SoA calls for greater financial transparency from publishers on authors’ earnings

Martin Reed

Martin Reed

Martin leads the SoA's Communications team. He oversees our strategic communications and campaign-based activities, including PR, social media, events and partnerships.
Writing in The Bookseller, CEO Nicola Solomon challenges trade publishers to adopt a fairer approach.

The article, published on Friday 2 March, highlights figures in a recent Publishers Association report showing that in 2016 authors received just 3% of publisher turnover. In the same year, major publishers’ profits averaged 13%, with Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster each posting profits of 16%.

Solomon writes:

Publishers, of course, have a duty to make a profit for shareholders. But unless authors receive proper returns, the supply of quality work will inevitably diminish.

SoA President Philip Pullman is quoted in the article: ‘It’s perfectly possible to make a good profit and pay a fair return to all of those on whose work, after all, everything else depends’.

Meanwhile, writers Paul McVeigh and Kit de Waal expressed concern about the barriers that low incomes are likely to present to writers from backgrounds currently underrepresented in publishing.

‘Commercial sensitivities’

Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, concludes his editorial in the same edition of the magazine with: ‘Solomon is right to raise the questions; publishers could do worse than provide some answers’.

But in response to the article, Stephen Lotinga CEO of the Publishers Association, told The Guardian on Monday that:

publishers absolutely recognise that writers should be fairly rewarded for their work and they do a huge amount to support talent … Royalties and advance flows are agreed on an individual, case-by-case basis and will vary across the industry. Publishers do communicate directly and transparently with authors, for example through royalty reports, but each contract is business-sensitive and so the communication is understandably with the individual concerned … There are commercial sensitivities around much of this information that will inevitably impact what could be shared more widely.

That being said, we have identified four key areas where we think publishers can — and must — do better:

  1. Fair terms. Ahead of EU legislation, all publishers should sign up to our CREATOR principles for fair contracts.
  2. Accounting. Transparent and clear accounting to show exactly how much publishers pay authors, illustrators and translators.
  3. Increased shares. Publishers should commit to paying authors a higher proportion of turnover, and increase advances and escalators.
  4. Redistribution to a wider pool, not just celebrities, but writers from across society. And publish how author share is distributed in accounts.

Shrinking pay doesn’t just hurt established authors – it makes publishing less accessible to working-class creators and perpetuates the problems our industry has with diversity.

This is an important campaign that will inevitably run and run. We will of course keep you updated as the discussion develops.

In the meantime, we’re keen to read your thoughts on the topic in the comment thread below.

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