We’ve previously blogged about various author earnings data out of countries including Australia, the US, the UK and Canada. That data is really important for providing a snapshot of who’s earning what, where it comes from and how it’s changing over time.

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There is now a new report out of the UK, commissioned by ALCS (the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society) and led by my CREATe colleague Professor Martin Kretschmer. This is a follow up to studies reported on earnings in 2006 and 2014. Thanks to that investment, the UK has the strongest longitudinal evidence base of any Anglophone nation.

The new UK report confirms that publishing is a ‘winner takes most’ game, with the top 10% of authors earning about 70% of revenues.

Earnings have stayed about the same in real terms (going from  £16,531 in 2006 to £16,809 in 2014 to £16,096 in 2018). Adjusted for inflation, that’s a drop of 49 percent over 12 years. That’s the case even though the UK creative industries ‘have grown at nearly twice the rate of the economy since 2010’.

The news is particularly bad for respondents who identified as spending at least half their time writing (ie authors for whom the primary occupation was writing). For them, ‘the survey shows a drop in real terms (accounting for inflation) of 42 percent in median earnings from an equivalent of £18,013 in 2006 to £10,497 in 2018, continuing a downward trend seen already in the 2014 survey.’ The proportion of such authors able to make a living from writing alone declined from 40% of the group in 2006 to 28%.

Of course it’s impossible to survive on that – so where’s the rest of the money coming from? The survey tracked household income too, and there the picture was much rosier. Average household incomes were over £81,000 per year, while the typical (median) earnings were about £50,000. That led the report’s authors to raise concerns about the related impacts on diversity:

The fact that this household ‘subsidy’ is needed to make a living may contribute to the lack of diversity among writers. It is well known from demographic data (confirmed by our survey) that writers are mostly white (94%) and live in the South East. Is writing becoming more elitist as a profession?’

Relatively high household incomes (suggesting subsidy by a partner or other relative) have become a theme of all recent author earnings surveys. There’s no doubt the need for such subsidy must affect the voices we get to hear and the stories that get to be told.

I was particularly struck by changes in where author earnings come from. In 2006, those authors whose primary occupation was writing reported grant and bursaries of £4,960 (mean) and £3,450 (median). In the 2018 survey, this had fallen to £730 (mean) and £0 (median). What that last figure means is that half of the sample of authors who were spending at least half their time writing had received no grant or bursary income at all.  There was also a drop in the proportion of authors who had received an advance, from 82% in 2006 to 69% in 2018. The report’s authors observe that this represents ‘a shift in risk to primary creators, which may in part explain the decline in author pay overall.’

The ALCS has responded by saying that the report ‘raises important questions about the sustainability of the writing profession.’

This study also highlights the benefits of regular tracking of author earnings over time.  In Australia, we we still rely on the lone 2014 study (based on 2012-2013 earnings data) carried out by Throsby et al at Macquarie, which is now starting to get out of date. Let’s hope it’s going to be possible to obtain the support necessary to run it again, and start building a longitudinal evidence base of our own.

The full report is available for download here.

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