In 2020, we focused our efforts almost exclusively on the impact of Covid-19. But in 2021, as the health crisis faded at times to an enduring background noise, we were able to put more resources into reprioritising other issues.
Those issues will set the tone of our work in 2022, across publishing, international trade, inclusivity, sustainability, and author incomes.
Publishers that charge
We will act on the findings of our 2021 survey into ‘contributory publishing’ (run this year with the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain) to raise awareness of the unprofessional practices and opaque contracts of many publishers that charge for publication. We have three aims – to raise awareness among the writing community, to ask publishers that charge to sign up to a good practice code, and to ensure if they do not that industry bodies and advertising platforms will stop giving them legitimacy and promotional tools.
The build-up to and fallout of Brexit on the creative industries ended up playing second fiddle to the unfolding Covid-19 crisis. But the impact of deals that were struck (or not) in early 2021 will impact writers, illustrators, and translators for many years. We will unravel some of the ongoing uncertainty that authors and other creative practitioners face – around international travel, selling books overseas, or living abroad – so that they can deal with the issues better informed. And we will lobby government on issues that pose a risk to authors’ livelihoods and lives – from weakening our copyright regime to rolling back years of progress on human rights. If they want to help the creative industries level up, there are plenty of ways they could do that.
Inclusivity and representation
The past couple of years have reminded us on many occasions of how much harder publishing and creative industries must work to become truly inclusive, representative, and relevant. That goes for the Society of Authors too. In our daily work, we stand for the rights of every author, but we need to make sure we communicate that better, make clear where we stand on authors’ freedoms, and to continue to push ourselves, our partners, and the industries we work in to be better.
In November 2021, COP26 demonstrated that we cannot rely on government intervention alone to address the climate crisis. As an organisation and as an author community we must do more to influence the industry environments we work in. We support Publishing Declares – an initiative led by the Publishers Association to help their members achieve net zero by 2040. And we have formed a new member-led Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group that will hold publishers to account on a range of points from energy use and packaging to pulp sources and divestment, as well as developing resources to help authors influence the environments in which they work to operate more sustainably.
We will continue our efforts to ensure authors are properly rewarded for their work. In 2021, with ALCS, Bookbarn and World of Books, we launched AuthorSHARE, a scheme by which authors receive royalties on sales of used books – the first of its kind anywhere. In 2022, we will extend that scheme. And with the Creators Rights Alliance we will campaign for fair pay for all creators, as well as continuing our core work of negotiating with publishers, commissioners, and others to improve the terms offered to our members.
Ahead, not back
But as we look forward, it is essential that we and the industries we work in do not attempt to blindly reset things back to pre-pandemic days. There have been plenty of lessons learned over the past two years, positive as well as negative, that we need to carry with us into 2022.
We have been reminded of the fragility of creative careers, of the limited statutory support available when things go wrong, and of the importance of a strong trade union to challenge, rebalance and hold to account. We need only look across the Channel at French strategies to prevent online retailers from pricing books and delivery unfairly, coupled with mandatory pension support for authors from publishers, to know that here in the UK the government could do far more to nurture the environments in which our members work.
We have also learned how to reach a wider community of authors than ever before, by organising or supporting events and gatherings online. Perhaps the nature of these events will change, as we return to in-person setups. However, it is essential that we take an accessibility-first approach, prioritising online audiences, to ensure we do not limit the avenues of interaction that have become essential since the first lockdown. We hope that a hybrid approach is something that all our partners in publishing and beyond can plan for and commit to in all kinds of events – from talks and interviews to conferences and festivals.
And we will of course continue to monitor the ongoing impact of both Covid-19 and Brexit on the careers of the authors we represent and to keep supporting them through our campaigning and the Contingency Fund.