Why Authors Earn Less Even As Book Sales Rise


HarperCollins reported $ 490 million in sales for the most recent quarter on Thursday, up $ 83 million from the same quarter in 2017, in part due to higher sales of audiobooks and digital e-books. This is just the latest confirmation that traditional book publishers are doing well: the Publishers Association recently found that the UK publishing industry’s £ 5.7 billion book sales revenue was on the rise. 5% increase over the previous year.

This contrasts with a June 2018 report from the Authors ‘Licensing and Collecting Society which found that authors’ incomes have fallen by 42% over the past ten years and that the median annual income of professional authors is now less than £ 10,500. How can authors’ revenues fall even as the revenues of book publishers continue to rise? There is no simple answer, but there are many factors that contribute to the apparent disparity.

To be sure, the publishing industry’s success is far from stratospheric: Across the US industry as a whole, net revenues totaled $ 26.23 billion in 2017, down just a tiny bit. little compared to $ 26.27 billion in 2016. Overall, revenues appear to be holding up, as traditional publishers double down on the latest trend or the latest format (which are political revealers and digital audiobooks, respectively, if anyone is wondering). It should also be noted that the traditional industry figures do not represent the whole world of book publishing: in the famous obscure world of book statistics, there is little data available on self-published authors. and their sales. According to a 2017 report from a data watchdog, up to 80% of dollars spent online on eBooks likely goes to Amazon. A small group of self-published Amazonian authors are doing quite well and not counting. Over a thousand Amazon independent authors earned over $ 100,000 in royalties in 2017, and over 2,000 earned $ 50,000 that year.

Authors have seen their livelihoods become less profitable for some time: A survey commissioned by the Authors’ Guild in 2015 found that only 39% of authors surveyed could support themselves through their writing. Years of experience do not prevent authors from lowering their income, as the same survey found that professionals with more than 15 years of experience experienced the largest negative variation in their income between 2009 and 2015.

Consolidation in the publishing industry could be a reason for declining author income, as Mary Rasenberger, executive director of The Authors Guild, argued in a 2016 article on The Billfold. “As publishers feel increased pressure to achieve the bottom line, author advances are often the only negotiable item in the budget,” she said.

Piracy is another factor: PDF-sharing site OceanofPDF was shut down last week following hundreds of takedown notices from major publishers. Anyone who is dedicated enough to bothering to pirate a book is probably a potential customer, even if the pirates themselves claim that the authors are “elitists” in expecting to be paid for their work.

The book creation industry will remain healthy for the foreseeable future. Authors themselves will continue to produce their art, even as the chances of earning a living increase. But thanks to the effects of prices set by the biggest publishers in response to Amazon, industry cuts and book piracy, the authors behind the stories that fuel the publishing industry are earning less and less for their money. efforts.