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Indie Authors’ Earnings 2023: the first global study published

Posted on    by Amy Thomas
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Indie Authors’ Earnings 2023: the first global study published

By 21 June 2023July 11th, 2024No Comments

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Today, CREATe is publishing the first global study of Indie Authors’ Earnings based on a large-scale survey of self-publishing authors conducted in 2022. The analysis was funded as independent research by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and the Self-Publishing Formula, and forms a part of our core research agenda in providing evidence on fair remuneration for creators.

This report (by Amy Thomas, Michele Battisti and Helena Saenz De Juano Ribes) comes at a time where we see a global trend towards the de-valuing of creative labour, with earnings of primary creators decreasing across multiple creative industries. Indeed, we are presently witnessing the largest stoppage and withdrawal of labour during the Writers Guild of America strike to improve working conditions for creators. Many of the key issues in this labour dispute are concerned with the behaviours of cultural gatekeepers and intermediaries who publish creators’ work (e.g., Netflix).

By focussing on the indie author, this report explores what happens when a creator bypasses these traditional gatekeepers, whether through disintermediation, or intermediation of a different kind. The advent of the Kindle in 2007 saw the wide uptake of direct-to-reader eBook publication, which has since promised both the subversion of expectations of how ‘writing should work’, but also exposes the author to new risks typically borne by a trade press. As the first survey and analysis of its kind, this report explores how authors sustain themselves when they are the creative directors of their own works, with all the promise and risk that such a task entails.

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Download the report here.

Executive summary

ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, together with the Self-Publishing Formula, commissioned CREATe (the UK Copyright & Creative Economy Research Centre based at the University of Glasgow) to conduct independent research into the earnings of independent (indie, or self-publishing) authors. This report consists of a secondary analysis of data gathered by way of an online survey conducted in February and March 2023 by The Future of Publishing and SKS Advisors.

The analysis focussed on indie authors who had self-published at least one book, and who spent at least 50% of their working time on writing or self-publishing activities. We found that, from these sources alone, indie authors earned a typical income of 12,755 USD in 2022, representing an almost 50% increase since 2021. Whilst this level of income likely needs some form of supplementation from other sources to make a sustainable livelihood, we nonetheless found that indie authors earn a typically higher income (a difference of almost 50%) from writing alone when compared with authors who use traditional publishing models.

As with many creative industries, indie authors work in a ‘winner-takes-all’ market, with a highly unequal distribution of income: in 2022, the top 1% authors earned 31% of total revenues. This is in keeping with our expectations of how writing markets function based on previous research. However, we find that the indie writing market also overperforms in unexpected ways, particularly in diversifying and amplifying marginalised creator voices. We find a reverse gender gap, with cisgender women earning more than cisgender men, and a community of thriving LGBTQIA+ authors, who earn more than their straight counterparts. Nonetheless, we find that patterns of low pay for black authors continue to be perpetuated, and that disabled authors earn more than three times less than able-bodied authors. These findings suggest that, whilst the removal of traditional cultural gatekeepers is more enabling to some sub-groups within diverse author segments, many systematic issues continue to prevent meaningful participation and sustainability of a writing career.

The indie writing market is particularly well served for three genres: Romance, Crime/Thriller and Fantasy. Authors who write in these genres also earn a typically higher income than more generalist indie authors. Whilst we note the great benefits to amplification of diversity to non-cis gendered authors and non-straight authors, we find that members these communities tend to remain intercommunity, writing almost exclusively for LGBTQIA+ genres.

Where business strategies are concerned, we find that the indie authors are best served by lessening the barriers in distribution and communication between them and their readers. We see the highest growth in revenues for authors who utilise new business models as opposed to traditional, self-publishing routes: these include crowdfunding and patron platforms (e.g., Patreon), and income derived from sponsorships or other forms of ‘influencer’ income.

The report was published as a CREATe Working Paper 2023/04.