SoA calls for greater financial transparency from publishers on authors’ earnings

6 March 2018

Writing in The Bookseller, CEO Nicola Solomon challenges trade publishers to adopt a fairer approach.

The article, published on Friday 2 March, highlights figures in a recent Publishers Association report showing that in 2016 authors received just 3% of publisher turnover. In the same year, major publishers’ profits averaged 13%, with Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster each posting profits of 16%.

Solomon writes:

‘Publishers, of course, have a duty to make a profit for shareholders. But unless authors receive proper returns, the supply of quality work will inevitably diminish.’

SoA President Philip Pullman is quoted in the article: ‘It’s perfectly possible to make a good profit and pay a fair return to all of those on whose work, after all, everything else depends’.

Meanwhile, writers Paul McVeigh and Kit de Waal expressed concern about the barriers that low incomes are likely to present to writers from backgrounds currently underrepresented in publishing.

‘Commercial sensitivities’

Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, concludes his editorial in the same edition of the magazine with: ‘Solomon is right to raise the questions; publishers could do worse than provide some answers’.

But in response to the article, Stephen Lotinga CEO of the Publishers Association, told The Guardian on Monday that:

‘publishers absolutely recognise that writers should be fairly rewarded for their work and they do a huge amount to support talent … Royalties and advance flows are agreed on an individual, case-by-case basis and will vary across the industry. Publishers do communicate directly and transparently with authors, for example through royalty reports, but each contract is business-sensitive and so the communication is understandably with the individual concerned … There are commercial sensitivities around much of this information that will inevitably impact what could be shared more widely.’

That being said, we have identified four key areas where we think publishers can — and must — do better:

  1. Fair terms. Ahead of EU legislation, all publishers should sign up to our CREATOR principles for fair contracts.
  2. Accounting. Transparent and clear accounting to show exactly how much publishers pay authors, illustrators and translators.
  3. Increased shares. Publishers should commit to paying authors a higher proportion of turnover, and increase advances and escalators.
  4. Redistribution to a wider pool, not just celebrities, but writers from across society. And publish how author share is distributed in accounts.

Shrinking pay doesn’t just hurt established authors – it makes publishing less accessible to working-class creators and perpetuates the problems our industry has with diversity.

This is an important campaign that will inevitably run and run. We will of course keep you updated as the discussion develops.

In the meantime, we’re keen to read your thoughts on the topic in the comment thread below.


Elizabeth Holley (18/03/2018 03:13)
" I was interested in Suzanne Lumsden's remarks about the role of a publisher. My books are attractive and printed on good quality paper but my publisher seems to believe that 500 emails on first publication, and more after the sale of every thousand books, constitute 'publishing'. Securing shelf space in bookshops, book signings, radio interviews and appearances at a couple of National Trust festivals have all been down to my own efforts.
One of the largest literary festivals is held a few miles from my home, and my books for older children are set in the locality. As I have had some very good reviews, I thought that my publishers would want to help me be at the festival, in order to make sales. However, I was told it is all up to me. As I secured publication before I had found an agent, I doubt whether I shall ever be able to sell the quantity that a publisher might."
Stephen Archer (17/03/2018 03:40)
" Good to read about the support, great material to use."
Susanne Lumsden (16/03/2018 08:49)
" At the risk of a Bateman moment, is there an argument re no 3 (higher proportion of turnover) for switching to net receipts on all sales? The reason for this suggestion is to make royalty statements easier to interpret, as well as align the interests of authors and publishers.

The quid pro quo would be for commissioning editors to discuss with their authors:

a) the initial print run, and
b) the estimated percentage of sales in the stepped discount brackets.

A final thought. All trade promotions (with chains and wholesalers) = higher discounts. The greater visibility of such a promotion (whether in a Gardners catalogue to booksellers or the enhanced display in a bookshop) helps leapfrog a book's sales. The editor's role is to illustrate the expected increased turnover, but also stress that in publishing there are no guarantees."
David R Roberts (16/03/2018 07:52)
" "Commercial sensitivities"/business confidentiality: the lame excuse of every capitalist enterprise for changing nothing."
Sue Johnson (16/03/2018 04:35)
" According to my contract, I am supposed to receive a sales statement every six months. I have been with them over a year and have not yet had one. Is there anything I can do?"
Miles Craven (16/03/2018 03:32)
" It would also be good to see greater scrutiny into what constitutes 'net UK receipts' on which an author's royalty is based. As things stand, large publishers can decide for themselves how much income their local offices and subsidiaries in overseas markets need remit to the UK. The temptation may arise for UK-based publishers to allow their local operations to remit less than the full amount due, in order to help those local markets, minimise UK tax liabilities, and of course reduce the royalty due to authors."

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