A profession struggling to sustain itself

Illustration of people trying to reverse a downward trend on a chart.
Illustration © Annetc / Adobe Stock
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.
ALCS report on author incomes shows 60% drop in median incomes since 2006

The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) has published a report of their fourth survey into authors’ earnings – carried out by CREATe – with the stark headline that the median income of full-time professional authors has fallen by more than 60% in real terms over the past 16 years.

The report builds on findings from research carried out in 2006, 2014 and 2018, and asked participants to share details of income for the pre-Covid financial year 2019/20 and the Covid-affected financial year 2020/2021.

In 2006, median author earnings were £12,330. In 2022, the median has fallen to £7,000, a drop of 33.2% based on reported figures, or 60.2% when adjusted for inflation.

The report, which ALCS argues is evidence of a ‘global trend towards the de-valuing of creative labour’, found that:

  • The 60% fall in earnings has pushed median earnings to below minimum wage levels
  • The gender gap is expanding – men are earning typically 41% more than women (vs 33% in 2016/17)
  • The top 10% of authors earn about 47% of all author income
  • The proportion of authors earning all their income from writing has decreased from 40% in 2006 to 19% today
  • Authors’ dependence on portfolio earnings has increased
  • Women, black and mixed-race authors, along with younger and older authors, all earn less than their respective counterparts
  • Publishing advances are becoming rarer, while buy-out contracts are becoming more frequent.

The findings raise serious questions about the future of writing as a profession. The figures highlight patterns of poor pay and working conditions being offered to a labour force based on a reliance that creators will always be incentivised by their love of creating.

Commenting on the 2022 report, SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said:

These results are disappointing but not surprising. In a year that publishers have boasted record profits, the figure of median earnings from self-employed writing of £7,000 for primary occupation writers does not even come close to a living wage. The decline in the proportion of authors who earn all their income from writing — from 40% in 2006 to 28% in 2018, and now 19% in 2022 — is unambiguous. It means that almost all of the people whose creativity and passion make the industry’s existence possible can only realistically be part of it with other jobs, or when they are supported by others, or through personal wealth. This paints a picture of a writing profession that is inaccessible and unsustainable for too many.

We have seen many initiatives to diversify the voices and stories that are published, and to ensure that a career as an author is not the preserve of a privileged few. Today’s figures show just how far we are from achieving that. It is tougher today to make a living as an author than it was at the time of the last ALCS income survey in 2018, when the reported median income was 50% higher. My hope is that the 2022 report will be a wakeup call to the industry to ensure a better deal for authors – through fairer contracts, higher advances, better payment terms, and a review of today’s publishing economics, which clearly work for some, to ensure they work for creators.

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Lawrence
Lawrence
14 December 2022 17:25

The gender gap is expanding – men are earning typically 41% more than women (vs 33% in 2016/17) Why? There are loads of top women writers, and women read more than most men. Could it be down to marketing? JK and Robert Galbraith sell well, but everyone (well, mostly) knows it’s a female writing. Fact is, nobody selects a book on the gender of the writer, but the quality and reviews of the book. . The top 10% of authors earn about 47% of all author income. In what way is this different from any other industry? 80/20 rule? .… Read more »

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