Survey funded by ALCS shows a profession struggling to sustain itself

Why writers are at a loss for words

LONDON, Dec. 6, 2022 /PRNewswire/ --

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Writers are the wealth generators of the UK economy: we love to watch their shows, read their books and be captivated by their words. Writing as a career too is one that many aspire to, but while it may be perceived to be well-paid, the latest in a series of authors' earnings surveys funded by the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS), shows a profession struggling to sustain itself.

"Writing in itself cannot sustain an income that is consistent with a minimum wage"*

This latest research into authors' earnings, conducted by the CREATe Centre at the University of Glasgow, tells an alarming story of a profession nearing a tipping point. The past 15 years have seen a sustained fall in professional writers' real terms income from writing; this decline of around 60% has pushed median earnings down to minimum wage levels.

"The de-valuing of creative labour."*

The report highlights a profession often reliant on writers' willingness to work for modest rewards, incentivised primarily by their love of the job and reliant on financial support from other sources of income, with the median earnings from writing alone now down to just £7k per year.

The researchers observe that, "Such 'intrinsic motivation' may be linked to the devaluing of creative labour, and perhaps untenable market conditions."

"There are serious questions over the future of writing as a profession."*

The research also reveals:

  • A rapid decline in the number of full-time professional authors from 40% of those surveyed in 2006, to 28% in 2018, and now 19% as of 2022

  • The gender gap is expanding – men are earning typically 41% more than women (vs 33% in 2016/17)

  • Pay for Black and multi-heritage authors is 51% (in real terms) lower than for their white counterparts

"The profession of writing is characterised by winner-takes-all dynamics and extremely high levels of earnings inequality."*

The survey also showed that the top 10% of authors earn about 47% of the total income of the population.

Despite all these systemic flaws, the writing profession makes a vital contribution to the continued health of the UK's creative industries which, with an estimated GVA in excess of £100bn, remains a resilient part of the economy capable of delivering future growth.

"We see a sustained downward trend over the past two decades that seems to be associated with changes to creative labour markets in the digital environment."*

The report shows a shift in contractual arrangements and the way that business is done across both AV and publishing, raising a specific query regarding writers' returns from the booming streaming industry. It also tracks the sustained, long-term fall in writers' earnings, against the fundamental changes in the way that their works are distributed, shared and consumed, changes which have enabled market entrants to garner significant profits.

"This report raises serious questions about the sustainability of the writing profession in the UK. Consistently, we find that earnings from writing are decreasing and creative labour is becoming de-valued. Whilst many of our respondents talked about their love of creating, and passion for writing, relying on their altruism has been used to justify an increasingly unliveable wage."

Amy Thomas, lead researcher, CREATe

"The CREATe report and analysis reveals some deeply worrying trends for writers, working within an industry which has experienced seismic shifts over the last 15 years. Given the clear contribution writers make to the economy and society as a whole, their work should be properly valued and rewarded; for too many professional writers that simply isn't the case at present. ALCS, alongside similar organisations representing our creative workforce, will continue to argue for working conditions built around core values such as fairness and inclusivity. The alternative, as the report suggests, leads to a diminished profession unable to sustain the vital contribution that writers make to society and our economy."

Barbara Hayes, Chief Executive, ALCS

*All quotes taken from 'Authors' Earnings and Contracts' by CREATe (2022). The full report can be viewed here.

Editors Notes:

ALCS

The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a not-for-profit organisation started by writers for the benefit of all types of writers. Owned by its members, ALCS collects money due for secondary uses of writers' work. It is designed to support authors and their creativity; ensure they receive fair payment and see their rights are respected. It promotes and teaches the principles of copyright and campaigns for a fair deal. It represents over 117,000 members, and since 1977 has paid over £600million to writers. For more information visit alcs.co.uk

CREATe

CREATe, the UK Copyright and Creative Economy Centre, was established in 2012 as the RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models funded jointly by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Since 2018 CREATe has been leading work on Intellectual Property, Business Models, Access to Finance and Content Regulation as part of the AHRC Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (PEC). CREATe investigates the future of creative production in the digital age. It holds particular expertise in methodological innovation at the interface of law, social science and technology and has delivered more than 60 projects, including for the European Parliament and under Horizon 2020.

CREATe is hosted by the School of Law at the University of Glasgow, a member of the Russell Group of leading UK research universities, which has a tradition of excellence as the UK's fourth oldest university (founded in 1451). It is a world-leading research-intensive institution, attracting scholars from more than 130 countries worldwide. https://www.create.ac.uk/

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