Authors’ Earnings in the UK

17 August 2023

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Dr Amy Thomas, 

Dr Amy Thomas

Lecturer in Intellectual Property and Information Law, University of Glasgow

Professor Michele Battisti, 

Professor Michele Battisti

Professor of Economics (Economics), University of Glasgow

Professor Martin Kretschmer

Professor Martin Kretschmer

Professor of Intellectual Property Law at the University of Glasgow, and Director of CREATe

Professor Martin Kretschmer (LLM LSE, PhD UCL) is ...

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This policy briefing sets out areas for possible policy action, proposed by the researchers at CREATe who conducted a survey of UK writers for the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). The survey was conducted between February and April 2022.

It follows on from a longer report published in 2022 that presented the full findings from a survey of over 2,700 writers. The survey uncovered concerning trends in authors' incomes. There has been a marked decline in median earnings for full-time writers, dropping 11% in real terms between 2019 and 2021. Fewer authors now earn their entire income from writing alone, suggesting this is becoming an unsustainable career path. Writing is also an increasingly unequal profession, with the top 10% of earners taking home almost half of all income.

The researchers' work highlights how broader trends in publishing contracts are contributing to authors' financial precarity. Advances are becoming rarer, while 'buy-out' deals that provide a one-off payment are more common. Most authors feel unable to negotiate better terms. There is also evidence that writers under-utilise key rights, like moral rights and reversion clauses, which could give them greater control over their work.

In light of these findings, the researchers propose policy interventions to sustain and diversify the writing profession in the UK. Their recommendations include:

  • establishing codes of conduct for publishers,
  • strengthening copyright law to benefit creators,
  • building authors' legal knowledge through training,
  • and targeted changes to tax and social security provisions.

The UK could become a more attractive haven for writers if policymakers adopt measures to improve incomes and working conditions. By implementing some of the proposed reforms, we could level the playing field between authors and publishers, empowering more people to sustain writing careers. This research provides an evidence base to inform policy decisions that would strengthen the health of the UK's writing ecosystem.

Photo by Alexandra Kirr on Unsplash