Authors’ Earnings Research: Full report published

02 May 2019

In the past 12 years ALCS has commissioned three pieces of independent research into authors’ earnings. The full results of the most recent survey, undertaken in 2018 by researchers from the UK Copyright and Creative Economy Centre at the University of Glasgow have now been published

Last year we shared some headlines from the initial findings from our latest survey into authors’ earnings.  Now the research team has provided its full report, and it raises some important questions about the sustainability of the writing profession.

Central to the research is a survey of ALCS members, providing a broad range of information and views from authors working across different genres and industry sectors. On average, survey respondents have been earning income from writing for at least 20 years. Within this group, the research focuses on professional authors – those individuals for whom writing occupies at least half of their working life.

Even amongst such authors, typical annual earnings are less than £10,500. This equates to a fall of 42% in real terms income for professional authors since the first of these surveys was conducted in 2006.

Average earning levels are reported as being higher than the median confirming a feature of the writing profession that is common to other creative occupations, namely a significant inequality of wealth distribution: in this case the top 10% of earners account for about 70% of the total pot.

Another familiar message is that authors need to supplement their earnings from writing with other sources of income. This raises further, broader questions. Will the need to rely on other means and household incomes tend to make writing a less diverse occupation? Irrespective of their ability to generate separate incomes, the fact remains that for many experienced, professional writers a remarkably low value is being ascribed to their work. Why is this? In a country where the £100 billion creative industries provides a central pillar of the economy, is undervaluing the contribution made by creators (the only truly irreplaceable link in the value chain) really sustainable? Perhaps not: the research indicates a trend towards a writer’s output diminishing earlier in their careers than in previous studies, suggesting that falling incomes may be starting to have a disincentivising effect.

These questions are not exclusive to the UK. The research refers to a number of international studies reporting similarly findings in terms of low and falling rates of remuneration among authors.

Faced with this evidence, the challenge for those representing authors and the industries they support is to understand and address the factors underlying these trends in falling income levels. The research points to various possible causes, including technological change and a ‘seismic shift in the underlying market structure’. Further insights are anticipated in June when the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group’s publishes the results of its inquiry into authors’ earnings.