Latest author incomes survey confirms ongoing impact of health crisis

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.
Six in ten author incomes fall in financial year 2020/21

Illustration © Antonio Rodriguez

The Society of Authors has released the results of its fourth Authors in the Health Crisis survey, analysing the impact of COVID-19 on authors’ livelihoods since the first UK-wide lockdown on 23 March 2020.

This first income survey of 2021 shows that:

  • 57% of authors have experienced a drop in income over the course of the last financial year (2020/21)
  • 17% reported that their incomes had remained stable, while only 9% reported an increase in earnings
  • 14% of authors said that they had received or expected to benefit from Government support for the self-employed
  • 60% who said that they had not benefitted or expected not to do so with 26% of respondents still unsure about their eligibility for HMRC help.

The survey ran throughout March, and closed in April with 362 responses. Our previous research was featured in Supporting Writers Through the COVID-19 Crisis, a report by the All-Party Writers Group published earlier this month.

Next steps

The four surveys demonstrate a clear trend towards substantial ongoing financial losses for most professional authors. We are redoubling our efforts to demand that the Government and the creative industries take the following steps to offset these losses:

  1. Implement the recommendations in our Six Point Plan for Authors submitted to HM Treasury ahead of the Spring Budget.
  2. Address the shortcomings in the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) we identified to HM Treasury and the Treasury, BEIS and DCMS Commons select committees last year (see below for links to our letters to the Treasury).
  3. Work with Arts Council England to ensure that its path to ‘recovery’ does not prejudice authors who rely on appearances at festivals and schools for their livelihoods and to ensure that there are adequate emergency funds in place to complement our Authors Contingency Fund.
  4. Take urgent steps to rectify structural inequalities in the market that have been exacerbated by the pandemic – encouraging diversity and the discoverability of emerging and midlist authors.

Commenting on the fourth Authors in the Health Crisis survey results, SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said:

This latest survey – our first of 2021 – shows that more than half of authors have being financially hit by COVID-19 with less than half eligible for Government support to mitigate their losses.

We remain extremely concerned about authors’ declining incomes because of the public health crisis and we will look at the impact on our members’ 2021 royalty statements closely to see if the trend in declining authors’ incomes is borne out.

We remain extremely disappointed at the Treasury’s tin-eared approach to the chorus of concerns raised by the SoA and others – including Excluded UK – about the ineligibility of potentially millions of freelancers under the Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

We will continue to work through the Creators’ Rights Alliance and the Creative Industries Federation to lobby MPs on the shortcomings of Government support and with ALCS and others to tackle the emerging issues surrounding diversity and discoverability of authors’ work, which are further hitting members’ incomes as more sales move online to well-known authors.

The Government cannot expect creative careers to recover lost ground and for publishing and other creative industries to forge ahead as a beacon industry of Global Britain without recognising the huge fall in authors’ incomes, much of which has been due to or exacerbated by Government policy over the last 15 months.

Our members simply cannot continue as they were before the pandemic with so many venues, schools and festivals having been closed for so long and with social distancing measures of one kind or another likely to continue following progress to Phase Four – we hope – on or soon after the 21 June target set by Government.

The SoA’s Authors Contingency Fund, which distributed £1.3 million in 2020, is now open to 2021 applicants.

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