The organisers of Oxford Literary Festival have announced that they will pay an author fee of £150 to all authors who appear at the festival from 2017 onwards. They say they have “conferred with interested parties and, recognising the strength of feeling, have rebalanced our budgets to enable this to happen.”
Oxford Literary Festival hit the headlines in January, when Philip Pullman resigned as patron in protest at its refusal to pay authors. Commenting at the time, he said:
“The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture-halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing? … Expecting authors to work (because it is work) for nothing is iniquitous, it always has been, and I’ve had enough of it.”
Pullman’s announcement followed a campaign from The Society of Authors and our members for fair payments for the authors who make these events possible.
Today’s decision was reached after Philip’s resignation and a meeting and correspondence between ourselves and OLF. We believe Oxford Literary Festival’s decision to join others that already offer payment to authors sets an excellent example to those that don’t. Like Oxford, any festival can review its finances to ensure it is paying those whom the public comes to see.
The organisers have confirmed that they will pay VAT on top of the fee, when appropriate, and will cover expenses when the author’s publisher is not already paying them.
Philip Pullman commented on the announcement:
“I’m extremely pleased that the directors of the OLF have decided to do the right thing. More and more authors are finding that a growing part of their (usually exiguous) income is made up of appearance fees from talks and lectures and festivals. The time when we could rely on a fair return from book sales and Public Lending Right alone is disappearing, unfortunately. The struggle to make a living at a time of massive discounting by online booksellers and others is now part of our daily life. A decision like this one by the Oxford Literary Festival is a little ray of light in a gloomy landscape.”
Joanne Harris, author and member of the SoA management committee, told The Bookseller:
“This is really excellent news, which I hope will lead to fairer treatment for authors by festivals all over the country. IT CAN BE DONE…I know it's tough for festival organizers, who work terrifically hard to make these events happen, but I know Oxford will have our support.”
Festival Fees - the national context
In 2015 we wrote to a cross-section of the many literary festivals in the UK setting out our views on payments for festivals. Although the findings were inevitably mixed – there are many variables, including size, form of funding and specialisms – some obvious traits emerged.
Of the 17 who replied, 12 paid all authors they engage to take part as solo speakers or members of a panel. The majority paid all authors the same with fees ranging between £100 to £1000 plus expenses (mostly within the range of £150 to £200). Since then more festivals have agreed to pay authors as a result of our campaign.
Authors earn their living as freelancers. The ALCS study of 2014 showed that the average earnings of a professional full time author are only £11,000 per year. A recent EU study put that figure at £12,500. An event involves time and preparation and authors deserve to be paid just as much as every other professional who contributes to the event, particularly if people are paying to see them.
We ask all festivals to regularly review the fees paid to authors. We know that festival economics are complex and of course the negotiation of fees is a matter for individuals. However, all festivals – especially those with commercial sponsors, and any festival where the public pays for tickets – should offer reasonable fees as a matter of course.
Fees should take into account travel and preparation time as well as actual performance time. Although an event may only be an hour an author seldom loses less than a day when you take into account preparation and travel. Fees should take into account the annual salary an author would expect to earn as a freelancer. We recommend Andrew Bibby’s reckoner, which shows daily rates to equate with different salaries. Using that, a fee of £150 equates to an annual salary of £13,500 (The NASUWT 2016 salaries for Leading Practitioners (excluding London and the Fringe) are between £38,984 and £59,264, which would equate to a fee of around £415 to £610).
When we last wrote to Oxford we were particularly concerned about two requests we have heard that are being made to participants in Oxford festivals.
"We request that you/your speaker does not speak at another event within a 30 day/45 mile cordon of speaking at Oxford. If this occurs tickets sales are affected to the detriment of all. If you cannot agree to this please let us know asap."
We feel that this request is extraordinary, particularly in the context of an appearance where no fees are being offered. Authors are professional and, increasingly, a significant part of their income comes from performance fees. It is entirely unreasonable to seek to restrict them in this way. We hope that Oxford has now removed this restriction.
"All events are recorded for the podcast library and we work with publishers and our media partners to maximise the reach of your event, and can provide links to your own websites.
IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO GIVE YOUR PERMISSION TO BE RECORDED PLEASE TICK THIS BOX"
Our findings from the survey are that most festivals do not request such rights. It is our view that if any rights are to be taken they should be negotiated and an additional fee paid in respect of them.
We will of course continue to campaign to encourage other festivals to remunerate authors fairly, pay expenses and VAT, and treat authors appropriately in line with our Minimum Practice Guidelines for Festivals.