What Are Words Worth Now? Even Less, Actually
"The Business of Being an Author", the full report on the current state of authors’ earnings, commissioned last year by ALCS has just been published. And it makes sobering reading.
Last summer, ALCS released some shocking headline findings from its recently-commissioned research into authors’ earnings, under the heading What Are Words Worth Now? These initial findings, including the revelation that the typical income of a professional author had fallen by 29% since 2005, prompted a flurry of press coverage, and a wealth of comment on social media.
Now Queen Mary, University of London which conducted the research, has published the full report. The Business of Being an Author: A Survey of Authors’ Earnings and Contracts gives the findings of a survey of almost 2500 working writers. As we reported in the July 2014 issue of ALCS News, initial analysis of the responses found that increasingly few professional authors are able to earn a living from their writing alone, with just 11.5% of professional authors earning their incomes solely from writing, down from 40% in 2005.
Among the further findings of The Business of Being an Author which is now being made public for the first time:
THE WRITING LIFE AND EARNINGS
The career of a typical professional author begins in the late 20s/30s. The optimum ‘earning age’ for most is the mid-40s to 50s, with incomes beginning to decline thereafter.
The earnings picture is very top heavy: the top 5% earned 42.3% of all the money earned by professional authors.
The bottom 50% (those earning £10,432 or less) earned only 7% of all the money earned by all writers cumulatively.
Since 2005 the typical author has become poorer against society as a whole and now (from self-employed writing) earns only 87% of the present minimum wage.
Nearly 90% of professional authors need to earn money from sources other than writing.
17% of all writers did not earn any money from writing in 2013, despite 98% of these having had a work published or exploited in each year from 2010 to 2013. Therefore, at least 17% of writers work without any expectation of earnings.
A quarter of authors have self-published a book.
Among authors who have self-published, the top 10% of earners made a profit of £7,000 or more.
The top 20% of earners among authors who have self-published made a profit of almost £3,000.
The bottom 20% of authors who have self-published made losses of at least £400.
PUBLISHING ADVANCES & CONTRACTS
44% of authors stated that the size of the advances they had received from publishers had declined over the past five years.
46% of authors said they had signed a buy-out contract (where there is a single payment for use of their work without the further payment of royalties), with 30% stating that the prevalence of such contracts was on the increase.
42% of authors said they always retain copyright in their works, with most others retaining it most, or some of the time. Only 12% never retain any copyright in their works after publication.
Commenting on the report, Richard Combes, Head of Rights and Licensing at ALCS said: “The research highlights a familiar paradox: at a time when the creative industries are a thriving mainstay of the UK economy, the industry of individual creators is an increasingly undervalued national resource.”
Professional authors: respondents who dedicate over 50% of their time to self-employed writing
Authors: respondents who identify their “primary occupation” as author (whether a professional author or an occupational writer)
Writers: a shorthand term for all writers – ie: respondents to particular question irrespective of other factors