EC urges fairer author contracts after new study shows average earnings of £12,500

A new EC study on authors’ remuneration, in which many members of The Society of Authors participated, surveyed authors, journalists translators and illustrators across Europe, and makes important recommendations to improve the contractual position for writers.

Download our full briefing on the study here.

Findings and recommendations

The study found that:

  • Average annual incomes for UK authors, including advance, royalties and ALCS and PLR payments was about £12,500 in May 2015, when the survey was run.
  • Average annual incomes for UK journalists were also around £12,500, around half the average levels reported by journalists in Germany and Denmark, where there are far more legal protections for creators.
  • Average incomes for UK translators and visual artists were a little higher at around £17,850, still well below the UK average wage.
  • The average total income from a UK author’s latest book was less than £6,000.
  • Only half of book authors view their primary activity as their only or main source of income.
  • UK authors do not enjoy the same legal safeguards as their counterparts in other EU countries to ensure that contracts are fair.

The provision of legal safeguards improves an author’s financial position

We welcome the three policy recommendations proposed in the report.

  • A legal requirement for written contracts to specify in detail how a work can be exploited and how its author will be remunerated, and a right for the author to receive accounts.
  • Place limits on transfers of rights to future works and future modes of exploitation.
  • Allowing freelancers who work mainly for one or two employers to claim employee status and rights.

“A positive effect on authors’ earnings”

We have been lobbying for all these suggested changes for some time as part of our CREATOR campaign for fair contracts. This new study is published within weeks of the EU Draft Directive on the Digital Single Market which proposed transparent accounting and bestseller clauses.

Nicola Solomon, CEO of the Society of Authors, commented:

“This detailed study shows, yet again, that authors are disadvantaged by an unfair playing field and conclusively demonstrates that simple legal remedies such as controlling the term and scope of contracts can have a positive effect on authors’ earnings which remain woefully low. We are concerned at the numbers of authors who are no longer able to make a living from writing and who are leaving the profession and also that many more are dissuaded from joining which could mean a less diverse creative landscape.

“We fully back the authors’ recommendations for sensible and proportionate measures to improve the position for creators, all of which we have been calling for as part of our CREATOR campaign. We believe these provisions will help avoid unfair practices that currently prevent authors making a living from writing. We will be pressing the UK Government to implement these clauses without delay.

Lucinda Hawksley, author and member of the Management Committee of the SoA, said:

"Very few authors are privileged to be able to earn a living from their writing alone. Any move to help make life fairer for authors is not only welcome but utterly necessary. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to be creative when panicking about the state of one’s finances and worrying about the rent, whilst also trying to meet a publisher’s demands. My books have been well-received and plentiful, which might be assumed to bring in a healthy income, but it is impossible to support myself by writing alone.

"This EU study is valuable acknowledgement of the imbalance. In a world where publishing is huge business, readers should be made aware of the financially struggling elephant in the room: publishers need to change their attitudes to authors and to recognise that the writer of the book is at the heart of book production."

Many thanks to all our members who took the time to respond and make the study statistically meaningful.

Download our full briefing on the study here.