Pandemic taking mounting toll on author incomes, SoA survey finds

Pandemic taking mounting toll on author incomes, SoA survey finds

The Society of Authors' third survey of the financial impact of Covid-19 on author incomes has found that the pandemic is taking a rising toll on earnings, with 65% of authors, illustrators and literary translators now saying they have suffered a loss of income, up from 57% when the last survey was conducted in May.

Nearly half (49%) of the 511 respondents to the society's latest online poll, which ran from 7th September to 12th October, said that they were suffering a loss of more than a quarter of their income, compared to just 34% who, when asked in the spring, said that they were anticipating losses of that level.

Just 14% of respondents said that their income had remained stable since the start of the pandemic, down from 23% when the SoA first surveyed its members in the spring.

Only 28% of writers, illustrators and literary translators said they had successfully applied for both of the government’s Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) payments, with 96% and 97% of respondents ineligible for the Job Retention Scheme (furlough) or Universal Credit payments. Only 12% of respondents said they thought the government had done enough to support self-employed workers since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, income from author events has not recovered after the initial lockdown, the survey found, with nearly two in three authors (63%) reporting no increase in bookings since the spring and almost one in three (31%) confirming that bookings are continuing to be cancelled into next year.

The survey also indicated that book advances may be falling for many: of the 18% of respondents reporting that they had been offered advances since lockdown, just over half (53%) reported that the amounts remained unchanged, compared to one in five who reported "considerable decreases" relative to earlier works, the SoA said.

SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon said: "This latest in our series of income surveys highlights what many of us had feared: most authors are being significantly financially affected by the crisis without proper government support and without any prospect of authors’ appearances picking up.

"While initial concerns surrounding supply chain difficulties have now largely been resolved, we remain extremely concerned about writers, illustrators and literary translators’ declining incomes as a result of the crisis and the change in buying patterns and we will be looking at the impact on our members’ autumn royalty statements very closely.

"We are also extremely concerned about the Treasury’s introduction of ‘viability’ as a criterion for ongoing government support, which suggests a misunderstanding of many of our members’ business models, which depend on appearances – whether at schools, festivals or other venues – to supplement their writing incomes."

She added: "We will continue to work through the Creators’ Rights Alliance and with ALCS, the Creative Industries Federation and others to lobby government and MPs on the shortcomings of the Treasury’s financial support schemes and, while we were pleased to see the chancellor announce a further emergency extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme in his Winter Economy Plan, it is simply not enough.

"It is clear across the data that far too many writers, illustrators and literary translators are still falling between the gaps in government support, with emerging and midlist authors particularly hard hit, given the extent of publishing staff that have been furloughed since the spring and the increased trend towards online sales at the expense of our much-loved, high-street bookshops."

She added: "Our members simply cannot continue as they were before the pandemic with so many schools and venues closed and without any means of support, having lasted fully seven months now without meaningful financial support."

The SoA said it would be using the findings of the poll to continue addressing the shortcomings of the SEISS which it has already been raising with the Treasury, BEIS and DCMS Commons select committees throughout the spring and summer, and calling for the implementation of its Six Point Plan for Authors, as well as "working with Arts Council England to ensure that its path to 'recovery' does not prejudice authors who rely on appearances at festivals and schools for their livelihoods".