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From the Bookseller magazine

Atwood, Rushdie, Gladwell and Rowling sign letter protesting against ‘ideological conformity’

Published July 8, 2020 by Katherine Cowdrey

·  ·  ·  High-profile authors including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Malcolm Gladwell and J K Rowling have signed an open letter protesting “ideological conformity” and the spread of “censoriousness”, including “an intolerance of opposing views” and “vogue for public shaming and ostracism”.

With other well-known writer signatories including Martin Amis, Jeffrey Eugenides, Daniel Kehlmann and Gloria Steinem, the letter was published online with the US-based Harper’s Magazine on Tuesday (7th July) and has been signed by more than 100 people from the arts, media and academia.

Another signatory is Rowling’s agent Neil Blair, whose agency recently lost four of its authors over the Harry Potter author’s views on transgender law reform and tweets about the trans community.

Writing about a number of issues, including the withdrawal of books “for alleged inauthenticity”, the letter takes particular issue with reprisals that include the removal of people with contentious views from their posts, saying this is leading to “greater risk aversion among writers, artists and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus”.

The letter, whose signatories say they refuse to choose between justice and freedom, begins by acknowledging that the demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, are “overdue”. However, it goes on to argue that this has “also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity”.

“As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second,” the letter reads. “The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.”

The letter goes on to protest the spread of “censoriousness” in our culture– “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty”– and rallies we must “uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters”.

It warned the signatories found it “more troubling still” that institutional leaders are issuing “hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms” in “a spirit of panicked damage control” in response to “perceived transgressions of speech and thought”.

“Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes,” the letter reads. “Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

“This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.”


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Writers’ earnings still in decline

says chair of the Authors Licensing Society in annual review
Being a writer is not a job for people who crave a stable workload and like to ensure they know where their next pay cheque is coming from. It’s not about a 9 to 5 routine (at least for many of us) and it doesn’t come with a pension plan and a travel loan. The money is not why we get into writing, and it’s not why we keep doing it.
However, what we do want from our writing is to receive what we’re owed, to decide how and when our works are used, and we want to be treated fairly. That’s why some of the research that ALCS has been funding over the last few years is so important. I’m sure you’ve read some of the headlines; but here’s a surprise – writers’ earnings are still in decline. The Authors’ Earnings survey carried out by CREATe painted a pretty bleak picture of a world where the median income is under £10.5k per year. https://www.alcs.co.uk/research
Alongside this research, we also supported the WGGB ‘equality writes’ campaign, which highlighted some shocking gender inequalities in the scriptwriting industry and showed that women screenwriters are still facing a glass ceiling which is preventing them from getting the top writing jobs. https://www.alcs.co.uk/research
Most recently ALCS funded some Royal Society of Literature research which asked ‘what UK writers need to work?’. 90 years ago, Virginia Woolf said that to be a writer, a woman needed money and a room of her own (£500 a year was what was called for – equivalent to £30,000 in today’s money).
We’re a way off that figure though still, the RSL research backed up the ALCS findings,and showed that average earnings had actually dropped further to £10k per annum.
ALCS also provide the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group (APWG), chaired by John Whittingdale MP. All Party Parliamentary Groups are informal, cross party groups that look at specific topics or areas. The APWG published the results of its first inquiry earlier in the year. ‘Supporting the writers of tomorrow’ brought together research from across the sector, with input from a number of ALCS members and made a raft of recommendations for Government as to how they can help to improve the environment for writers.
So other than highlighting where the problems are, what else can ALCS do to help? Well we can make sure we’re collecting as much as we possibly can for the uses of your works, be as efficient as we possibly can as well as ensure that we’ve got the very best people lined up on the Board to support the executive to carry out their work. I think we do all of that.
I’m pleased to say that we’ve got a fantastic team in the current Board of Directors, most recently joined by Joanne Harris, and the re-elected Maggie Gee. And for the first time too, we’ve got a dedicated audiovisual focused Director post, more than ably filled by Di Redmond. The executive, under guidance from the Board have developed a new strategic plan to take us through the next 3 years where there are many challenges ahead. But I believe we’re well armed and equipped to face them together.


● At the last count, the Authors Licensing Society had just over 100, 000 members and is their largest representative body in the UK)

English library borrowing plummets while US remains stable

From The Bookseller

Published July 9, 2019 by Mark Chandler

  • · · New library borrowing figures from the US show how far Englandis lagging behind other countries because of its facilities’ falling book stocks, according to new analysis from library campaigner Tim Coates.

Using statistics from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, ex-Waterstones boss Tim Coates produced a chart showing English book loans have plummeted year-on-year since 2009/10 while American numbers remain relatively stable.

According to the statistics, book loans in the USA stood at 7.4 per person in 2006/7, peaked at 8.3 in 2009/10 and were 7.1 in 2016/17.

During the same span of time, Coates’ analysis of CIPFA data showed English book loans fell from 5.7 to 3.1 per person, a 46% decrease. Coates said this was well down on 8.6 in 1996/7, while England’s most recent figure available for 2017/18 was just 2.8.

Over a period from 2007/8, loans in Australia have also fallen, but far less sharply, from 8.2 per person to 6.6, a 20% drop, according to National and State Libraries of Australia data analysed by Coates.

He said the figures lend weight to his argument that library use in England is dwindling because there has been a move from making their sole focus books – something he claims has not happened elsewhere.

Coates said: “25 to 30 years ago the public library sector in the UK, which means the leaders of the profession, the local and national politicians and government officers responsible for the service, consciously and deliberately allowed the number of books available for lending in public libraries to fall. It happened in every council.

“Across the UK the number has fallen from 90m to less than 60m and what remains is of low quality. They did it because they believed, and continue to believe, that libraries are more than about books’ and they should concentrate substantial resources to all kinds of other activities and purposes. In Australia and the US, while there was similar desire to widen the scope of the library service, they have not reduced the book collections at all.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport claimed some libraries had recently seen an increase in borrowing, although did not directly address Coates’ point about a decrease in book stock.

A spokesman told The Bookseller: “The way people use libraries is changing and libraries need to adapt and evolve as new technologies become available, in the same way that other public services do. We are encouraged that around a quarter of the country’s libraries are seeing a boost in visits or borrowing. Our libraries continue to play an important role in helping people and communities access computers, information and advice to improve their life chances and achieve their full potential.”

Coates published his own survey last month on library use in the UK and US, claiming again that things like the often-blamed Government austerity programme were not the root cause of British library woes.

He said: “Until the book collections are restored, that decline will continue. It is terminal. Giving the sector money would be wasteful if they do not acknowledge fully the cause of the problem- and spend anything they are given on printed books.”

Analysis by Coates of figures released late last year by CIPFA showed spending on books in public libraries had fallen by 20% in the 12 months to the end of March 2018. That study showed book lending to adults from English libraries fell by 6.7% in the previous year, a total drop of 31.6% across the last five years. In England, 105 libraries closed – impacting on loans – with 14 more handed to volunteers.

However, Coates’ views on the reason for falling library use are not backed by everyone. Nick Poole, c.e.o. of library and information association CILIP, told The Bookseller last month cuts in funding were the main reason for the problems.

He said: “There are essentially five ingredients which make up a successful library—we need bright, attractive spaces, professional staff, good-quality book-stock, good IT and a diverse programme of activities to help keep users interested. There is no doubt that better books in libraries equates to more use. The problem is that after 10 years of public sector austerity and local government cuts, we are running the service on a shoestring—which means we can’t deliver the great libraries and high-quality stock that people want everywhere across the UK.”

‘Leading the entertainment pack’: UK print book sales rise again

By Alison Flood from The Guardian

Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, which sold more than half a million copies in less than two months, helped the UK book market to a fourth consecutive year of growth in 2018.

Statistics from UK book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan show that the print book market in the UK grew 2.1% in value and 0.3% in volume in 2018. In total, 190.9m books were sold last year, for £1.63bn. The Bookseller magazine said this was up £34m on 2017. Volume also increased, although more marginally, with an extra 627,000 books sold last year.

Becoming was the most valuable title of the year, according to the Bookseller: taking £7.7m in sales, it topped the charts for four consecutive weeks and took the Christmas No 1. But it was not the year’s bestselling book: Becoming was outsold in the non-fiction market by Adam Kay’s memoir about life as a junior doctor, This Is Going to Hurt, and by 2018’s overall top seller, Gail Honeyman’s debut novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

The Bookseller’s editor Philip Jones said the growth was “another glitch in the eye of those pundits who thought physical books would go the way of the CD, DVD or even vinyl. The turnaround at Waterstones – once owned by HMV of course – and the continuing success of the smaller chains such as Blackwell’s, Daunt and Foyles, and the large numbers of independent bookshops shows how the high street might yet be saved by proper customer-centric retailing.” He identified Trump as the major trend in non-fiction, with the year bookended by Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and Becoming.

In fiction, he said, so-called “up-lit” – uplifting fiction – was “the counterpoint to the wider gloom”, led by Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. The Nielsen figures do not include ebooks and audiobooks, and Jones said he expected that both of these sectors had also grown over the last year, “particularly the audiobook market, which is really on the charge”.

“When you consider the Nielsen-measured print-book market alongside all those bits of the sector we do not have numbers for – including direct sales, sales though bargain bookstores or the discount supermarkets, the secondhand market, plus digital – it is pretty clear that the book is the unassailable leader of the entertainment pack,” he said.

Literary agent Jonny Geller responded to the news on Twitter: “We punch well above our weight as an industry and cultural light and must continue to invest in writers and writing. Believe in the power of books.”

He told the Guardian that he had been struck by the range of bestsellers in 2018: “Publishing is a great shop window of one of this country’s greatest exports – creativity. We tend to underestimate the power of our writers internationally as more UK-originated material becomes TV and films and dominates bestseller lists abroad.

“Print sales underpin publishers’ profits, so let’s hope they use that to invest in new and innovative voices in 2019 – and share the newfound spoils with the writers in a flourishing audio sector.”

Thu 3 Jan 2019

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From the Bookseller magazine

Calls for immediate action to reverse ‘steep decline’ in writers’ incomes

Published June 11, 2019 by Heloise Wood


The All Party Parliamentary Writers Group (APWG) has called for “immediate action to reverse steep decline in writers’ incomes”, following its investigation into author earnings.

The concerns of the writing community and proposed improvements were featured in the 23-page report, ‘Supporting the Writers of Tomorrow’, presented at the Group’s Summer Reception at the House of Commons, hosted by the group’s chair, John Whittingdale, on Tuesday (11th June).

The parliamentary group has proposed a series of recommendations to ensure better support for authors, while also improving government engagement with creators; protecting the success of the UK publishing industry beyond Brexit and ensuring fairness in the bookselling market.

Submissions from more than 30 authors are featured in the report along with industry bodies such as the Association of Authors’ Agents, the Society of Authors, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, the Publishers Association, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and Alliance of Independent Authors. Hachette UK was the only publisher to provide a submission.

There was an almost universal response to the Inquiry that writers are earning less than before – echoing last year’s survey from the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society which showed writers’ average earnings as dropping to £10,500-a-year, a fall of 15% in real terms since 2013.

The APWG report reads: “Almost all of the responses to the Inquiry suggested a reduction in authors’ earnings; this was evidenced in the findings from ALCS’ surveys of 2005, 2013 and 2017 and supported by the responses to the Inquiry identifying a range of causes for this,” the report reads. While its authors concede that “much of the evidence suggests that this issue is an international trend” it also described the changed royalties structures following the dissolution of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) as “a major issue”.

Authors’ additional duties beyond writing was also cited as a concern. “Authors, particularly those writing for children, typically subsidise their income with visits to schools, community centres and literary festivals; in multiple submissions to the Inquiry authors stated this is no longer an option. Authors said that some schools commission fewer visits due to budgetary constraints, even when these visits can be part of a varied and interactive education. A particular concern for authors is festivals where authors are expected to speak for free.”

Contributors also raised concerns that a decline in authors’ earnings could discourage new writers from taking up the profession, exacerbating the lack of diversity in the publishing and creative industries.

Poets in particular are struggling to survive financially, the report said. “[It was] suggested that authors of poetry are finding it particularly difficult to maintain a livelihood… smaller poetry publishers that nurture mid-list authors are closing their lists, including Enitharmon Press which closed its list in 2017 after losing Arts Council England funding.”

“Poor financial return from writing for compilations means that poetry and short story writing are less viable as an entry point to professional writing… Poetry writers also rely on paid event appearances that are becoming rarer.”

Consolidation amongst publishers could also cause problems for writers along, it was argued. There was anxiety that “consolidation of consolidation of publishers could lead to greater negotiating power over authors in a market with less choice and competition for their IP; while a clear contributor to the consolidation of publishers is the state of the bookselling market”. Amazon was singled out as a concern because of how its discounts have affected publishers’ behaviour, leading to “an impact across the value chain of publishing”.

The complications of Brexit also loomed over the Inquiry’s findings, particularly around the potential that “the continuity of the UK copyright regime could be disrupted, as this is based upon a significant body of existing EU law”.

The formation of a Creators Council was suggested “to improve the general understanding of the value of copyright, intellectual property and how authors should be rewarded for their work as well as addressing issues such as diversity”.

Secondly, the group called for the protection of the success of the publishing sector after Brexit, ensuring no additional barriers to trade are installed that would disadvantage UK authors, publishers and producers and that the UK does not adopt an “international exhaustion’ regime and avoid “so-called ‘fair use’ models”.

Support for authors should also be central, the APPG argued, through changes to tax and benefit rules. “Authors could be supported by being able to offset the cost of childcare against their income, or the cost of training in ‘new skills’ such as self-publishing and marketing,” the report reads. It urged against plans for ‘Making Tax Digital’ but asked that the threshold for reporting in line with the VAT registration threshold of £83,000.

Finally the APWG called for “fairness in the bookselling market” through reducing VAT on e-books and a review of measures to see how High Street booksellers can be better supported.

Tony Bradman, children’s writer and chair of the ALCS Board, said that “it’s now tougher than ever to make a living as a professional writer”. He added: “That’s not fair and adopting the recommendations of the report would be a very good way of beginning to address the problem.”

Author and fellow board member Joanne Harris said: “The APWG report confirms what writers have known for a long time: that their incomes are falling by the year. It also constitutes worrying evidence that the writing profession is set to get less diverse rather than being the place for all kinds of voices that it needs to be.”

Whittingdale agreed that there needs to be support for the publishing sector. “We must do all we can to support our creators, and ensure they are fairly rewarded for their fantastic contribution to our society,” he said.

There was a mixed response from the industry. Nicola Solomon, c.e.o. of the Society of Authors, was positive. “We welcome these findings and support all the recommendations put forward by the APWG. We are pleased to see MPs recognise the importance of preserving our copyright regime after Brexit and preserving public funding in the arts. We also support the idea of a Creators’ Council, which will ensure that creators are at the heart of policy-making in Government.

“We have argued for a long time that action needs to be taken to address the decline in authors’ earnings, and we are pleased that this has now been officially acknowledged by MPs.

“With a new Prime Minister and ministerial team due to be in place soon, it is important that this report is taken forward and given serious consideration by government.”

However another industry body which contributed, the Alliance of Independent Authors, felt the findings did not reflect the current landscape.

“Until author organizations embrace the fact that the global publishing landscape has changed and authors are often better off when they self-publish authors will continue to grapple with sub-par earnings,” Orna Ross, founder and director of the alliance, said.

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