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New Guild Survey Reveals Majority of Authors Earn Below Poverty Line

11 September 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

In its first study on author income since 2009, the Authors Guild delivers some jarring, if unsurprising, data. The survey, which will be released next week, indicates, among other things, that the majority of authors would be living below the Federal Poverty Level if they relied solely on income from their writing.

Mary Rasenberger, executive director at the Guild, acknowledged that the findings paint a grim picture. “When it comes to income there is no good news to report,” she said. Citing a swirl of factors, from online piracy to publisher consolidation to the rise of Amazon (and the shuttering of brick and mortar bookstores), Rasenberger said the takeaway from the survey is that authors should be, receiving higher royalties from publishers. “Authors need to be cut in more equitably on the profits their publishers see, or we’ll stop seeing the quality of work the industry was built on.”

The survey, conducted this spring by the Codex Group, is based on responses from 1,674 Guild members, 1,406 of whom identified either as a full-time author, or a part-time one. The majority of respondents also lean older—89% are over the age of 50—and toward the traditionally published end (64%).

. . . .

 One thing the survey indicates is that more authors are taking a hybrid approach to their careers. While only 4% of respondents said they have only self-published, 33% reported having self-published at least one book. To Rasenberger, this stat shows authors are recognizing opportunities that self-publishing offers. She said the Guild suspects authors “are starting to see self-publishing as an outlet for projects that haven’t been supported by traditional publishing houses.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Leigh for the tip.

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32 Comments to “New Guild Survey Reveals Majority of Authors Earn Below Poverty Line”

  1. “The survey, conducted this spring by the Codex Group, is based on responses from 1,674 Guild members, 1,406 of whom identified either as a full-time author, or a part-time one.”

    So being in their guild doesn’t mean you’ll make any/enough money — who’d have thunk it?

    • the guild was made to review contracts for the price of membership, giving legal services,

      build a huge fund for authors and families of authors when catastrophic accidents and death and long term illness set in [such as some time back a well respected Native American author who had a closed head injury from negligence on the past of another person,

      represent authors at the federal level with their federally certified lawyers,

      develop model contracts, which they have done,

      intervene legally in incredible creep=publisher disputes who are stealing from their authors [which they have done, notably representing indie authors who have been hounded via contracts by trad pubs they previously published with. There are many other endeavors….

      I dont recall the guild ever saying they were in charge of authors running their own businesses their own ways.

  2. I wonder if the 2009 (or the 1999 or 1989) survey showed anything different regarding the income of writers. The Authors Guild has tended to have a large portion of writers that publish irregularly and thus unprofitably.

    Also, given that 89% of the responding members are over age 50, are we terribly surprised that they skew so heavily toward traditional publishing?

    The good news from this quote is the Authors Guild continuing its message about how authors deserve a greater portion of publishers’ profits. Nice to see them actually advocating on behalf of their members rather than merely repeating the line of traditional publishers about how bad Amazon is.

  3. “Citing a swirl of factors, from online piracy to publisher consolidation to the rise of Amazon…”

    Author income down, let us blame single largest sales outlet for authors. Yes, this makes sense. Yeees.

    • The AG hasn’t heard about Author Earnings. Shhh… Don’t tell them we’re making money over here, and spending exactly none of it on joining their club.

    • actually it does make sense, given that most authors trad pub make about 8%net after agents and taxes.

      • But what does Amazon have to do with tradpub contracts?
        Pbook royalties are off list so Amazon has no impact. And ebooks are agency. Again, no impact.
        the only way Amazon impacts tradpub is by enabling indies to take sales away from tradpub, which simply means more money for authors as a class.

        • But Author’s Guild is interested primarily in the Author’s Guild class. Which is fair enough, given their name and purpose – they just shouldn’t confuse their class with the class of all writers.

  4. New York just raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
    Maybe we could all make $15 per hour. I’m sure Douglas Preston wouldn’t mind sharing his nice income with me.

    • the minimum wage at 15 dollars will take three years to kick in, and is only for fast food workers. And will only kick in for those in NY City; the outlying towns they say will take longer.

      There are millions of other jobs that will not be affected. Cuomo tried an end run by proclamation instead of bringing it through the legislature. The legislators and their fav lobbyists are already slavering about taking it down, for it is likely corps in state will challenge with lawsuits that could delay kick in for years and years. We’ll have to wait to see. Cuomo should have brought it through Albany, so it was solid. Min wage for food workers in NYC by Dec by legislative decree will be 9 dollars an hour.

      15 dollars an hour for full time [which will be NOT likely given by employers] is about 31k+ per year for flipping hamburgers. Better than most authors make prob.

      I wonder… lol

      Too, corps are looking into ace robotics, probably gutting the fast food jobs by more than half, possibly ¾ down. The uber/ airbandb of fast foods is coming fast.

  5. 4% Indies?
    I’m surprised they have that many in the country club…

    Note the use of median income instead of average. Wouldn’t do to have the AU 1-percenters skewing the average. And of course that only reflects their membership.

    Should be interesting to contrast their tradpub numbers with the next author earnings report.

    • Median income is the correct stat to use when presenting this information. It provides much more accurate context.

      • Within the context that it isn’t representative of any reality.
        What they need to show is slices: how many under 4K, how many under 10K, 50K, etc.

      • Ina power law situation, measures of central tendency (mean or median) are not all that helpful. The coefficients of the underlying power law would actually be the beat measures to report. A graph or table works well too.

  6. Any survey conducted by soliciting responses is automatically flawed and skewed. Doh! Polling and sampling is a quite mature science now; it’s not esoteric or experimental. Correct methodology is crucial to accuracy.

    But it’s about what we can expect from the AG.

  7. Hasn’t PG done a list or three inviting people to talk about how they are making a living writing? And like a bazillion people responded?

    Pretty sure I saw that. Maybe it’s time for another. 🙂

  8. Perhaps a simpler reason author earnings are not higher is because there is a huge supply of authors, and available books are increasing at a rate far greater than consumption?

  9. Citing a swirl of factors, from online piracy to publisher consolidation to the rise of Amazon (and the shuttering of brick and mortar bookstores)…

    One of these things is not like the others.

    • Yeah, the rise of Amazon. Funny. Funnier still when you consider repetitive years of record publisher profits and, according to this and many other sources, drastically diminished Tradpub author income over the same period. A sane and logical person might conclude that publishers are somehow making more while managing to pay out less.

      But sane and logical people don’t practice Whale Math™. They tend not to blame Zon for every BPH f#@&up either.

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