The Society of Authors (SoA) has welcomed the Oxford Literary Festival's U-turn decision to pay writers to participate - but called the £150 fee on offer "a little on the low side for a major festival".
The SoA equated £150 to an annual salary of £13,500 using Andrew Bibby’s reckoner, which shows how daily rates equate with different salaries. Using this tool, the SoA indicated a more fitting fee would be in the region of £415 to £610.
The festival initially refused to confirm to the SoA whether the £150 fee would include VAT and expenses, according to SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon, who argued that "obviously it should".
Solomon pointed out that authors earn their living as freelances, and that an hour slot can still take out a day or more for an attending author. She also referred to the ALCS study of 2014, revealing average earnings of a professional full time author are only £11,000 per year, and that of a recent EC study putting the figure up marginally at £12,500.
The Oxford Literary Festival fee review came about as the result of the SoA's consultation with 17 festivals, 12 of which already paid its authors, with the majority citing fees ranging between £100 – £1,000 plus expenses (mostly within the range of £150 to £200). The Edinburgh International Book Festival pays £200 per author per event, it confirmed last year. Meanwhile, the policy of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, also a charity, is to treat authors as "very special guests" on an all expenses-paid "holiday", Isobel Abulhoul, founder and director of the festival said last year. At the same time, she also warned that offering a small fee in its place would be considered as "insulting". The Cambridge literary festival offers authors £100, plus accommodation.
Commenting on the Oxford Literary Festival's policy announced yesterday, Nicola Solomon, chief executive for the SoA said: "Since [consultation] more festivals have agreed to pay authors as a result of our campaign and it is my feeling that £150 plus VAT and expenses is a little on the low side for a major festival."
She added: "We ask all festivals to regularly review the fees paid to authors. We know that festival economics are complex and of course the negotiation of fees is a matter for individuals. However, all festivals – especially those with commercial sponsors, and any festival where the public pays for tickets – should offer reasonable fees as a matter of course. Fees should take into account travel and preparation time as well as actual performance time. Although an event may only be an hour an author seldom loses less than a day when you take into account preparation and travel.
"Fees should take in to account the annual salary an author would expect to earn as a freelance."
The issue of author pay at festivals came to the fore of industry debate in January after Philip Pullman, president of the SoA, resigned as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival in protest at its refusal to pay authors. It sparked a rallying call for boycotts of non-paying festivals from prominent writers including Linda Grant, Denise Mina, Joanne Harris and Francesca Simon. "It is time we all stiffened our spines, dug in our heels and said No," novelist and critic Amanda Craig said in an open letter shared with The Bookseller at the time.
At the time, Solomon also criticised Oxford Literary Festival's request to authors "not to speak at another event within a 30 day/45 mile cordon of speaking at Oxford" which she said was "extraordinary, particularly in the context of an appearance where [at the time] no fees are being offered".
The festival has also previously requested permission to record appearances for its podcast library - a request the SoA said it found unusual in its experience, adding: "It is our view that if any rights are to be taken they should be negotiated and an additional fee paid in respect of them."
The Oxford Literary Festival has not responded to The Bookseller for comment since its statement yesterday; however, since original publication of this article it has confirmed to the SoA that VAT and expenses will be paid on top of its £150 fee to authors.