The ALCS just released a survey on authors’ earnings, and the news is bleak. The ALCS surveyed 2,454 participants, some of whom considered themselves professional writers. The number of these professional writers who make a full-time wage from their craft has dropped from 40% to 11.5%.
The survey looks at various types of writers (adult fiction, adult visual, academic, etc.), and it would be interesting to tease these apart to see which industries are being hit the hardest. One imagines any periodical writers who participated had bad news to share. One area of growth mentioned is digital income. In 2007 the same survey showed almost no income from digital. It’s now the third largest source of income.
The ALCS also mentions self-publishing. They say (emphasis mine):
Self-publishing is becoming an increasingly successful venture for writers. Just over 25% of writers have self-published a work, with a typical return on their investment of 40%. Unsurprisingly, 86% of those who had self-published said they would do so again.”
This is pretty amazing news. Too bad most people won’t get the news. Instead of reading the report, they’ll probably read a paper or blog that parses it. The Guardian also covered the ALCS report. They had this to say:
Self-publishing also comes under fire, he said – but this is “even less of a way of earning money from your writing if you’re any good than conventional publishing”.
This makes it sound like the ALCS report criticized self-publishing, when it did just the opposite. Instead of quoting the report (which the story is about), The Guardian quoted a random author expressing his unfounded opinion, an opinion that contradicts the very report in question. In fact, they quoted an author who distinguishes conventional publishing from self-publishing as the route better taken by those who are “any good.”
The Guardian journalist who wrote this article may not have read the survey they are reporting on. Or they may have read the survey and then decided to cover their opinion rather than the news. Either way, this person is clearly overpaid. Despite what the ALCS says.
Not mentioned is that the years covered by the survey are 2007 – 2013, years of extreme economic downturn. There’s no doubting that the writing profession has been hit hard. When any idiot can do a better job of reporting on his free blog than a professional journalist can at a major paper, the reasons for paying the latter dwindle. What I would love to see is the number of people who had to get a second job throughout the UK for the same period of time. Only then can we say something about the income of writers because of their profession rather than their geography.
In the US, millions of workers have had to transition to multiple jobs. It’s a heartbreaking reality. No one wants this. But confabulating it with the choice of profession without controlling for overall trends is disingenuous. Maybe we’ll find that the news for writers is even worse than it appears. Maybe most people in the UK suddenly found themselves making far more money between 2007 and 2013. Maybe those working part time at two jobs suddenly found a single, high-paying job during this stretch.
Hey, maybe a plucky journalist is currently digging for the answers, doing some real reporting. If they are, I have this to say to them: Get back to work. Your boss is gonna be pissed if he catches you writing.