It was Samuel Johnson, the great 18th Century English critic, writer, and dictionary creator, who famously said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
Consider then what the Authors Guild, the USA’s premier writers’ organization, recently learned in a membership survey:
“The median income of authors (from all sources related to being a writer, not just books,” went down 42% from 2009, to $6,080.”
“If you measure author’s income from just their books, that fell 21% since 2013, to $3,100.”
“For those authors who were published before 2014, median incomes from all writing-related sources are actually slight up from $6,250 to $8,170.”
For literary writers, median incomes are down by 27%.
Some self-published writers have seen a rise in income, “but they still earn somewhat less than traditionally published authors.”
It would appear there are many reasons for all of this. The general cultural support for literature and reading is far less than it was. There is a negative pressure from digital games and TV. Think how many hours kids are in front of a screen. The population of readers is diminishing. There is the converting school reading to platforms for testing, which pushes kids away from reading. The number of bookstores is declining. There is a huge adverse impact on the book market by Amazon. School book budgets are down. Library budgets are down. The marketing of books by publishers is way down. Indeed, most book marketing is by social media, which in itself discourages reading.
Still, from my experience, most people I meet in a casual way think that I, as a successful writer, must be, quite simply, “rich.”
One of the things we don’t learn in the midst of all this is how traditional publishers contribute to the problem. What are their incomes? Talk to people in the writing community and you will quickly learn that advances are way down. Why?
And yet … and yet …
Yet, when I was very much younger than I am now, and trying to become a professional writer, I thought very little about money. I assumed I would have a day job, accepting the notion that “Real writers have day jobs,” or so we joked. Indeed, I worked at day jobs for more than twenty five years—mostly as a librarian. Contrary to: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” I did. As do many others today.
That said, living a life like that is very hard, hard on creativity, hard on life, families, on parenting, and ultimately on writing.
What might be the future of books if these trends continue? Hard to know but it doesn’t look good.
Any thoughts out there?