From The Guardian:
Writers and publishers are in it together, I tend to feel. Not always in a cuddly way. Sometimes more in a screaming-down-the-mineshaft way. But in one critical respect the partnership feels increasingly strained.
. . . .
The Society called for publishers not to hold on to rights that they don’t actively exploit, not to add crippling restrictions on writers’ other work and to stop insisting that authors contractually indemnify them against all risks. It also wants ebook royalties to rise from 25% to 50%, to fairly reflect the lower cost and risk of digital publication.
No writer has a right to be published. If you’re an avant garde poet, good luck to you – you’ll need it. The issue is when the publisher makes money out of a book and the author doesn’t; when contracts exploit the desperate asymmetry of the parties’ negotiating strength.
. . . .
Responding to the Society’s campaign, the then chief executive of the Publishers Association, Richard Mollet, wrote that “publishers share the frustration of the author community” that it is increasingly difficult “to make a decent living” from writing.
“Decent” is a dream. Authors are traded according to perceived value, so few ever admit publicly how little they actually earn. But a 2014 survey by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society found that professional full-time authors typically earned £11,000 – a median down 29% on 2005. Of course, a few writers make fortunes. But talk privately to authors – including well-known, much-loved and “bestselling” authors – and you’ll find many in financial distress and professional despair.
Richard Mollet felt the source of the problem lay not in “contractual relations” but in “deeper market factors”. Margins are indeed “being squeezed across the whole supply chain” – yet publishers’ profits have not, on the whole, tumbled by 29%. As for “there simply being more writers”, as he also claimed, quality has always been hard to find, even in a buyers’ market.
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Publishers pay printers. They pay rent – often for staggeringly high-value London commercial properties, despite those squeezed margins. And they pay salaries.
Rates for lower-ranking editorial staff are shocking. £16,000 for a graduate? In London? And yes, unpaid and low paid internships are rife, despite the damage they do to diversity. (A recent survey by the Society of Young Publishers found that 38% of respondents got their first job through internships – half of them unpaid.) But even the lowliest shuffler of proofs gets more than £11,000 a year.
. . . .
So when a publisher tells you he “shares your frustration”, ask him how much he earns – and quite how little he’d pay his lowest paid editorial assistant before he felt he was exploiting the vulnerability of their position. Before he felt he was endangering the long term sustainability of his business.
Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Scath and others for the tip.