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Oxford Literary Festival looks to start paying authors

19 January 2016

From The Bookseller:

The Oxford Literary Festival has said that, following the next festival in April, it will “meet with all interested parties to discuss how to achieve payment of fees for all speakers” from 2017.

The move comes after Philip Pullman stepped down as patron of the event in protest at the festival’s failure to pay authors for appearances. Many more authors have joined a call for a boycott of literary festivals which do not pay their speakers.

In a statement, the Oxford Literary Festival said it “recognises and understands the strength of feeling in the literary community regarding the payment of speaker fees to authors and writers and we are sympathetic to this cause.”

It went on: “The Festival’s aim has always been to showcase as wide a variety of writers and their work as possible. Each year, as well as famous and successful writers from Britain and overseas, more than half of the speakers at the Festival are lesser known writers or those starting out on their literary careers. Our ethos has been to support them all.”

The festival went on to explain that “notwithstanding the grandeur of our setting and scale of our vision”, it is a registered charity that receives no taxpayers’ or public funding, and has no full-time staff.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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25 Comments to “Oxford Literary Festival looks to start paying authors”

  1. Funny how fast they came around.

    Now if only there was something AG/AU/ABA could do to get the trad-pubs’ attention …

    • Of course it’s ‘to consider for ‘next year’, and they’re hoping writers will still do their thing for ‘free’ this year.


      ‘I will gladly pay yo Thursday for a hamburger today’ doesn’t always cut it …

    • All Pullman did here was hasten the end of the fair, which will remove another outlet for small authors to get some much needed recognition. A case of a 1%er thinking they’re doing something good but really causing harm. Can’t tell if it’s greed or ignorance in this case, or a combination of the two.

      • Hi Hugh,
        but how do they defend this ” “notwithstanding the grandeur of our setting and scale of our vision”, it is a registered charity”

        Is a grand setting required for a charity? and then not even pay the speakers?

  2. Wow. The speakers must have been important to them.

    He spoke up for others, and others will benefit.

    Now that’s using your position well.

    The devil will be in the details, but it’s an important step.

  3. “… has no full-time staff.”
    But does that part-time staff get paid?

  4. it is a registered charity that receives no taxpayers’ or public funding, and has no full-time staff.

    Okay, but are people paid? In the US they’d probably need to file a Form 990 that would detail officers’ and directors’ pay, things like that.

    and the festival made a loss of £18,000 in 2014, it was revealed

    By implication, is this “festival” even viable in the long-term?

    • You have to remember that many a movie ‘blockbuster’ has never ‘paid out’ thanks to the special ‘bookkeeping’ that is done.

      This year it might actually be true — if they have to start refunding those seats for the writers that aren’t coming …

    • It probably isn’t viable.

      I found the financial filings, and this book fair really is dependent on donations to support a commercial enterprise.

      Half of its revenue comes from donations, and that is just not viable in the long run.

      • Then it should charge bookfair visitors, maybe? Not a lot, but some?

        If writers I was really interested in seeing (very few, really) show up to a fair, I’d pay 5 bucks to see them. Probably not more.

        I used to go to the Miami Book Fair every year early on. But when the internet made seeing videos/interviews/etc by authors easier and book-buying easier, I just didn’t feel a need to go to book fairs. I still don’t. Honestly, since social media exploded, I’m a bit authored out, and I have overflowing piles of books. Don’t need to hunt stuff down at fairs.

        One year I went all excited to see Harlan Ellison, and he crapped out at the last minute. He’s an entertaining, passionate speaker, to say the least that I would have paid to hear/see. I went to see another who was my fave author of a particular genre, and she was kinda boring. So books, good; author talk, yawn. I’ve had that happen a few times. Interesting books and not as interesting author when seen in person.

        It’s a new century. I can go to Youtube or the book cable channel or FB or blogs or Twitter and etc and see or interact with authors. I don’t need book fairs anymore. (Though if the setting was someplace magnificent like Oxford, shoot, I’d pay 20 bucks to go.)

  5. “paying each speaker would require an additional 15% in costs or £75,000 for the 500 speakers across our 250 events planned for 2016”

    So they’re going to spend £150 per speaker… next year. Given that the festival lasts from the 2nd April til the 10th, how many speakers will be involved on more than one day?

    Add in the prep time, the travel time for those non in Oxford, etc, the total time required could well be dozens of hours. Realistically 10 hours minimum is likely for most speakers, and it could be far more.

    If £150 per head is the cost, then presumably that includes admin, tax, payroll etc. What are authors going to get? £125? £100?

    It’s not impossible that the per hour cost for those travelling some distance or doing multiple days will end up below minimum wage. Before any expenses are factored it. Or inflation by the time this is sorted – and it wouldn’t surprise me if they negotiated it in 2017 for implementation in 2018 or 2019…

    Don’t get me wrong. It’s a step in the right direction. But when other festivals e.g. Bloody Scotland (which is much smaller) already pay £200 per speaker plus room, board and travel, it’s not up to snuff.

    • We have a term for what the festival organizers are doing, in Spanish: “Caravaneando con sombrero ajeno.”

      Which means ‘taking a sweeping bow – with someone else’s hat.’

      The equations have changed. Festivals and the like have to pay for themselves. If there isn’t enough money from entry fees, donations, paid advertising (if allowed), and sponsors, the event doesn’t happen. It’s that simple.

      Imagine running a restaurant like that!

  6. They could have started paying attending authors a long time ago. But didn’t…

    The squeaky wheel gets the greese.

  7. Just read a piece by somebody who had looked up their accounts. Seems they do spend quite a bit – some £96,000 in 2014 – on speakers’ fees and travel. So when they said they didn’t pay ‘all’ their authors, it was the truth. They just paid some of them. Quite a lot, it seems!

  8. Catherine Czerkawska {love typing out your name] this is par for many years back in the old days of conferences say in the 1980s and 90s. Pay far more highly the top three speakers at a three day conference, then ladder the pay of the ‘lesser’ lights, then pay nothing to the ‘fillers.’ The last often being the eager young [and older old] who had not yet gotten traction [but many would some day in future], and who would have been happy to even pay the promoter/organizers for the opportunity to speak before even a group of ten.

    However, when the middle group found about that the pay for the middle group of speakers was favoritism by committee and that middle people were being paid different amounts, well, you can imagine

    Many middle and some of the top drawing people, vacated the conferences by that particular group, school, or promoter, never to return. The mess became public in many cases, and as we know, traveled the grapevine of author/presenters; the equiv of the Badder Business Bureau of record.

    I like the corps that post the salaries and bennies of everyone, but wonder if that too, given human nature sometimes being all the way from snippy-envious to acidly jealous and sharp with others, may also bring issues.

    And as Allen F and others here said already; counting the apples in the late summer by counting the blossoms in early spring –re being paid by a festival ‘next year’ is soft moving ground.

  9. So their “ethos” is to “support” “lesser-known writers” and those “starting out in their literary careers.” By my reckoning, this isn’t an ethos, it’s exploitation. Pay the writers! I would also have paid to hear Harlan Ellison. Always disappointing when promised big names don’t show. And love the sombrero analogy.

  10. According to their own press comments, “for every £12 ticket sold, a further £20 in support has to be raised from our generous sponsors, partners and donors in subsidy”. Which means the actual cost of holding these events is around £32 per ticket sold (around $45) – and that’s before paying authors.

    Something doesn’t sound quite right there, does it?

    If a promoter can put on a rock band or an orchestra with lower ticket costs *and* pay the band, these numbers would seem to indicate that the organizers aren’t being as efficient as they could be. Given the relatively low technical/audiovisual requirements of having an author or two talk for an hour, and the relatively high cost of these events, surely savings can be made somewhere.

  11. Just a .02. A good deal of it depends on how one is tied into the city venues, who owes whom, what has been promised at the private meetings with sponsors, how good a negotiator one is for venue, making promises perhaps to make that hotel, that retreat, that whatever, the home of the book fair year after year, leaning on people to ‘remember the citizens, the children, the poor,’ and to ask for money. As much as possible. Knowing the lay of corporate land, and who wants to help for the publicity, or who needs to clean up their image and is willing to give huge amounts of money for it. Unis and clubs and all kinds of people are solicited for money, meaning to be sponsors. For instance, for many minority endeavors over the years, Phillip Morris gave tons of money. The ‘purists’ said minority groups shouldnt take money from the cig mfg. But no one stepped up to fill in in equal amounts. It is depending on the fair/festival/ whether a city st pattys day, a gay parade, a music venue [some of the most corrupt in my exp with friends who are music promotoers and tell stories of graft that are inexplicably nefarious]or a book festival, more like alliances bewteen friendly and warring, decent and sometimes shady tribal groups to pull off a really big venue for tens of thousands. But the smaller ones have similar configurations.


  12. Oh good.

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