Surveys in U.S., U.K. & Canada Show Decline in Authors’ Earnings

If you’re a published author and your name is neither J.K. Rowling nor Stephen King, then the results of three recent surveys will confirm what you probably already know—authors are earning less these days.

A recent panel discussion hosted by the Authors Guild discussed results of surveys on authors’ earnings in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, which show a grim picture of declining income for professional authors even as publishers continue to make profits.

The event was moderated by author T.J. Stiles who described writers as “disaggregated individuals” in a corporate economy. He said such disaggregation lets authors retain their independent voices, but also allows publishers to impose rigid contract terms. Stiles won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for biography for his book, “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.”

Declining Writers’ Income

Here are the highlights of the panel discussion held on April 28:

United States: The Authors Guild surveyed its members last month, the first such survey since 2009. Results have not been fully analyzed yet, but preliminary findings show that 49 percent of respondents said their income dropped over the last five years. Survey participants’ writing-related income decreased 20 percent in that time frame to $8,000, even though they spent almost 50 percent more time marketing their work and themselves. The survey was sent to all Guild members and also 1,300 non-member authors. Thirty percent of those surveyed have self-published.

United Kingdom: The data came from the 2013 survey conducted by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society. It shows that the number of authors who earned a living solely from writing declined from 40 percent in 2005 to just 11.5 percent in 2013. In the same year, U.K. authors earned a median income from writing of £11,000.

Canada: Writers’ income decreased 27 percent since 1998, according to John Degan, a poet and novelist, who’s also the executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada. He attributed the decline partly to a 2012 law that broadened educational exceptions to copyright and yielded immediate drop in K-12 book sales.

Stiles asked the panel for some possible solutions to the bleak situation. The consensus: there is a need for stronger copyrights and better contracts.

You can read more about the panel discussion on the Authors Guild Web site.