What Are Words Worth Now? Not Enough

Earlier this month, ALCS released the shocking headline findings from its recent survey of authors’ earnings, causing a flurry of press coverage, and a wealth of comment on social media.

What Are Words Worth Now?, a survey of almost 2500 working writers, commissioned by ALCS and carried out last autumn by Queen Mary, University of London has found that increasingly few professional authors are able to earn a living solely from their writing.

The survey found that in 2013, just 11.5% of professional authors (defined as those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing) earned their incomes solely from writing. In 2005, 40% of professional authors said that they did so (in What are Words Worth?, the last major ALCS survey of author earnings).

What’s more, the typical (median) annual income of the professional author has also fallen dramatically both in real and actual terms. In 2013, the median income of the professional authors was just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005 when the figure was £12, 330 (£15,450 in real terms). According to Joseph Rowntree Foundation figures, single people in the UK need to earn at least £16,850 before tax to achieve a Minimum Income Standard (MIS).

In contrast to the sharp decline in earnings of professional authors, the wealth generated by the UK creative industries is on the increase. Statistics produced by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 2014 show that the creative industries are now worth £71.4 billion per year to the UK economy (over £8 million per hour), and the UK is reported as having “the largest creative sector of the European Union”, and being “the most successful exporter of cultural goods and services in the world”, according to UNESCO.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Owen Atkinson, ALCS Chief Executive said:

“These are concerning times for writers. This rapid decline in both author incomes and in the numbers of those writing full-time could have serious implications for the economic success of the creative industries in the UK. If writers are to continue making their irreplaceable contribution to the UK economy, they need to be paid fairly 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.”

Novelist Joanne Harris commented:

“It’s good to see that finally we are becoming aware of just how little the average author earns. Not everyone can be a high earning, high profile writer but all creators should have the right to be paid for what they do. I’m looking forward to seeing this debate continue.”

The research findings of What Are Words Worth Now? were launched at an ALCS debate at the House of Commons entitled “Are We All on the Same Page: Can a Fair Deal for Writers Be Balanced with a Fair Deal for All?”. Chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin, the panellists were poet Wendy Cope; novelist Joanne Harris; Richard Hooper, Chair of the Copyright Hub; and Richard Mollet, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association.

The dramatic findings of the report were reported first by The Guardian, whose news piece prompted much comment on Twitter and sparked a wealth of further news coverage, both in the UK and abroad.

Related news

  • Readers of ALCS News can access the What Are Words Worth Now? findings document here. The full results of the report will be released in the autumn.
  • The findings of this report were launched at an ALCS debate at the House of Commons entitled “Are We All on the Same Page: Can a Fair Deal for Writers Be Balanced with a Fair Deal for All?”, was chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin. You can read about the debate here.
  • The European Commission has asked Europe Economics and the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam to undertake a study on the remuneration of authors and performers. Find out