Open letter on author earnings
Source: The Bookseller Author:Nicola Solomon 2018-07-02 10:54
The Society of Authors chief Nicola Solomon and The Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society chief Owen Atkinson write an open letter to Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of The Publishers Association:
We are writing with regard to your comments on the recent ALCS author earnings survey. You were quoted in The Bookseller as saying the following: ￼"Publishers value authors enormously and their entire businesses are dependent on supporting them. These figures will be unrecognisable to the majority of publishers as they just do not reflect the investments they are making in creative talent. If we are to have a genuinely constructive conversation about this issue, then we need a much sounder evidence base. We would welcome engagement with the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society and the Society of Authors on the survey and the wider issues it raises, as it’s vital publishers are included in this important discussion."
We welcome the commitment to engage with ALCS and the Society of Authors to discuss the issues raised by the survey and the causes of declining incomes for authors. We agree that publishers must be included in this discussion, and I hope we can work together constructively to ensure that profits are shared fairly along the value chain.
However, we must take issue with your comments on the evidence.
￼￼￼There is clear evidence that author earnings are in serious decline. Meanwhile the profit margins of the main corporate publishers are increasing, with average profits estimated to be around 13%. Based on the PA’s own 2016 figures, we estimated that the big five publishers’ shareholders received up to three times the amount paid to authors. This estimate has never been seriously challenged.
These figures are not sustainable. Publishers, of course, have a duty to make a profit for shareholders. But unless authors receive proper returns, the supply of quality work will inevitably diminish as will the pool of authors. The decision to become an author often means eschewing the security of a stable job. Most cannot afford that, leading to an even less diverse industry. This is why we have asked publishers to sign up to our FAIR principles, for a fair share of reward for authors.
We are delighted to hear that you would like to engage with us on these issues. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the findings from ALCS’ survey, and to discuss how we can work together going forward.
Our industry thrives on the interdependence of authors and publishers, and we of course value the vital contribution of publishers to producing better books and the overall ecology of the industry, particularly during what has been a period of profound change for all of us. On issues such as copyright, PLR, the importance of reading, VAT on ebooks and the requirements of the industry following Brexit we are in almost complete alignment and have appreciated working together with you.
I hope this means that we can work together to look at the causes of declining incomes for authors, and to ensure that profits are fairly shared along the value chain. We believe that this is in the long-term interest of both authors and the publishing industry. Paying fairly and encouraging underrepresented voices to consider writing might just widen our reader bases enough to give everyone a bigger share of the pie.
We look forward to hearing from you that you will encourage your members to sign up to the FAIR commitment, that publishers will work with us to continue to obtain robust information on author, publisher and intermediary earnings and with a date for a first meeting to discuss a way forward and a concrete work programme in this area.
With all best wishes,
Nicola Solomon, chief executive of The Society of Authors, and Owen Atkinson, chief executive of The Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society