Author Incomes Have Plummeted in Last Six Years

Posted on September 16, 2015

Authors Guild 2015 The Wages of Writing Report

The Authors Guild conducted its first member survey since 2009. The bad news is that author incomes are down. Authors are publishing in more formats than ever before and they are spending a lot more time marketing than they used to. The must-read report is a real eye-opener.

1,674 authors responded to the 2014 survey. According to their responses, median income from writing was $8,000, which is down a whopping 24% since the prior survey six years before.

Fifty-six percent of writers earned less than the U.S. poverty level for a one income household: $11.640. What was surprising about this report was that even full time authors have really taken a hit. The average income for full time authors dropped from $25,000 in 2009 to $17,500 in 2014. Part-time authors fared even worse, with a 38% drop income over the previous six years.

Thirty nine percent of the authors surveyed made their sole income from writing. Earnings for full-time authors dropped 30% between 2009 and 2014, from $25,000 to $17,500, while the median income of part-time writers fell 38% over the period, from $7,250 to $4,500. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to the survey said their sole income came from writing.

The report on the survey (which is available in .pdf form here attributes the drop in income to multiple factors, including the rise of ebooks and ebook piracy; the consolidation in the publishing industry leading to fewer places to get published; the rise of self-publishing the lessening of the importance of the major book publishers; the rise of Amazon.com as an "industry behemoth" andthe closing of brick and mortar bookstores which "have made the business of authorship both more diverse and less profitable than it was six years ago."

How authors spend their time has changed quite a bit. Authors now spend 59% more time marketing and communicating with readers than they did in 2009. Social media is a time sink, and authors are caught in it.

From an income standpoint, the report is nothing but bad news. In fact, the Authors Guild struggled to find any good news at all, concluding, "The picture's not pretty, but there are silver linings. The rise of hybrid authorship is an exciting development: authors can now have more freedom in choosing a method of publication and promotion that suits the needs of the specific book they're trying to market. And the opportunities for author-reader engagement are unsurpassed in the history of book publishing-even if this engagement competes with an author's writing time."

So, the good news is that authors can interact with more readers than ever. The bad news is that doing so doesn't leave them much time to write. On the economic front, this survey seems to say that one reason income is down is that so many authors are self-publishing. In other words, there are more books out there than ever, the sales are just spread between more authors.

Another point that this survey does not address is the ailing economy has led to consumers cutting back severely on discretionary spending and that includes books. People are reading as much as ever, but they simply will not pay $35+ for a hardcover or more than about $10 for an ebook. That is really hurting authors' incomes.

Image: Authors Guild