A living wage…

Recently, the Bookseller and the BBC both published articles on the early results of an Author’s Licensing and Collection Society (ALCS) report called ‘What are words worth now?’. It’s no suprise to learn that the headline news is that the average UK professional (full time) author earns just £11,000, down from £12,330 in 2006. The reality is much worse: the infamous ‘real terms’ drop is from £15,450 and the average income of all authors is only £4,000. :wince: The ALCS report mentions the £16,850 Minimum Income Standard – that required to maintain a minimum standard of living – and suggests this disparity may be why full-time authors are in a decline.

Am I allowed a moment of sarcasm? What a surprise.

The numbers surrounding an author’s income seem low and we’re not sure, of course, what those at the top of the tree are earning, despite estimates of JKR’s wealth. We are also largely in the entertainment industry which, for one reason or another, often has a wide disparity of income, so it may be too self-serving to cry a special form of foul. There were only 2454 authors surveyed, after all, far less than the huge number in the UK (I can’t remember quite how many there are, but it is over 20 times that number, iirc). The disparity of income is also not limited to authors – yet another recent report showed that top executive pay is around 180 times that of the average worker (whatever average is used here).

So why protest? Many writers supplement their income in other ways, such as through lecturing: when we talk about authors we also include those who write academic treatises and textbooks. Such authors are going to reduce the average yearly income of all authors as, for them, writing is a sideline or is something to support there other profession. It’s also the case that the majority of authors write for a hobby or as a part-time endeavour.

Except that we get buried in comparisons: that £11,000 a year is the filtered results for full-time authors, those who try to earn a living through writing. What’s more, the ALCS report pointed out In 2012 the ONS listed £32,100 as the median household income (the 50% population above-and-below slot). If you look at the ONS report, it says the lowest 10% of household incomes in the UK is £11,400 or below.

That’s the average full-time author’s income. A sobering thought.

What’s important about this is that it shows just how much author’s _don’t_ get. The Bookseller’s editorial wrote recently about puncturing the mystique of writing, letting people know that author’s aren’t these great media figures earning loads of money. Sure, an already-famous figure earns loads from their memoirs. Sure, peeps like James Patterson and JK have legendary incomes. But they are the isolated figures at the top of a very steep pyramid (or a spire, perhaps!). The normal writer – the average writer – is still that impoverished figure in a dingy corner, hunched over a keyboard, dimly lit by the glow from their screen, books and research files piled around them. It’s not too far to say that a writer still constantly wonders from where they’ll get that next bit of money.

Forget the big arguments between the publishers and Amazon about the huge amounts of money apparently in the industry. The argument still being ignored is the one surrounding the person who composes and creates the goods in the first place.

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