Median annual income of professional writers in the U.K. is now under £10,500, down by 15% since 2013, according to ALCS (Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society) research. That figure puts authors’ hourly rate well below minimum wage
The earnings figure of £10,500 compares to the figure of £17,900 defined last year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as the income level considered to be a socially acceptable standard of living for a single person.
According to the ALCS research, working writers’ earnings continue to decline sharply and the gender pay gap is opening up. The median earnings of professional writers–that is those who dedicate over half their working hours to writing–has fallen by 42% in real terms since 2005, and by 15% since 2013.
Earnings are also well below minimum wage, which for those over 25 is £7.83. Based on a standard 35-hour week, the median hourly earnings of a professional writer are now £5.73.
At £3,000 a year, the typical median earnings of ‘all writers’—which includes occasional and part-time writers in addition to professional writers as defined above—are also declining steeply, falling in real terms by 49% since 2005 and 33% since 2013.
As earnings have fallen, so have the number of full-time writers. In 2005, 40% of professional writers earned their income solely from writing. By last year, that figure had fallen to 13.7%. As writing earnings decline, most writers are following portfolio careers, supplementing their writing income with other activities such as teaching.
The findings in the U.K. are generally in line with the salary survey the Authors Guild did in 2015 that found a steady decline in authors earnings between 2009 and 2015.
The fall in writer incomes comes against the backdrop of the expansion of the U.K.’s creative industries, now valued at £92 billion and growing at twice the rate of the rest of the U.K. economy.
The gender pay gap is widening, with the average earnings of female professional authors only about 75% of those of the average male professional writer, down slightly from 78% in 2005.
The findings are based on a survey of 5,500 writers, more than double the number of respondents who took part in ALCS’s previous research into author earnings in 2013, and a higher number than the combined total of those who took part in 2005 and 2013. More detailed findings from the research will be published later this year.
Tony Bradman, children’s writer and ALCS chair, said: “The results of this third ALCS survey into author earnings confirm what most writers know only too well—that incomes continue to decline, and that it is harder than ever to make a living as a professional writer.”
Bradman went on to say that the research “calls starkly into question” whether the country values the work of its writers, without whom “our country and our culture would be poorer in every imaginable way.”
At the Society of Authors, chief executive Nicola Solomon said: “This decline is extremely disturbing. With average earnings down by 42% in real terms since 2005 and now falling well below the minimum wage, it is worrying news for the profession.” She went on to say that “if authors can no longer afford to make a living from their work, the supply of new and innovative writing will simply dry up.”
The SoA quoted Publishers Association 2016 figures showing that authors received just 3% of publisher turnover in a market worth £5.1bn, while profits for major publishers were about the 13% mark. The society has launched a C.R.E.A.T.O.R. campaign, calling for “legislation to address unfair contract terms and fair sharing of reward throughout the value chain.”
This article is adapted from a piece that originally appeared in the U.K.-based trade magazine BookBrunch.