CREATe has released a study of UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts based on a large scale survey of 50,000 authors conducted in 2018. The survey was funded as independent research by the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), and is a re-run of a survey first conducted in 2006 (also led by Kretschmer), and repeated in 2014 (by Gibson, Johnson & Dimita out of Queen Mary, University of London). This series of surveys offers one of the first opportunities to assess robustly the effects of digital changes on the labour market and working conditions of a specific professional sector.
UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts 2018: A Survey of 50,000 Writers
ALCS news release (2 May 2019):
Author pay declines in a booming industry
Surveys of creators’ earnings consistently demonstrate the presence of winner-take-all markets. Thus it is unsurprising that there is a large gap between the earnings of successful writers and the rest. This has increased since 2006 but the pattern has remained similar. The top 10 percent of writers still earn about 70% of total earnings in the profession. However, the current survey found a dramatic drop in average and median earnings. The nominal average (mean) earnings stagnated, changing from £16,531 in 2006 to £16,809 in 2014 to £16,096 in 2018. Accounting for inflation, this is a drop over 12 years of 49 percent over a period of time in which the UK creative industries reached £100bn GVA and have grown at nearly twice the rate of the economy since 2010. (DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates 2017: GVA, Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, 28 November 2018. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/britains-creative-industries-break-the-100-billion-barrier)
Why is this apparent decline in author pay occurring? Are new (digital?) sources of revenue not passed through? Does the decline in value for creative craft create disincentives? Should it trouble policy makers? These are difficult questions. Some might say that writing is ‘cheap’. There are no large overheads. Many writers write in addition to engaging in other professional activities. They have made personal choices how to allocate their time. Yet even when screening out occasional or part-time writers, the picture remains startling. As the key sample for comparing developments over time, the study defines a sub-group of writers who spend at least half of their time writing. These ‘Primary occupation writers’ are people who clearly aim to make a living from writing and engage in sustained and professional effort to achieve this.
For this group, 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 median calculates the mid-point of the population, i.e. 50 percent of the population of primary occupation writers earn less than £10,497 per annum.) Continue reading