Home » The Business of Writing » New, Larger Authors Guild Survey: Falling Incomes for US Writers

New, Larger Authors Guild Survey: Falling Incomes for US Writers

9 January 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

In one of those quirky coincidences of news coverage, a familiar number has arisen in the top-line reporting from the United States’ Authors Guild about author incomes.

. . . .

Since 2009, their newly released report says, median incomes for authors from writing have fallen by 42 percent.

And when the United Kingdom’s counterpart survey results were announced in June of last year, the Society of Authors reported that the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society had found that median incomes for professional writers since 2005 had dropped the same amount: 42 percent.

. . . .

The sample comprises input from 5,067 published book authors. For the first time, the [Authors Guild] expanded its survey range, requesting responses not only from its own membership but from members of 14 additional writer organizations. That overall group numbered 9,288 people.

. . . .

·         53 percent said they consider authoring books their primary occupation, spending half or more of their work time writing

·         56 percent said they write fiction

·         18 percent said they write literary fiction

·         38 percent said they write genre fiction

·         22 percent said they are academic, scholarly, or textbook authors

·         18 percent said they write general nonfiction

·         9 percent said they publish books to advance their work or personal brand

·         46 percent said they’re traditionally published

·         27 percent said they are strictly self-publishing

·         26 percent said they are both trade- and self-published—the guild notes that “slightly more than half of the respondents have done some self-publishing”

Taken together the responses reported by the full sample of participating published authors indicate that their median income from “all writing-related activities” was US$6,080, down three percent from the guild’s sruvey work in 2013, and down from $10,500 in 2009.

. . . .

There is what appears to be a brighter spot. Authors identifying themselves as full-time, when reporting “all writing-related activities,” showed a median income that was up 3 percent over 2013, coming in at $20,300. The guild points out, however, that this is still substantially lower than the $25,000 median income that class of writer reported in 2009.

. . . .

Self-published writers responding to the survey overall reported earning 58 percent less than trade-published authors in 2017, even while citing what the guild says was a 95-percent increase from 2013 to 2017. (In the top decile, the indies had a median of $154,000 while the trade-authors reported $305,000.)

Not only did self-published romance and romantic suspense writers report median incomes “almost five times higher than the $1,900 median author-related income for the next highest-earning self-published genre category of mysteries and thrillers,” the guild writes, but “the median author-related income for self-published romance and romantic suspense writers was only $50 more in 2017 than in 2013, which may indicate that self-published romance writers as a group have reached a plateau for earnings under current business models.”

. . . .

The organization also points to “blockbuster mentality” as hurting authors, along with those stubbornly low ebook royalty rates of 25 percent and increases in deep discounting.

. . . .

Cal Reid at Publishers Weekly does a good job of summing up the Amazon-related commentary of the survey, “Unsurprisingly, Amazon—described as a dominant force in bookselling and book publishing—figures prominently in the income survey, cited as both a positive and a negative force.

“Amazon has ‘democratized’ publishing, enabling more people to publish books than ever before and the survey found that 76 percent of self-published authors used one of Amazon’s platform. Amazon’s requirement that authors sell exclusively on their platforms limits the amount of money they can make by being forced to participate in Kindle Unlimited and receiving only a 35 percent royalty on books priced at over $9.99, the report says.

“Moreover, the survey found, Amazon’s dominance over online bookselling (the e-tailer controls 72% of the online market, the report found) forced traditional publishers to effectively suppress the income for traditionally published writers. ‘Amazon puts pressure on them to keep costs down and takes a large percentage, plus marketing fees, forcing publishers to pass on their losses to authors,’ the report said.”

. . . .

Over 2,000 authors had average publisher royalties of almost $32,000; close to 1,700 self-published authors reported royalties of just over $31,000.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests traditional publishers could increase the royalties they pay to provide increased income for traditionally-published writers.

The Business of Writing

23 Comments to “New, Larger Authors Guild Survey: Falling Incomes for US Writers”

  1. Amazon’s requirement that authors sell exclusively on their platforms limits the amount of money they can make by being forced to participate in Kindle Unlimited and receiving only a 35 percent royalty on books priced at over $9.99, the report says.

    Of course you know, and I know, and all the indie writers know, and the birds in the trees know, that this is a load of bollocks. Amazon does not require exclusivity, nor force anyone to participate in KU. If you choose to put a given book in KU, you are not allowed to sell the same book through other channels. But that is your choice as an author, not theirs.

    If they can get something that simple dead wrong, I can’t put any credence in the rest of the report. But it does give a disturbing insight into the mindset of that kind of people. They evidently believe that ‘Everything not forbidden is compulsory’ is a true statement about life in a free country. This might go far to explain the uncanny appeal of Marxist claptrap to a lot of people in tradpub circles.

    • Also…

      Mr. Established Traditionally Published Author, on his just released $14.99 ebook, is seeing ~$3.20 per unit sale. (This is a real if unnamed example, and I happen to know that this series is agented, so he actually gets only 85% of the ~$3.75.)

      Mrs. Established Indie Published Author, on the other hand, on her just released $5.99 ebook, is seeing ~$4.20 per unit sale. (Of which she keeps everything.)

      Now, Mrs. EIPA does have somewhat lower sales than Mr. ETPA – but he has to see sales some 30% greater than hers to just match her (before taxes, of course) income.

  2. PG suggests traditional publishers could increase the royalties they pay to provide increased income for traditionally-published writers.

    Sure they could. We could all pay more than we have to for stuff. But, nobody does, not even authors who want someone else to pay them more than they have to.

    Authors are undercutting authors. Authors compete with other authors by cutting prices they are willing to sell their manuscript for. If one author won’t sell at a given price, a dozen stand ready to take his place. And another dozen stands ready to undercut them.

    Almost all the misfortunes authors complain about are due to the fact that there are so many of them. I suggest ninety percent of authors go do something else so the remaining ten percent can prosper.

    Don’t like the publisher’s bid? OK. That’s why God made KDP.

    God Bless the free market, for the choice is ours.

  3. Smart Debut Author

    It’s truly eye-opening how many incorrect conclusions can be drawn from garbage data and bad “facts,” when you apply enough bias in the interpretation.

    Color me impressed.

  4. Smart Debut Author

    For the first time, the [Authors Guild] expanded its survey range, requesting responses not only from its own membership but from members of 14 additional writer organizations.

    For the first time, the Telegraph Operators Union expanded its survey range, requesting responses not only from its own membership but from members of the Shortwave Radio Operators Collective, The 8-Track Tape Manufacturers Guild, and the Computer Card-Punchers Union.

  5. Do you realize how bad your methodology is on this? No matter if the study was expanded to other groups they were still within your area. Under 10,000 responses within that group. Conclusion this is what is happening to publishing over all. Cut me a break. You took a limited sample from a limited group and applied it to the overall group. This is what is happening to our group romance authors hence it must be happening to all romance authors.

    Yeah bad methodology.Which makes what you wrote totally worthless

    • Agreed, PJ.

    • The selection was probably worse than that. I got a request to participate because of my membership in Sisters in Crime. A few questions in, I found the questions were too intrusive, requiring information I wouldn’t want generally known, and that it would remain identifiable as mine. I stopped answering and bailed on the survey. Many others had the same complaint.

  6. “Amazon’s requirement that authors sell exclusively on their platforms limits the amount of money they can make by being forced to participate in Kindle Unlimited and receiving only a 35 percent royalty on books priced at over $9.99, the report says.”

    When they get something this basic wrong, it causes me to doubt anything they say.

  7. There is a lot more to the OP than the part quoted by PG and a lot more than the stupid error about KU (it was a quote from Publishers Weekly but they really should not have let it go).

    The bit I liked best was:

    “Experts in statistics have told Publishing Perspectives that it’s all but impossible to design a genuinely scientific sample of the kind needed to get past the difficulties of the “self-selecting sample” on which these interpretations of our writers’ struggles are based.”

    since it’s pretty much telling us that the whole investigation is useless.

    • Agreed, Mike.

      However, a statistically reliable and truly representative survey would have cost significantly more money to conduct.

      The results of this survey reinforced the ADS reality distortion field, so why mess with what works?

      It would be an interesting thought experiment to consider whether the tradpub view of Amazon would be different today if Amazon had not made self-publishing so easy and financially viable.

      Ditto for a second thought experiment considering the results had Amazon fallen into line with the pricing practices of traditional bookstores.

      Second ditto for a third thought experiment considering the results had Amazon had not aggressively pushed ebooks with low prices, inexpensive ebook readers, etc.

      • It can be argued that it would be the same.
        They were griping about Amazon pre-kindle and even before Amazon made buying used books easy in 2000.
        They prefer a static unchanging world…
        …with them on top, naturally.

        Amazon became public enemy number one when they realized they wouldn’t play the payola game and that their eeevile algorithms presented consumers books they might actually like instead of the books they wanted to promote.

      • Before designing a sample set, one has to define the target set the sample is designed to represent.

        For example, say the target set is registered republican women in Virginia. Then the sample has to accurately reflect that target set.

        I agree good samples are very hard and expensive to generate. However, the definition of the target set is not. It’s as easy as saying, “Registered republican women in Virginia.” That is a set which has well defined bounds.

        So what is the target set the AG wants? Anyone know? It’s a very common mistake for people to sample without first defining the target set.

        From the article, the best I can determine is their target set is all published authors in 2017. Well, who cares what they made? That target set includes a hedge fund manager who published his autobiography and a guy scribbling away in a van trying to feed six kids on royalty income.

        The target set is so poorly defined, the results have no meaning.

  8. It would seem that belonging to traditional writers’ organizations tends to decrease one’s income. Or at least you do not get much ROI for your dues.

  9. Sadly, this much-needed survey was fatally flawed for many reasons, some of which have already been mentioned.

    Like Elise, I got partway through the survey and quit. They were requesting extensive income data going back multiple years, including percentages and amounts of total family income. I was not about to dig out my income tax forms nor to reveal my husband’s income along with my own, especially since it was all identifiable.

    I wish this effort had not been expended in vain.

  10. “Moreover, the survey found, Amazon’s dominance over online bookselling (the e-tailer controls 72% of the online market, the report found) forced traditional publishers to effectively suppress the income for traditionally published writers. ‘Amazon puts pressure on them to keep costs down and takes a large percentage, plus marketing fees, forcing publishers to pass on their losses to authors,’ the report said.”

    So, crappy Trad Pub royalties — and vicious, predatory author contracts — are all Amazon’s fault.

    More ADS from The Authors Guild… yawn. Sure NOT preaching to the choir here on TPV! 🙂

    • Amazon takes a large percentage?
      Not of ebooks they don’t.
      Under Agency part deux, the publishers forced Amazon to take 30% of list.
      But then, they don’t want to sell ebooks, do they? So they minimize their ebook sales, hurting Apple, Kobo, and Google while Amazon yawns and rakes in more pbook sales.

      Very WRATH OF KAHN.

  11. Desmond X. Torres

    Data Guy Oh Data Guy…
    wherefore art thou oh Data Guy?

    I really would love to see him do an update like back in the day.

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