Following the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ recent appearance at a British Houses of Parliament oral submission with other author representative bodies, Orna Ross, founder and director, calls for government action on independent author earnings, to acknowledge and appropriately support independent author businesses, and the contribution they make to society and to the global economy.
When are governments, creative industries, grants boards, literary festivals, and other funding bodies, going to acknowledge that the new author is far more than a writer? And modernize the support they are offering to the author community?
More than a decade after the widespread adoption of self-publishing, few official governments or associated bodies seem to be aware of the growing contribution of indie authors to business, culture and society. Independent and self-published authors are excluded from much current research and analysis, giving us highly skewed data that leads to widespread misinformation.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the subject of author earnings.
Government action on Independent Author Earnings: Research
Huge numbers of authors today are also publishers, using self-publishing platforms and selective rights licensing to but official statistics and programs continue to act as if all authors have exclusive publishing contracts with a single publisher.
We see this gap mon some territories, there is official hand-wringing over falling author earnings. A recent report by the UK Authors Lending and Collecting Society (ALCS), an association that does much good for authors, has ignited this official response again. (Download the report here.)
While the statistics ACLS isolate do give cause for concern, there are methodological problems with such surveys when considered from an independent author’s perspective.
The report sees self-publishing as a supplement to trade publishing income when, for successful indie authors, it is the most significant part of their income. The flaws in traditional author research has been extremely well analysed by author, publishing consultant and ALLi advisor, Jane Friedman.(Read Jane Friedman's report here.)
Whatever we think about how these reports are compiled, unless we look closely at all that is happening in the vibrant self-publishing sector, we are missing out on the true picture for author earnings today.
Government action on Independent Author Earnings: Self-Publishing 3.0
To date, our Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign has focused on author education. Now we are calling on seven individual publishing territories—Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, UK and US—to take government action on independent author earnings.
- recognize the entrepreneurial nature of the new independent author
- acknowledge the social, cultural and economic contribution of their work
- develop and provide the support we most need: publishing and business programs as well as writing
Those responsible for business, entrepreneurship, culture, intellectual property, the knowledge economy, and related industry organizations must get better at identifying, tracking, quantifying, and supporting indie authors as part of the creative digital micro-business sector.
Indie Author Earnings: Social and Economic Benefit
There is real socio-economic benefit to be had here. The position is well stated by Greenfund’s Report on the Creative Economy.
Creative industries “have become the true wealth of nations in the 21st century”, it says, being “highly transformative in terms of income generation, job creation and export earnings” and also generating what it calls “non-monetary value that contributes significantly to achieving people-centered, inclusive and sustainable development.”
While we might quail at the language of the report (presumably “non-monetary value” means things like truth and beauty, diversity and democracy, a societal sense of meaning and purpose), it makes clear the growing significance and value of such industries.
The indie author is part of this transformative creative economy.
Indeed, given that all creative businesses must now learn how to produce and distribute good content, self-publishing is arguably the most significant and valuable strand in this diverse sector. If we return “publishing” to its original meaning of making content (text, audio, video) public, every creative business is now also in the publishing business.
In ALLi's six targeted territories, self-publishing is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing sectors. Yet we are very rarely found in creative entrepreneurship programs. And literary programs, which focus on the artistry of writing, are rarely supportive–or even aware–of self-publishing authors' creative and commercial success.
Government action on Independent Author Earnings: Digital Creative Business
The digital micro-publishing businesses run by indie authors operate at the intersection between technology, culture, the broader economy, and wider society.
Successful independent authors go beyond self-employment as freelance sole traders to run sustainable and scaleable value-added businesses.
Our businesses earn us more income than earned by trade-published authors who have sold an equivalent number of books. We are adding value to the economy and to society in a great many ways: paying more taxes, hiring other publishing professionals, inspiring other independently-minded creatives, evolving new literary forms, formats and genres.
But our community suffers from a significant skills gap. Authors were so long victims of a close publishing system that many still carry a mindset that seeks validation from others—publishers, agents, critics—and waits for others to “choose” us rather than choosing ourselves.
- We resist the notion of being in business.
- We undervalue our intellectual property and the many ways we can shape it to provide us with multiple streams of income, influence and impact.
- We are overly grateful to publishing partners and undersell our publishing rights.
Producing, distributing and marketing our books, other products and services relies on us acquiring new knowledge and skills. As does understanding the value of our intellectual property and copyright. As does managing the processes that build and maintain a successful digital micro-business.
Indie author success also requires the ability to recognize and seize new opportunities and deal with emerging threats, economic and societal.
Government action on Independent Author Earnings: What Support is Needed?
Yet when it comes to support, authors are not offered business management skills, IP knowledge, or publisher training. Support is offered—if at all—through a grants model that focuses on buying time for writing.
Where there is self-publishing success, it is largely down to indie authors educating each other.
If governments truly wish to help authors succeed in the digital age, we need to go beyond the current handout model and set up new programs that provide business, legal and mindset training for authors.
Such training and support moves us beyond the realm of traditional aid into an investment structure that is of more benefit to us, and to the wider economy and society.
I am reminded of the old adage: “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them for life”.The current support structure for authors is the former – what we need is the latter.
Let’s support the author community with what’s needed to set up and run successful author businesses. Let’s help authors regain their authority and autonomy.
We would love to hear more from you about our Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign and what you would like us to say to governments and creative industry bodies on your behalf and what sort of government action on independent author earnings you'd like to see.
Please leave your ideas, feedback in the comments box below.#Indieauthors - join our campaign for government recognition & support of our socio-economic contribution - important message from @OrnaRoss, #ALLi founder Click To Tweet