Writers’ incomes have plummeted – with women, black and mixed-race writers worst hit | Books

There are “serious questions about the sustainability of the writing profession in the UK” and “significant inequalities between those who are adequately rewarded for writing and those who are not”, new research has found.

The report, commissioned by the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and carried out by the UK Copyright and Creative Economy Research Center (CREATe) based at the University of Glasgow, found that professional authors earn a median of just £7,000. a year.

Writers’ organizations said the results were unsurprising but still disappointing, painting “a picture of a writing profession that is inaccessible and unsustainable for many”. They have warned that the figures may see writing become “the preserve of the privileged”.

The report focuses on writers with a primary occupation, who spend at least 50% of their working time writing, and covers writers of all kinds, from book authors to journalists and screenwriters.

In 2018, the last time the survey was conducted, these writers earned a median of £10,497 a year, meaning their income has fallen by 33% to the current figure of £7,000. It has fallen 43% since 2007, when the median income was £12,330.

About 50% of writers report writing as their primary occupation, at similar levels to previous years. However, there was a “noticeable decline in the number of authors who earn their entire income from writing”, from 40% in 2007 to 19% as of 2022.

Amy Thomas, the lead researcher on the team from CREATe, said that “consistently, we find that income from writing is declining and creative work is being devalued”.

“The 2022 report raises serious questions about the sustainability of the writing profession in the UK,” she said. “While many of our respondents spoke of their love of creation and passion for writing, relying on their altruism has been used to justify an increasingly unlivable salary.”

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, said that “in a year when publishers have boasted record profits, the median self-employment income figure of £7,000 for entry-level writers doesn’t even come close to a living wage.”

She added that the decline in writers who earned all their income from writing was “unequivocal”.

“Almost all the people whose creativity and passion make the industry’s existence possible can only realistically be a part of it with other jobs, or when supported by others, or through personal wealth,” which “paints a picture of a writing profession that is inaccessible and unsustainable for many.”

Ellie Peers, general secretary of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, said the report “raises serious concerns about the ability of writers to sustain a career over time”.

“If we continue on a path of high levels of income inequality and devaluation of creative work, writing will be reserved for the most privileged, to the detriment of society as a whole,” she added.

The report also found a gender pay gap of 41.4% between men and women, with women experiencing a real earnings decline of 21% between 2017 and 2020, compared to 10% for men.

This is the first year the survey has attempted to account for trans and non-binary gender identities. While it found that authors “who identify as trans appear to show a 378% real income growth”, this was based on an increase in income from just one survey respondent.

The survey also found that black and mixed-race authors “receive disproportionately less income than white authors”, and “experience steeper year-over-year losses”. The median earnings of Asian writers were higher than black and mixed-race writers, but lower than white writers and those who identified as “other.”

Thomas said, “Women, people of color, the very young and the very old all consistently earn less than their respective counterparts.”

“This raises the question of whether we are stifling our creative culture by preventing a broad and diverse group of writers from participating in this market,” she added.

Writing, the report said, was “characterized by winner-take-all dynamics and extremely high levels of income inequality”. The top 10% of writers earned about 47% of total income, and many writers “seem to rely on other members of the household who usually earn well”.

Dan Conway, CEO of the Publishers Association said that “authors are at the heart of our industry and publishers work tirelessly to try to ensure that the work of the authors they publish reaches as wide an audience as possible. They want authors to find success for their work and reap its many rewards.”

“As with all creative jobs, it is a popular and intensely competitive profession to pursue. Revenue is not linear and often peaks in the first few years of publishing, he added, noting that “traditional” publishers are paying more than ever. However, he agreed with the report’s observation that newer publishers “need to pay authors reasonably as well.”

Solomon said that while there had been “many initiatives to diversify the voices and stories being published, and to ensure that a career as a writer is not reserved for a privileged few”, the figures show “how far we are from achieving that”.

“My hope is that the 2022 report will be a wake-up call to the industry to secure a better deal for authors – through fairer contracts, higher advances, better payment terms and a review of today’s publishing economy, which clearly works for some, to ensure that they work for creators,” she added.

The ALCS said the writing profession “makes an important contribution to the continued health of the UK’s creative industries”.

Barbara Hayes, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “Given the clear contribution writers make to the economy and society as a whole, their work should be properly valued and rewarded; for many professional writers that is simply not the case these days.

“ALCS, along with similar organizations representing our creative workforce, will continue to advocate for employment relationships built around core values ​​such as fairness and inclusion,” she added. “The alternative, as the report suggests, leads to a diminished profession unable to sustain the important contribution that writers make to society and our economy.”

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