Surveys in U.S., U.K. & Canada Show Decline in Authors’ Earnings

Books3-CindyFazziIf you’re a published author and your name is neither J.K. Rowling nor Stephen King, then the results of three recent surveys will confirm what you probably already know—authors are earning less these days.

A recent panel discussion hosted by the Authors Guild discussed results of surveys on authors’ earnings in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, which show a grim picture of declining income for professional authors even as publishers continue to make profits.

The event was moderated by author T.J. Stiles who described writers as “disaggregated individuals” in a corporate economy. He said such disaggregation lets authors retain their independent voices, but also allows publishers to impose rigid contract terms. Stiles won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for biography for his book, “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.”

Declining Writers’ Income

Here are the highlights of the panel discussion held on April 28:

United States: The Authors Guild surveyed its members last month, the first such survey since 2009. Results have not been fully analyzed yet, but preliminary findings show that 49 percent of respondents said their income dropped over the last five years. Survey participants’ writing-related income decreased 20 percent in that time frame to $8,000, even though they spent almost 50 percent more time marketing their work and themselves. The survey was sent to all Guild members and also 1,300 non-member authors. Thirty percent of those surveyed have self-published.

United Kingdom: The data came from the 2013 survey conducted by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society. It shows that the number of authors who earned a living solely from writing declined from 40 percent in 2005 to just 11.5 percent in 2013. In the same year, U.K. authors earned a median income from writing of £11,000.

Canada: Writers’ income decreased 27 percent since 1998, according to John Degan, a poet and novelist, who’s also the executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada. He attributed the decline partly to a 2012 law that broadened educational exceptions to copyright and yielded immediate drop in K-12 book sales.

Stiles asked the panel for some possible solutions to the bleak situation. The consensus: there is a need for stronger copyrights and better contracts.

You can read more about the panel discussion on the Authors Guild Web site.


Leave a comment


  1. What is the supposed cause for this decrease? Just bad contracts and copyright issues? In other words, books are earning well but publishers are paying less?

    • Please see Dolorah’s comment below, which is related to what you’ll find in the story on the Authors Guild Web site. There are too many books out there, so the value of books is diminished.

  2. It seems a great shame, but as the structure of publishing changes and there are more options for publishers and readers it looks like the author loses out. In the long run what is this going to do to quality?

    • Hi T.W. Garland. I agree with you as well. Both publishers and readers alike have all the options in the world; not so for writers. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I attribute it to a glut in the reading market. ANYBODY can publish a book now, and put it on high traffic sales sites. There are more books available to “purchase” but that sales price more often than not is $0. I know several indie authors that have produced 15-20 books over the last three years, and earned collectively less than $100. But their works are consistently being downloaded.

    Readers who used to frequent used book stores or haul off bags of books at giveaways for free, or next to it, are now downloading new e-books. So the publishing gate-keepers are still doing the same job they always did of monitoring the markets, and yes, paying their authors less for the privilege, but as mentioned before, anyone can slap an ebook up on a site and call themselves an author. A glutton of available books does not equate to the book sales. And TW has a valid point; what of the quality of these mass produced indie publications?

    • Hi Dolorah. I agree with you. Traditionally published authors have to compete with free books from self-published authors, so the former sell fewer copies and the latter earn nothing from their free books. Thanks for visiting!

  1. 4 Reasons Why I Joined the Authors Guild and Why You Should Too | Cindy Fazzi

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