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Self-publishing News: Author Surveys Show Earnings From Writing Are Low And Falling

Self-publishing News: Author Surveys Show Earnings from Writing are Low and Falling

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at the results of the Australian National Author Survey, a quarter of whose respondents were indies.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

Do listen to November's Self-publishing News podcast here. Howard and I are talking about the question everyone's asking: should we leave Twitter and if we do, where do we go? For those of us who haven't left twitter, this week's #indieauthorchat is in its usual Wednesday slot, at 8pm UK time, 3pm Eastern Time. Tim will be guiding us through a discussion of how to be more productive.

Author Surveys

It’s always good to be able to report on research into the industry that includes indie authors. And especially so when ALLi’s authors have contributed to that research. So I’m delighted to take a look this week at the findings of the National Survey of Australian Book Authors. The survey, undertaken at Macquarie University, received responses from over 1000 authors. A quarter of participating authors said they had indie published. Interestingly, the total figure for the 3 categories – traditionally published, indie published, and publishing services – was only 110% indicating that not many are going the hybrid route as a matter of course. 

Some of the figures are really interesting. I’ll highlight the ones that caught my eye, but you can read the full research here. The one everyone wants to go to first is income. First, at the time of writing, $100AUS is worth about $67US and £55. There are two headline figures. The first is the average figure that writers made from their writing. At $18,200 (£10,100), this is slightly lower than the £10,500 in the 2018 UK Author Earnings survey. That report made the point that such low earnings would impact diversity among writers, because so many could not afford to write. This survey also has some worrying thoughts about diversity, reflected in the title of the article about the research in the academic magazine The Conversation. It points out that 2/3 of the respondents to the survey are women and that this intersects with low earnings in worrying ways. The average total income for writers at $64,900 is just over 7% lower than the average income of $70,000.

More Full-time Writers Write Children's Fiction than Other Genres

It gets really interesting when you break those figures down by genre. Educational, genre, and children’s fiction authors all made substantially more from their writing than the average. Interesting but not surprising, perhaps. What’s really interesting is how that intersects with the group of people who consider themselves full-time writers. This was ¼ of the overall group. But while children’s writers only represented 13.5% of all writers, they represent 34.2% of full-time writers.

There are many other fascinating insights. One that may raise some eyebrows is one of the impacts of Covid. ⅓ of writers reported that they had lost significant money from live appearances, which might go against the amount we think of writers relying on those appearances.

ALCS Report Shows UK Earnings Fall by a Third

The UK's main report on author earnings has also just been published. As already mentioned, the ALCS survey was last published in 2018, when it showed earnings from writing alone were around £10,500. That figure is now just £7000. It's clear that we face a struggle wherever we are in the world, and that we cannot rely on making a living from writing alone. It also means that we need to, to put it bluntly, sweat our assets. And as indies, with control over our rights and the ability to sell them separately and in the most advantageous way, at least we have the best chance of doing that.

ALLi's Campaigns Manager Melissa Addey commented on these findings:

The results from the author income survey do make disheartening reading at first glance – but are also worth questioning. Several of our experienced self-published author members tried to complete the survey and found it difficult because it was worded in such a way as to focus on traditionally published authors, not self-published authors, something ALLi hopes to discuss for future surveys. And in an industry with very few sources of data, it's easy to obsess over one item because we don't have access to much data at all to use for comparisons. This is a real area of focus for us at ALLi this coming year: we've agreed to create a Big Indie Author Data Drop with Draft2Digital, K-Lytics and Written Word Media where we all contribute some key data items to try and get a broader picture of self-publishing. ALLi's part within that is what we're calling the Indie 5to5000, asking 5000+ self-published authors 5 questions to try and gather more data about self-publishing. Having more data will help all of us gain better insights into our industry.

More Changes in the Audio World

Meanwhile, the world of audio continues to move swiftly. I reported last week on Bookwire’s All About Audio event in France. This has coincided with several new moves in the emerging French audio market. Bookwire itself is moving into France, thanks to a production and distribution deal with Banijay. And Bookbeat is making France its 13th international market.

Bookbeat is also making changes in the UK, which reflect a wider move away from all you can eat subscription. Instead of unlimited subscription, they will offer 3 packages, providing 20 to 100 hours of listening and starting at £5.99 a month. Spotify has, of course, set the bar in the move away from unlimited, with its a la carte offerings now rolling out across English-speaking markets. 

As ever, Mark Williams has some interesting thoughts on all you can eat in audio. Notably, that Spotify and everyone else know it’s what people want. And what they will ultimately have to provide, but that they will take a while to get there. 

Draft2Digital Completes Phase 1 of Integration with Smashwords

As of this week, Draft2Digital users can distribute their ebooks directly to Smashwords. Draft2Digital acquired the platform where so many of our indie journeys began earlier this year. Now they have completed the first stage of the integration of the two platforms. It's interesting to see what D2D focus on. As well as the royalty rates of 80-83%, the press release mentions Smashwords' “author-friendly refund policy,” which places strict conditions on the circumstances under which readers can return books. It's a mark of Amazon's miscalculations that other platforms are deliberately positioning themselves as author champions in this way. The next phase of the integration will see D2D authors able to use Smashwords coupons to create discounts and sale events for their readers.

Bookbub Launches a Self-publishing Services Guide

It feels like forever since I wrote about Bookbub (it was more than 2 years ago, when Bookbub improved their advertising feature). The recommendation newsletter beloved of readers the world over continues to be equally loved by authors who make it into those recommendations. And they’ve always been willing to accept not inconsiderable pay to play fees from indies as well as traditionally published writers.

Now they have launched what they bill as a comprehensive guide to self-publishing services. What this amounts to is a service by service guide that covers the big players in the ebook, print, and aggregation spaces. For each, you get a rundown of what the service provides, what it costs, what it pays in terms of royalties, and who it works best for, along with all kinds of other information. It's not exactly reinventing the wheel, but it's a handy “at a glance” guide. But what's most interesting to me is the implication. If you want to get your book featured on Bookbub, then using one of these services, and using it for its strengths, isn't going to do your attempt any harm. And if you do everything else well, then it will produce the kind of end product that Bookbub is willing to feature.

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Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40

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