Home » Big Publishing, Contracts » As Writers’ Wages Wane In Digital Chapter, Authors Pen Demands

As Writers’ Wages Wane In Digital Chapter, Authors Pen Demands

9 January 2016

From National Public Radio:

The Authors Guild has started the new year with a bang. First, the group, which represents the interests of writers, asked the Supreme Court to review an October appeals court ruling, which upheld Google’s right to digitize out-of-print books without an author’s permission. A few days later, the guild addressed a separate issue when it released a letter to publishers demanding better contract terms for authors.

Both moves come as many writers find it harder and harder to make a living from their writing. Since 2009, the mean income for writers has gone down 30 percent, says the guild’s executive director, Mary Rasenberger.

“It’s alarming. Incomes are now down to unsustainable levels, and that means that even longtime authors — authors who have been writing for decades — are now being forced to seek other work,” she says. “So, we are looking at this in a holistic way: Why this happening, and what can we do about it?”

Rasenberger says the Google Books case addresses the issue of copyright protection; the letter to the publishers takes on standard author contracts. Among other things, the guild says its writers should get a higher share of e-book income and authors should also be able to retain the rights to their own books. The standard contracts the guild is protesting have been part of the business for decades.

“These are the agreements that the unagented authors see — or those without powerful agents — where the terms tend to be much much worse,” Rasenberger says.

. . . .

Writers also are known for working in isolation. But social media is changing that, Anderson says.

“Not only are authors able to talk to each other continually in real time, but they’re also in touch with their readers. This is new.”

Anderson believes it’s significant that international writers organizations from Europe, Africa, Australia and Canada all signed on to the Authors Guild letter to publishers.

“If an international coalition can start communicating to readers all over the world: Look what your authors are going through — did you know this is the experience and the condition in which your favorite author is working? Something has changed. The publishers, then, are facing a new world in which a lot of questions can be asked in a lot of places in very loud voices,” Anderson says.

Link to the rest at NPR and thanks to Dana for the tip.

For those outside the United States, everyone in publishing who listens to radio listens to NPR.

Big Publishing, Contracts

19 Comments to “As Writers’ Wages Wane In Digital Chapter, Authors Pen Demands”

  1. “So, we are looking at this in a holistic way: Why this happening, and what can we do about it?”

    Um, because traditional publishers are greedy, and hey, how about encouraging your members to self-publish?

    • It’s because so many authors are competing for the same publishing slot.

      If publishers were competing for authors, their greed would be powerless. Greed doesn’t matter. Supply and demand does.

  2. How would electronically self-publishing a bok affect google’s ability to digitize it? I’ve heard of the ‘e-books never go out of print’ argument being used by publishers to keep rights from reverting to authors; can authors use it to keep their works out of google’s clutches?

    But more realistically, who expects readers to go to the mat for authors? Readers seem perfectly happy to read stuff for free, the same way we are happy to get music for free and watch TV shows for free – and have been for how many years now, while every year the creators told us they would starve and disappear – but it never happened. The boy has cried ‘wolf’ too often.

    • You get to watch TV for free? I thought all those commercials paid for the shows, while I paid for the TV, electricity, and cable (or satellite) packages. Or internet connection, etc.

      Music isn’t free either. Someone pays for it, whether through actual purchase, or advertising in some form.

      A lot of readers go to the mat for writers in the clearest way possible: they buy our books.

  3. I see author ‘clubs’ writing things that the publishers will continue to ignore because there are still plenty of rejection slips going out. This won’t change until the writers quit signing those bad (for them) contracts.

    The writers that realize just what a shafting trad-pub is/has been giving them are the ones trying out that self/indie thingy — and those author clubs are fearful of losing even more voice in matters as those self/indies aren’t seeing a need to become members — and their own members are wondering why they are members …

  4. Smart Debut Author

    As Author Society Memberships and Relevance Wane In Booming Indie Digital Chapter, Society Stakeholders Pen Desperate Cries For Attention

    Edited for a little more truth in advertising. 😉

  5. Et tu, NPR?

    Title wrong: writers do not get wages, they are not employees. At least not the ones the article is talking about. And certainly not most writers of fiction.

    Second sentence: “…the group, which represents the interests of writers…” Nope. I’m a writer, published even, and they do NOT represent my interests.


    They sound like the NYT.

    But it DOES show the ‘other side’ (also known as the BP + sycophants/followers/assistants/wannabees) is still good at getting its message out – and NPR is too ___ to check their data before opening their mouths.

    I thought they were better.

    Husband listens to this and reads the NYT. I can’t seem to get through to him that their biases are strong, visible, and wrong. Proof may come if I ever sell enough to be worth the time he sees me sinking into the writing (not accounting for the unneeded antidepressants and visits to therapists – writing takes care of keeping me sane). So I am hunkered down, working solidly on Book 2.

    But it turns my stomach.

    • You goofed.

      _Authors_ may not get wages, but those of us who are employed as writers do.

      But yes, she was more than a little wrong.

      • I wonder if the Authors Guild’s Executive Director’s salary has gone down in line with its members falling earnings. Mary Rasenberger’s predecessor was earning $180,000 a year.

        EDIT: I lowballed it. According to the AG’s 990 form for 2013, when you include bonuses and non-taxable benefits, the prior Executive Director received an astonishing $232,341.

        Holy crap that’s a lot of money. Good thing the AG has been such an astonishing success over the last few years, eh?

        • In case you think that this guy was running the whole show, he was working a 35 hour week. There’s a COO there earning north of $100,000 too, along with a general counsel making similar. I wonder how many members’ dues are needed to cover just those three salaries.

  6. Too little, too late. This particular status quo can’t be fixed, but a stink of this kind can speed up the transitioning of our industry by pushing the bravers trads to give self-publishing a try. As with most things in life, they’ll discover it’s nowhere near as scary as they thought it would be.

    As for us ‘early adopters’, the more trads join us the higher our profile will become with those readers hitherto scared of giving Indie fiction a try.

    Once those readers reach a critical mass, the exodus will be spectacular. I just hope it happens soon enough for me to enjoy it. 🙂

    • Smart Debut Author

      Thing is, A.C., you’re buying into a bogus myth.

      Readers aren’t scared to give ‘Indie fiction’ a try — most readers wouldn’t know how to tell a high-quality indie book from a Big Five published book, and wouldn’t care even if they did.

      In fact, most readers who read more than 5 ebooks a year HAVE already read LOTS of indie books, even if they aren’t really aware those books were indie.

      And it’s not just ebooks…

      When indie print books are stacked alongside trad-pub print books, the same thing happens.
      Readers who pick up my indie hardcovers & paperbacks in a Barnes & Noble sure aren’t checking to see who the publisher is. They don’t care. The cover catches their eye, they read the blurb and scan the first page or two, and then decide to buy if they like what they read. Same with audio.

      Pretty much no reader cares about publishers, no matter how much the industry middlemen try to convince writers that they do.

      And yeah, funny coincidence, but just like you, TSFH fuels a lot of my own writing, too. Both their public releases and their movie-industry-only albums you can’t buy.
      Great stuff. Audiomachine makes for some OK muse-fuel, too.

      • I hate to disagree with another TSFH fan but…there is still a great deal of mistrust amongst readers when it comes to Indie quality, and price is the big giveaway there.

        Baby Boomers of my generation tend to believe you get what you pay for, so they assume a full price book must be good quality whereas Indie books are ‘cheap and nasty.’

        Sadly, this misconception is reinforced every time one of them reads a poorly edited Indie book. Why? Because word of mouth works both ways.

        By contrast, young readers are far more likely to give something new a go, especially if it is linked to new technology. But they’re not yet the majority because their disposable income is stretched across more media.

        Reader demographics are changing, and will continue to change into the future, but the speed at which change happens will depend upon how quickly the conservative majority changes its collective mind about where to find quality reading material.

        Btw have you heard any of Jo Blankenburg’s music?

        • Smart Debut Author

          Appreciate the steer toward Jo Blankenburg — I will check him out.

          I’m not sure, though, that this distrust of low-priced books is anywhere near as widespread or as generational as you think.

          Upon what do you base your belief?

          I can’t speak for every single person who has purchased my books, obviously. But hundreds of them have contacted me and thousands have left reviews for my books. So I’ve gotten to know a lot of them, and I think I have a pretty good impression of who they are. And they aren’t especially “young” readers, much to my initial surprise — most seem to be between 50 and 70 years old.

          Baby Boomers, in other words.

          A frequent question I ask ’em when they contact me is “what other authors do you like to read?” Their answers usually include a mix of longstanding trad-pub writers like Dean Koontz, Gillian Flynn, David Baldacci, Lee Child, Stephen King, etc., and indies like Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, A. G. Riddle, etc. They don’t really seem to differentiate based on how people are published.

          And I don’t think it’s just me seeing this.

          When I check out stuff like AuthorEarnings.com, which shows overall US ebook sales instead of just the fraction the publishers report, it seems I’m not the only indie quietly selling more books than 99.9% of tradpub authors.

          Perhaps this conservative majority you speak of does exist. But if they do, they only read like 5 books a year each — and its pretty much the exact same 5 books for all of them.

          Avid readers like my fans may indeed be a minority.
          But that’s okay. Because they each buy a heck of a lot more books. 🙂

          • I admit my Baby Boomers are anecdotal – i.e. friends, family, neighbours etc – but all of them are avid readers too so perhaps my slice of the demographic includes readers who are more conservative. -shrug-

            But those conservative readers add up to all those people who buy books from traditional sources instead of from Indies. And there are still a lot of /them/.

            I believe that if we are to achieve lasting change, we have to get both conservative readers and trad. authors onto our side.

            • I believe that if we are to achieve lasting change, we have to get both conservative readers and trad. authors onto our side.

              When a conservative is faced with a choice between two goods of the same utility, he typically chooses the lower priced good.

        • I don’t know if low prices are as much a disincentive as they used to be. With places like Book Bub promoting mainstream published books now, a $0.99 book is no longer necessarily an indie.
          I released my last novel with a Holiday Special intro price of $0.99, and it did shockingly well (as in ‘ending up in the lists right next to Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars novelization and not too far from The Martian’ well). Not sure what will happen when the promo ends and the book’s price goes up to my customary $3.99, but the low intro didn’t hurt one bit.

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