Writing in Figures

A survey commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) in the UK looked at authors’ earnings in 2008 and found:-

  • Average (mean) annual earnings of a writer: £16531;
  • Typical (median) earnings of a writer: £4000;
  • 60% of writers who class themselves as professional authors required a second source of income;
  • Younger writers (aged 25 – 34) earned least, typically £5000;
  • Middle-aged writers (aged 35 – 44) fared best, typically £18000.

For context, average annual earnings in the UK are usually quoted as around £20000.

Essentially, writers don’t earn much and the above relates to fiction, non fiction and script writers, not poets.

HappenStance Press publish poetry chapbooks.  Owner and editor Helena Nelson in “The HappenStance Story Chapter 4” outlined costs involved in printing a poetry chapbook:-

  • Cover design
  • Printing Costs
  • Overheads, eg paper, flyers, postage

So reckoned about £300 for a print run of 300 copies of a poetry chapbook.  The actual price depends on the weight of card used for the cover and probably underestimates the postage costs. 

Missing from the list is author payment – HappenStance do actually pay authors and some authors take payment in copies of the chapbook instead.  Helena Nelson does say she’d like to pay authors more, but I’m going to discuss profits instead. 

Most chapbooks make a loss or just about creep into profit eventually.  If a chapbook does sell well, say 240 copies of a print run of 300, then sales would total around £430 so the profit is £130.

This profit doesn’t actually pay anyone – it gets ploughed back into HappenStance either towards publication of the next chapbook or to subsidise publications that don’t make it into profit.

Over on Amazon.com, reviewers have started leaving complaints about ebook pricing in the reviews, eg (spelling and grammar errors are the reviewers’ errors):-

Preston has done nothing but defend his corporate publisher, their e-book release scheme which exists only to maximize hardcover profits, and supported higher e-book pricing. Now he’s come right out and called you, his readers, children who stomp their feet and whine about the price of an e-book, which, by the way, has ZERO unit cost and essentially zero distribution cost. Do yourself a favor and borrow this one from the library if you must read it. It’s not that good to begin with and this author deserves absolutely none of your hard earned money.

This author has no sense of how mass consumer mentality can make or break a product. I have been an avid e-book reader but i only purchased books which cost 9.99 or less. I either buy a book at this price or totally opt out. Authors should evolve into this new model or will soon become extinct. Power to the Readers !!!!

Authors and Publishers are really stupid. Book piracy is on the rise.Take a hint from iTunes

Hardcovers provide more profits than paperbacks. This is not the case with ebooks and in fact just the opposite is true. Ebooks have VERY high margins since they do not have printing, distribution, warehousing, and seller returns costs. They also are not resold and never need go out of print. Currently, Amazon is paying publishers the same for ebooks as they are for hardcovers, so publishers are making huge profits on ebooks. This is important, so keep in mind that publishers are being paid by Amazon the SAME as they are for hardcovers, but that the COST of the ebook version is substancially LOWER. So why would the publishers not release the ebook version at the same time as the hardcover? They are afraid that Amazon won’t continue to pay them the same high rate in the future, and they are not releasing the ebook version as a means of exerting control over Amazon.

Delaying the ebook release of this novel is a strategic mistake. You’ve invested this huge wave of marketing money into the release and then delay the availability to your e-customers? And this won’t stop the pirates. They’ll just OCR it. You can’t stop the thieves. Forget about the thieves. And stop thinking about pirating as a loss.

Sorry, but I can’t stop thinking about pirating as a loss.  True, not every single pirated book = lost royalties for the author as some people who help themselves to pirated books would never have bought the book anyway.  

But the comments sadden me.  Ebooks may cost very little to produce and distribute from the publishers’ point of view, but less profit overall for publishers = less money available to publish new authors and/or invest in new writers and new books. 

But even that ignores the fact that an author, earning less than the average wage, sat down, planned and wrote the book.  A lower cover price = lower royalties.  Lower royalties means more writers have second jobs.  Writers having second jobs = less time/creative energy to invest in a book.  Less time/creative energy to invest in a book = fewer books.

Is this what readers want? 

I know poetry is a saturated market – too many poets, not enough readers – and not all books can or should be bestsellers so not all authors should make a comfortable living from writing books alone.  But I see increasing resistance to the notion that writers should be paid something for their writing. 

Naturally the amount of payment will be relative to demand and market conditions, but it should not be zero, even if the cost of the ebook is considered zero. 

Thoughts welcomed (comments are moderated before they appear to weed out spam).

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One Response to “Writing in Figures”

  1. Kindle Reviewers on Amazon.com « Emma Lee’s Blog Says:

    […] As this article shows, authors are paid less than the average wage and generally have a supplementary job to enable them to pay bills so finding time for promotion, marketing and distribution is not an option for most authors. […]


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