Home » Big Publishing, Non-US, Royalties » Publishers should pay authors as much as their other employees

Publishers should pay authors as much as their other employees

14 February 2016

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.

. . . .

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.

Big Publishing, Non-US, Royalties

33 Comments to “Publishers should pay authors as much as their other employees”

  1. The worm is slowly turning…

  2. I’ve long wondered why publishers can’t offer health insurance and other employee perks to the authors who make their whole damn business possible. More trad authors should ask why, too?

    • Where I am, in Canada, that would make the authors employees and increase the publishers’ responsibilities. Publishers benefit from authors being independent contractors, but the several of the terms of the standard contracts make that designation iffy.

    • I’ve long wondered why publishers can’t offer health insurance and other employee perks to the authors who make their whole damn business possible.

      In terms of the business, there are multiple factors that are necessary, yet none is sufficient.

      An author is indeed necessary. But so is a distribution system. The money, efforts, and resources of lots of people are necessary for the successful business.

      This easy for any author to test at home. Pull your books from Amazon and every other vendor. Then sell them on your own. See if this indicates something other than the author is necessary for a succesful business.

      I suppose we can also say the distributor makes the whole damn business possible.

      • No, the more pertinent one would be have every author refuse to sell their work to a publisher who doesn’t offer benefits. Those authors could still self-publish. The publisher would be up shite’s creek.

        This is why all these authors together-united-guilded aren’t really “together.” If they were, they could wield a lot more power. If all those clout authors–the ones who would not suffer in their quality of life at all if they withheld manuscripts– said, “No more novels for you until we see all authors treated properly, end of crap clauses, and some health insurance,” yeah, I think we might actually see some real changes.

        United being key.

  3. He’s quoting some pretty smart people in this article –

    To quote US media lawyer David Vandagriff, publishing contracts “stand apart from the general run of business agreements as conscience-shocking monstrosities”.

  4. [The then chief executive of the Publishers Association,] Richard Mollet felt the source of the problem lay not in “contractual relations” but in “deeper market factors”.

    He would say that, wouldn’t he? Neither do the hounds feel the source of the problem lies in their “contractual relations” with the fox, but the fox may see it differently.

  5. But writers are not employees of publishers.

    • Nope.

      They are merely wild cows that have given birth to a calf. Sometimes they get caught and their free milk is stolen from them. Sometimes they get fenced in and their calf is taken. Sometimes they’re force bred so they’ll produce another calf and more milk. All that and they’re still eating grass and mostly fending for themselves …

      The qig5 would like you to ‘moo’ for them. Come on, just a little one. Moo …

    • They are only the content creators upon which the whole industry wouldn’t exist without.

  6. Not employees.

  7. If it weren’t such a mouthful, The Conscience-Shocking Monstrosities would be a pretty good band name.

  8. I think anything legal is possible, including authors being contract labor, employees, profit sharers, anything….

    it’s oddly the entire lack of imagination of the self annointed ‘benevolents’ at the top of publishing who have decided authors give their tribute to pubs for LIFE, authors be paid twice a year only; authors are sharecroppers essentially. Sharecroppers. Serfs. Seriously.

    Would love that all eds and pub vps were paid twice a year only, with no health ins, with possible dunning of income for ‘returns’, and that their contract may not be renewed based on NOTHING.

    I was struck that in the “Occupy” movement, so called, NO ONE mentioned this income disparity, this PAY disparity, this completely unjust contract term[s]. No one gave a d about the millions of authors in the US who live under this vassal /serf servitude. Not even one question about it. No one, not one, stood for the creatives of our world.

    Analyses? We dont do a good enough incessant screech about it all. No one gives a s unless they are in deep in this kind of trad pub servitude. On the outside, it looks ‘glamorous’ when if one looked with insight one would see the authors being in the Grinder of Greed with the wheels being flanged by the beyond wealthy pubs/agents, etc.

    just my 02

    I was born in a bad mood this morning

  9. But publishers don’t, in the general course of things, try to screw down every supplier to the absolute minimum possible contractual terms. Maintaining the quality of the relationship, longer term, would militate against that.

    There is a scarcity of those suppliers. The publisher can’t screw them down because they won’t accept those terms. They will reject the publisher’s bid, and go work for someone else. They don’t give a rip about the publisher.

    We can test this at home. Next time you need a plumber, really screw him down. Tell him he gets $5 per hour. Then get a mop.

    But, for the publisher, there is no scarcity of authors. The authors are seeking out the publisher and competing with each other for one of his slots.

    The supply of authors is far to high to sustain the incomes authors want.

  10. Become employees? God forbid. Then our books would be works for hire and they wouldn’t have to pay royalties at all.

    • In most cases, there are little or no royalties after the advance anyway because most books never sell out the first printing.

      A living wage and benefits would likely be an improvement.

      • How long is the wage and benefits package paid?

      • OTOH, it would give them total creative control over your work. Like an author working in a licensed universe who was told that he would bring a dead character back to life, or another writer would, but back to life said character would come.

        • In many cases where an author has little or no bargaining power, the publisher exercises a lot of editorial control.

          • there’s still the gap, because you can walk away. which is what WFH makes moot.

            • You can walk away and be sued for breach of contract for failing to deliver a satisfactory manuscript, and be forced to return your advance.

  11. “No writer has a right to be published.”

    ETA: “No publisher has a right to publish an author’s work.” As more and more writers break free of the old paradigm, there will hopefully be more who are able to make a living wage both here in the US and elsewhere.

    Fixed that for ya.

    • Where will all the money come from to pay those writers? Divide publishers’ profits up among the authors, and it isn’t enough. And if there is no profit, why bother publishing fiction?

      Raise prices? OK. Then volume falls.

      KDP offers more opportunity, but with KDP, an author has to stand alone and rise or fall on his merits. He has to compete with other authors. Nobody else to blame.

  12. One part of that I agree with 100% is this: “The Society called for publishers not to hold on to rights that they don’t actively exploit”

    It’s absurd how they won’t let go of properties that are selling next to nothing. I have something that sold 302 copies in a year… but the out of print threshold is 300 so the pub won’t revert. I have to wait yet another royalty period (and then the 4 months to get the statements) and hope the drop in sales continues. What really ticks me off about that is that I think one of those 2 sales above the threshold was me!

  13. As a neophyte self-published author I often wonder what I’m missing by skipping any effort to be “published” in the traditional sense. I don’t fancy spending time dealing with agents, explaining myself and justifying my decisions. I don’t want to wait months or years for my book to “come out.” I just want to write my story and hit the damned publish button. In the last two months I published 3 books as part of a trilogy. The last one had 250 pre-orders on Kindle with zero promotion. This is not great money, but 70% of the bounty goes into my pocket. If I write another trilogy in the next six months, and then another after that, I start to see a revenue stream that adds up. I retain the movie rights. I retain the audio rights. I can publish to Outer Mongolia without asking permission! I work for myself, sinking or swimming on my own efforts. The only thing I’m missing is a little letter that says I gained the approval of the gatekeepers. If I’m honest there is the tiniest part of me that would be happy to have it–we all want our efforts to be recognized by peers–but I’m skipping the rejection letters. Articles like the one above make me even less inclined to seek it. The point about fancy offices in NYC and London and unpaid interns is the kicker. In the future the author will be the CEO of the publishing house, and editors, artists, etc. will work for him or her.

  14. This is the industry with no money. Go to any industry even, and all the publishing professionals (usually exquisitely tailored) will harp on about how publishing is a low margin business. But here’s the thing. Publishing is a business worth $125bn globally each year – which makes it more lucrative than cinema, newspapers and magazines, games, and DVDs. It’s the second most lucrative cultural industry in the world behind all-conquering television. And there is no money to pay the one essential part in the production chain.

  15. “Publishers should pay authors as much as their other employees”

    Jeeze! Same as employees? Starve to death fast or slow? Some choice. Same result.

  16. As the great basketball philosopher Jalen Rose says, “nobody gets what they deserve in life, you only get what you have the leverage to negotiate.” No one is going to pay you out of the kindness of their heart, certainly not large, multi-national corporations.

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