Philip Pullman Resigns as Patron of Oxford Literary Festival Over Refusal to Pay Authors

14 January 2015

Our President, Philip Pullman, has resigned as a Patron of Oxford Literary Festival because they do not pay authors.

He explained his decision:

My position as President of the Society of Authors, which has been campaigning for fair payment for speakers at literary festivals, sat rather awkwardly with my position as Patron of the Oxford Literary Festival, because (despite urging from me and others over the years) it does not pay speakers. So I thought it was time I resigned as a Patron of the OLF.

The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture-halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing?

Authors are often encouraged to make appearances for free on the basis that it will give them publicity, but Pullman says that ‘doesn’t work’:

Well-known authors don’t need it, and the less well-known will never sell enough books to cover the costs of being away from the work that does pay (and not very well at that). Expecting authors to work (because it is work) for nothing is iniquitous, it always has been, and I’ve had enough of it.

The SoA wrote to the OLF last year asking them to partake in our survey but received no response. We subsequently wrote to them with the results, raising the lack of payment and some other specific points of concern.

As well as providing no remuneration to speakers, the OLF records the performances and uses them on various platforms unless the author opts out. Such subsidiary rights should be reflected in the fee an author receives.

The OLF also demands that the authors it engages do not appear at another event in a 45 mile radius within 30 days, saying that ‘If this occurs tickets sales are affected to the detriment of all.’ This is a bizarre restriction, especially since the author sees no profit from the sales of those tickets. Children’s author Shoo Rayner mentioned this in response to Pullman’s announcement on Twitter:

Well done @PhilipPullman, worse is Oxford Literary Festival's restraint of trade terms - no signings in 30 days within 40 miles- cheek!

Along with our comments, we sent OLF our practical guidance for engaging authors and ‘Minimum Practice Guidelines which were issued to all festivals we are in contact with. We welcome further feedback from both authors and organisers on the terms offered to speakers at festivals. Email us

We have also created guidelines for authors which include a checklist and template invoice.

UPDATE 18 January:

Pullman's resignation prompted author Amanda Craig to call for a boycott of non-paying festivals, publishing an open letter in The Bookseller and calling for signatories. Read the letter >>

 

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