Longer online version; see re-sub-edited PDF

‘Free money‘ should reach writers soon - but only if you’re with ALCS

SOME MEMBERS are already signed up to ALCS (the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society), which collects money for secondary uses of authors' works and passes this income on to its members.

Shackleton House, London SE1; Photo: Matt Salusbury

Shackleton House, the riverside HQ of ALCS near London Bridge. It takes its name from explorer Ernest Shackleton's last Antarctic expedition, which set off from a spot nearby in 1921.

This money is collected for a variety of uses such as university library photocopying and storage on corporate databases. Books you've written or edited, including chapters of anthologies, as well as articles in journals and magazines (not newspapers) and your own photos to illustrate these are all covered. "Magazines and journals" includes periodicals that now exist only as an online PDF or web version, as long as they have a ISSN. What's an ISSN? See the Freelance Fees Guide link below.

Those of you who've signed up to ALCS and who have also submitted details of their works can expect some money from ALCS on 23 March or shortly after that. This is the "March distribution", in which the bulk of the money is distributed from ALCS to its members.

The largest amount we've heard of a Branch member receiving from ALCS is £7100. That was paid to a writer making their first claim, which included articles going back three years. The highest amount we know of paid to a Branch member in the 2021 ALCS March distribution is £5000. A total of £26 million was divvied up between 90,000 ALCS members last year.

This year, though, we've heard warnings that the amount freelances can expect to receive from ALCS may be less than usual.

This is largely due to covid-19. Libraries were closed, photocopying wasn't happening, education was happening differently with less reliance on course books. Publication of periodicals that were given out at events was disrupted. Pagination of freesheets went down. There is some evidence that people were seeking comfort in fiction when ordering books to be delivered to their homes. Sales and lending (including, possibly e-lending of e-books) for specialist non-fiction and education titles seems to have fallen. So the total amount coming into ALCS to be distributed is likely to have fallen significantly during the recent plague year.

It is possible, then that you may take a hit to your income in September - the distribution covering any work you did for textbooks and for the education sector - rather than in March.

The March ALCS distribution covers most income from books and articles, and the bulk of the money handled. Proportionally more of the September distribution is for niches such as educational textbooks and scripts. So those education writers and editors who get the bulk of their ALCS payouts from textbooks may find it is their income from the September distribution that may fall.

We suspect also that many previously-busy authors who never got around to signing up for and claiming from ALCS may have taken to opportunity to do so early in the pandemic when they had literally nothing to do. So the number of authors among whom the finite ALCS pot has to be divided this year may have grown.

We hope we're wrong. Fiction book publishing, for example, seems to have stopped altogether for a while at the beginning of the pandemic. But when covid restrictions eased we heard from one reviews editor that in their offbeat niche there were suddenly "too many books" - they couldn't review even a fraction of these, as demand recovered and bookshops re-opened.

Please let us know - in confidence - about any potentially record-breaking amounts that come to you in the ALCS distributions, and pass on any intelligence about significant falls in ALCS payouts as well.

If you're an author and you're not yet signed up to the ALCS scheme, you've regrettably missed the deadline for the March distribution. We urge you to sign up to ALCS now, in plenty of time for the September distribution and for March 2023. ALCS membership is free to NUJ members.

ALCS is currently conducting a survey of authors' earnings - please consider filling in this survey. The last such exercise, completed in 2018, was significant enough that it led to an enquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Writers' Group. See here for details.

If you are a photographer, visual journalist or illustrator, consider instead signing up to the equivalent for photographers and artists – DACS, the Design and Artists' Copyright Society. Details are here.

  • 21 March 2022 ALCS members can now log in to see an estimate of their coming payout today. Please let us know if you're surprised, pleasantly or otherwise...