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.

TONY BRADMAN, ALCS CHAIR November 2019

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