There is a “huge inequality” in earnings between writers, with a small number – 10% - earning most of the money made by professional authors, research released today (20th April) has found.
The Business of Being an Author: A Survey of Authors Earnings and Contracts was commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), with research carried out by Queen Mary University of London.
In initial findings released last year, ALCS said that the typical income for a professional author in 2013 was just £11,000, more than £5,000 below the income level considered to be a socially acceptable standard of living.
The full research found that the top 10% of professional authors – defined as those who dedicate more than 50% of their time to self-employed writing – earn 58% of all the money earned by professional authors. These professional authors are earning £60,000 or more a year.
The top 5% of professional authors – those earning £100,000 or more – earn 42.3% of that money.
The bottom 50% of all writers – those who say they are professional writers as well as those for whom writing is not a primary occupation – earn only 7% of all the money earned by writers cumulatively.
“Thus, it appears that writing is a profession where only a handful of successful authors make a very good living while most do not,” said the report.
The research revealed that 17% of all writers did not earn any money from writing during 2013, and that nearly 90% of writers need to earn money from sources other than writing.
“Further, it appears that even the better paid writers still obtain money from other sources,” said the research. In 2005, 40% of authors earned their income solely from writing. By 2013 this had dropped to just 11.5%.
There is still a gender gap in earnings of professional authors, with women earning 80% of what their male counterparts earn. This is a larger gap than the population as a whole, where women earn 91.5% of what men earn.
However, when widened out to writers as a whole, the gender gap is “much smaller than the national average”, with women earning 97% of what men earn.
Just over a quarter of respondents to the research had self-published a book at some point in the past, with the top 10% of earners making a profit of £7,000 or more. The report noted that the most successful self-publishing ventures had an average rate of return of 154% (and a typical ‘median’ rate of return of 40%). But it remained a risky option, partly because of the costs associated with self-publishing. The report found that the bottom 20% of self-publishers made losses of £400 or more.
As well as earnings, the research also looked at contracts, copyright, and authors’ bargaining positions.