Survey Finds Major Decrease in Literary Authors’ Earnings

January 9, 2019

AG logoIn 2018, the Authors Guild conducted the largest survey of author earnings in history, recording information from over 5,000 published American writers (and Canadians selling in the US market). One of the survey’s most notable findings was a sizable decrease in the percentage of income derived from books. In the last four years, writers of literary fiction saw their books contribute a median 15 percent less to their total income. The Authors Guild cited this statistic as a “crisis of epic proportions for American writers.”

This drop is situated within a more widespread decrease in author earnings across different genres including creative nonfiction, science writing, thought leadership and other areas. These authors saw a 3 percent drop in total writing-related earnings in the past four years. The 3 percent drop also marks the tail end of a precipitous 42 percent drop since 2009 (from $10,500 to roughly $6,080 annually).

“There was a time in America, not so very long ago, that dedicated, talented fiction and non-fiction writers who put in the time and learned the craft could make a living doing what they did best, while contributing enormously to American knowledge, culture and the arts. That is no longer the case for most authors, especially those trying to start careers,” Authors Guild Vice President Richard Russo told The Guardian.

One of the largest contributors to this crisis is the retail giant Amazon, which owns over 70 percent of the online book market. According to the Authors Guild’s report, this dominance pressures publishers to cut costs to preserve profits, often passing losses down to the authors. Another interesting consequence of Amazon’s rise in control is increased sales and revenue for self-published authors, who saw their earnings rise 95 percent in the last four years. Still, self-published authors on average earn considerably less than those published traditionally. The report also notes that the state of self-publishing is largely dependent on Amazon, so concerns of stability and autonomy should also be considered in the figure.


Image Credit: The Authors Guild

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