Monday 14 July 2014

ALCS: tough times if you want to live off your writing

The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) in the United Kingdom commissioned a survey on authors' earnings (by Queen Mary, University London's Phillip Johnson, Johanna Gibson and Gaetano Dimita). It's called What Are Words Worth Now? A Survey of Authors' Earnings and you can read the report (12 pages) here.

Here's what the BBC ("Typical writer 'earns £11,000 a year', research reveals"), The Guardian ("Authors' Incomes Collapse to 'Abject' Levels"), the Daily Telegraph ("JK Rowling’s 'little story about wizards' makes it hard for authors, says Joanne Harris"), the Bookseller ("Typical author earnings 'dropped to £11,000 in 2013'") and the International Business Times ("Writers' Block: Authors' Average Earnings Plummeted to £11,000 in 2013") have to say about it.

The reports concludes thus:
Adapt and survive

The UK creative industries are a proven world-leading success story, punching well above their weight internationally. However, these are concerning times for writers.

Digital use earnings are going up but overall incomes are coming down and the proportion of professional authors who earn a living solely from writing has fallen from 40% to just 11.5%.

For writers to continue making their irreplaceable contribution to the UK economy, they need to receive fair remuneration for their work.

This means ensuring clear, fair contracts with equitable terms and a copyright regime that supports creators and their ability to earn a living from their creations.
This blogger has done a fair amount of writing in his time, and there have been years in which he has earned a welcome addition to his income from this source -- but he costed out his first attempts at remunerative writing and worked out that, taking into account time spent not just writing but also reading and correcting proofs, dealing with publishers and so on, his earnings were somewhere around 30 pence an hour. While this experience may not be typical of all authors, the reality check proved to be of greater value than the royalty cheque ...


Andy J said...

While the 'packaged' results might appeal to editors (or journalists generally) it would have been nice to see the breakdown of the raw figures. For example although there were nearly 2500 participants, we are not told how many of them self-identified as 'professional' writers, despite much empahasis being placed on the drop in earnings of this group. Since comparisons were made (in percentage terms) with the previous, 2007, survey of authors, it would have been helpful to be shown the extent to which the two sample groups were similar or not. Are we comparing apples to apples or to comquats?

The ALCS website provides no additional information on the subject. I haven't checked Queen Mary's.

Jeremy said...

Andy J, you're quite right -- it would be great to see a breakdown and get a closer look at the methodology. It would also be good to know whether there was any way of determining what proportion of the drop in income was estimated or self-assessed as being derived from the changing digital/copyright environment and how much might be written off to the probability that authors of certain categories of work would have lost out because, following the subprime banking fiasco and resulting recession, potential purchasers of their product regarded them as the most dispensable part of their diminished incomes.

Phillip Johnson said...

The detailed report with a breakdown of the figures will be published later in the summer.

Jeremy said...

Thanks so much, Phillip, that's good news.

john r walker said...

Jeremy and Andy I agree, the ALCS report is scant on detail feels more like a abstract than a study. Have the ALCS released a more detailed report, I could ask a economist mate to have a look at the methodology.