Support the writers!
The report of the All Party Writers Group 2018 Inquiry into Authors' Earnings, entitled Supporting the Writers of Tomorrow is now online. At a manageable 13 pages of admittedly fairly dense type it's well worth taking the refreshingly short amount of time it takes to read.
In the brief introduction to the findings of this cross-party group of MPs and Lords – featuring data from ALCS, the Society of Authors and others – John Whittingdale MP says, "Our creators are as important as ever, we must do all we can to ensure they are fairly rewarded for their fantastic contribution to our society... The world is changing and evidence suggests that writers are unfairly disadvantaged by this... we will need to ensure we preserve the right of the writer to be fairly remunerated for all the uses of their works: we need to ensure that authors' earnings are not diminished by under-representation in a growing creative marketplace."
The "creative industries" are now valued at £101.5 billion, but authors share of this has dropped by 42 per cent in real terms since 2005. The report finds that authors earned on average £12,330 from their writing in 2005 (just over £18k in today's money "in real terms"). By 2013 the figure was down to £11,000 a year, now it's £10,500.
The dissolution of the Net Book Agreement on minimum prices for books was felt to be a significant factor in this downward spiral. Booksellers, under pressure from "online retailers", now discount books, so the royalties passed on to authors also shrink. The drop in income, though, is a global trend – authors experience it in the US and Canada too.
The reports notes that there's currently over £16 million a year in European Union funding for projects that pay authors through "Creative Europe". It recommends that the UK government "secure support" for an equivalent to Creative Europe to continue. The report makes a plea that a "reasonable" copyright regime that benefits authors remains in place in the UK after it leaves the EU, in particular calling for government to resist calls for "fair use" provisions to be extended.
Earning a living just by writing is no longer an option for most writers. They have to supplement their earnings from literary festival appearances and school visits. But budgetary squeezes mean opportunities for school visits are shrinking, while "a particular concern for authors is festivals where authors are expected to speak for free."
Recommendations include "measures to level the playing field in the market" to protect bookshops, zero VAT on e-books, a more gentle tax and benefits regime that would allow self-employed authors to claim for childcare and for "new training" and other needs. The report also asks that Making Tax Digital not to be made too burdensome for authors, with the requirement for quarterly digital tax returns to be kept at the turnover threshold at which VAT starts to be charged - currently £85,000.