Writing as a profession under threat in UK after drop in earnings – research

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The future of writing as a main profession is under threat in the UK following a substantial drop in earnings in the past 16 years, according to new research.

Earnings for self-employed writers who spend more than 50% of their working time writing have fallen from £17,608 (controlling for inflation) in 2006, to £7,000 in 2022, the study found.

In the same survey undertaken in 2006, 40% of authors earned all of their income from writing, compared to 19% in 2022.

The report said “there are serious questions over the future of writing as a profession” and that writing in itself “cannot sustain an income that is consistent with a minimum wage”.

The study was carried out by CREATe (the UK Copyright & Creative Economy Research Centre based at the University of Glasgow’s School of Law and Advanced Research Centre) and was commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) to conduct the independent research.

Amy Thomas, project investigator for the survey, said: “Our report has been fairly unique in its timing, taking place after both the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, and now the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

“Although there has been a general decline in author earnings over the past two decades, our 2022 survey shows an accelerated decline that has no doubt been exacerbated by world events. This raises serious questions about the sustainability of the writing profession in the UK.

“Consistently, we find that earnings from writing are decreasing and creative labour becoming de-valued. Whilst many of our respondents talked about their love of creating, and passion for writing, relying on their altruism has been used to justify an increasingly unlivable wage.

“We also found that writing is far from an equal opportunity profession. There are substantial inequalities between those who are being adequately rewarded for their writing, and those who are not.

“This begs the question whether we are stifling our creative culture by disincentivising a broad and diverse group of writers from participating in this market.”

Researchers found “extremely high levels of earnings inequality” in the profession, noting the top 10% of authors earn 47% of total individual earnings.

Many authors appear to rely on other members of their household who typically earn well, with a median household income of £50,000 per annum across all respondents.

The survey was issued to 58,260 members of the ALCS in spring this year and received 2,759 responses, some of which did not answer all questions.

Researchers found the pandemic had a negative effect on the majority of authors, with men more frequently reporting a positive or neutral experience than women.

The report also noted that copyright continues to be little understood and under-utilised by authors – which can curtail an author’s earning potential – while advances are becoming rarer, with almost half of all authors never having received any such payment.

Meanwhile, despite a growing trend in audio-visual streaming, this does not appear to be filtering through to authors, researchers found.

The findings of the report are being presented at the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group Winter Reception at the House of Commons on Tuesday.

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