any technology, assistive or not, to render your content.

DO: Talk about readiness and future-proofing

The same technical and semantic measures that make a publication accessible also make it more broadly ‘machine readable’. This is very powerful in any business case, because in reality that means being ready for any future application or device that comes along, whether that’s to assist with access needs or the ‘next big thing’ in gadgets, computing / AI or e-reading.

Even when it comes to changing the format altogether, great code is much easier and cheaper to transform into something else if and when the time comes.

DO: Talk to experts

There are so many fantastic groups and organisations, as well as consultants like me (hi!), passionate about this space and eager to talk. The fantastic Publishing Accessibility Action Group (paag.uk), of which I am a Working Group member, has an incredibly useful website full of vital resources for your accessibility transformation. We also have a vibrant LinkedIn community and mailing list for questions and discussions. 

There are plenty of individuals and organisations offering consultation and remediation services. I also strongly recommend reaching out to disability groups to inquire about talking to real users and finding out the real differences your work can make. These can prove powerful anecdotes for a business case.

Wrap up: Making the case

Before making any pitch to unlock resources, remember that a weak argument is worse than no argument at all. This might mean going through your pitch with a hard-nosed friend or colleague who you can give full permission to go full ‘Mr Burns’ on you and force you to couch your argument in the most corporate, avaristic terms possible. This is one of the reasons I avoid trying to claim retail sales will climb.

Talk about the undeniable stuff: Compliance, future-proofing, corporate responsibility and image.

Above all, remember that your goal is a noble one, and genuinely aligns corporate need with moral good. Be proud, be precise, and help us make accessibility happen.


Simon Mellins is a digital publishing and accessibility consultant with a particular interest in standards development and helping organisations manage accessibility transformation and develop ambitious yet practicable workflows. He has worked in digital publishing for over 15 years, including in magazines, journals and ebooks. His last role was  Ebook Technology Coordinator at Penguin Random House UK, where he looked after ebook specifications, documentation and education, with a special focus on accessibility. Simon was also involved in the foundation of the UK Publishing Accessibility Action Group (PAAG) and sits on multiple W3C Community Groups. Visit Simon’s website.

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