If you’re a professional author who works hard to make a living from writing, this week’s news is grim, based on three surveys from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. TheWriters’ Union of Canada (TWUC) reported that writers’ incomes are down by 27% from 1998. 45% of survey participants report that they are working harder just to earn what they had previously. Note that the average income for writers is $12,879, which is $36,000 below the poverty line, and women earn only 55% of that earned by their male counterparts. One of the major reasons cited by TWUC’s executive director is weakening copyright protection in Canada. Also note that TWUC is comprised of 2,000 members, but this is only a fraction of all writers in Canada. Ironically, some writers I know find TWUC’s annual fee too expensive.
The American AuthorsGuild (AG) conducted a similar survey in April 2015. Results are still being analyzed but they do state that writing incomes have decreased by 24% since the last survey in 2009. Median incomes were $8,000 with full-time writers’ incomes dropping from $25,000 to $17,000. Here’s the stat that got me: writers who’ve been writing for 25 to 40 years have seen the greatest drop in their incomes from $28,7500 to $,9500. Yikes! The Guild is citing unfair publishing contracts as a main reason for the drop, claiming that publishers’ revenues have steadily risen over the years.
In the UK, TheAuthors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), gathered information in 2013 from different writers’ organizations. They found that writers’ incomes have dropped by 29% since 2005. They also found that the number of writers who’ve been able to make a living from writing dropped from 40% to 11.5% This survey also acknowledges the self-publishing aspect a little, by indicating that 25% of survey participants had self-published at some point and that 80% would do so again.
But here’s the thing. All three surveys don’t come close to capturing the real story of writers’ incomes because, aside from ALCS, they don’t address indie authors. I suspect that many indie authors don’t belong to these organizations. I also believe that there is an increasingly large shadow industry of writers writing and selling books and earning money.
The shadow industry was alluded to in one of Hugh Howey’s Authors Earnings reports that I blogged about earlier this year. Howey discovered that a fair number of titles were selling without ISBN numbers on Amazon. ISBNS are used by many organizations to identify the number of books being published globally, but the stats aren’t accurate. I am just one of many authors who bought several ISBNs back in the day, but never used all of them. Also, I and other writers use local services to print books which we sell by hand at trade shows and other events. Honestly, I sell more print books than TWUC or any organization realizes. This doesn’t mean that I’m earning more than the average writer. In fact, I’m earning less. But neither am I working at publishing and selling full-time.
My point is that although those surveys reveal important things, they don’t tell us the whole picture. No one does because I seriously doubt that anyone knows what it really is.