Report on authors’ earnings has worrying implications for diversity

7 May 2019

The full report on authors’ earnings – commissioned by ALCS and written by researchers from the UK Copyright and Creative Economy Centre at the University of Glasgow – has now been published.

Last year the headline figures from the report were released, which we responded to here. The full results shed further light on the financial difficulties faced by authors, as well as raising a number of questions around diversity in the industry.

You can read the full report here, and we summarise some of the key findings below.

Authors’ Earnings

Authors’ earnings are in decline. As reported last June, the median earnings for primary occupation authors (writers who spend more than half their working time writing) are £10,497 a year. Accounting for inflation, this represents a 42% drop since 2006 when ALCS carried out its first survey of author incomes.

There is considerable inequality of earning power amongst authors, with the highest-earning 10% of writers taking home about 70% of total earnings in the profession. Meanwhile, most writers need a second job to survive, with just 28% of respondents making a living from writing alone without a second job, down from 40% in 2006.


The results of the author incomes survey have some worrying implications for diversity in the industry.

The survey tracks household income and finds that median household income for writers is £50,000 per annum and average earnings are over £81,000 per annum. These figures are conspicuously higher than those earned from writing alone, and highlight the extent to which additional work is required in households to subsidise authors’ incomes. This may well be a factor in the lack of diversity amongst professional writers, as people from less privileged backgrounds who want to write are less likely to have additional sources of household income.  

The survey found that 94% of writers are white and a majority live in the south east of the country. There is also a significant gender pay gap - female primary occupation writers earned 74.9% of the income received by male writers.

Compared to the 2006 survey, earnings from grants and bursaries have declined dramatically. In 2006, income from grants and bursaries for primary occupation writers was £4,960 (mean) and £3,450 (median). In 2018, this has fallen to £730 (mean) and £0 (median, i.e. half of the sample of primary occupation writers did not receive any). This is a disappointing trend: at a time when writers are earning less from commercial sales, grants and bursaries (including publicly-funded grants from the Arts Council) are more important than ever.

Contract advice

The survey highlighted the importance of contract advice for authors. Overall 41% of primary occupation writers took some advice before signing a contract, either from an agent, a lawyer or a professional body such as the Society of Authors. Those who take professional advice and attempt to change terms in their contract earn significantly more than those who don’t.

Authors were asked whether they had succeeded in changing the terms of a contract they were offered. 46% reported that they had. The main negotiated item for those primary occupation authors who have succeeded in changing the terms of a contract were fees (27%), followed by royalty rate (21%), and rights (17%).

Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, said:

“This excellent report reveals the scale of the challenge faced by authors and the wider industry. Authors are struggling to make a living from their writing, something which should worry authors, publishers and readers alike. The continued success of our world-leading publishing and creative industries will depend on the rewards being shared throughout the value chain.  

“We are particularly concerned about the implications of these findings for diversity across the industry. It is clear that authors are having to subsidise their earnings from writing with other forms of income – this inevitably favours writers from more privileged households and backgrounds. There is a danger of writing becoming an elitist profession which excludes new and diverse voices.

“This report should act as a wake-up call for the industry. We look forward to working with authors and publishers to ensure that reward is fairly shared and the ecosystem as a whole is able to thrive.”