Two-thirds of authors reporting loss of income during Covid-19, according to new SoA survey

15 October 2020

Our third real-time survey Authors in the Health Crisis confirms extent of Covid-19 impact on the earnings of writers, illustrators and literary translators – and highlights lack of Government support.

  • Two-thirds (65%) of writers, illustrators and literary translators have suffered a loss of income

  • Almost half (49%) say the loss is more than a quarter of their income

  • Under 30% of respondents have received any form of Government help

The online poll, which attracted 511 responses from writers, illustrators and literary translators between 7 September and 12 October, asked authors to report on the extent of the ongoing financial impact of Covid-19 on their earnings and wellbeing, and whether they had succeeded in accessing Government financial support to offset losses.

The latest poll follows surveys in April and May. View the results here

In the wake of the latest results we are asking the Government and the creative industries to act urgently to mitigate these losses by addressing the shortcomings in the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), implementing recommendations from our Six-Point Plan for Authors and working closely with the Arts Council England. More on our demands below.

The key findings from the latest round show that:

Most writers, illustrators and literary translators have suffered loss of income

Almost two-thirds of respondents (65%) reported a loss of income as a result of Covid-19 – up 24% since April – with only 14% reporting that their incomes had remained stable (compared to 23% in April).

Authors affected are being hit hard

The level of lost income for writers, illustrators and literary translators shows no sign of abating, with 49% reporting a loss of more than a quarter of their income for the current financial year (2020/21) – compared to 34% who, when asked in the Spring, said that they expected to lose more than a quarter of their income this year.

Authors are falling between the gaps in Government support

Only 28% of writers, illustrators and literary translators have successfully applied for both of the Government’s SEISS payments, with 96% and 97% of respondents ineligible for Job Retention Scheme (furlough) or Universal Credit payments.

Appearances are not picking up

Events have not resumed with nearly two in three authors (63%) reporting no increase in bookings since the spring and almost one in three (31%) confirming that bookings continued to be cancelled into next year.

What needs to happen now?

With figures showing a clear trend towards substantial ongoing financial losses for most writers, illustrators and literary translators, we are demanding that the Government and the creative industries act urgently by:

  • Addressing the shortcomings in the SEISS we identified to HM Treasury and the Treasury, BEIS and DCMS Commons select committees* throughout the Spring and Summer.
  • *For our most recent Commons select committee evidence, click here.
  • Implementing the recommendations in our Six Point Plan for Authors set out ahead of the Autumn Comprehensive Spending Review.

Working with Arts Council England to ensure that its path to ‘recovery’ does not prejudice authors who rely on appearances at festivals and schools for their livelihoods and to ensure that there are adequate emergency funds in place to cover the long Winter ahead.

Lost income

The data shows a worrying trend in authors reporting lost income following the outbreak of Covid-19 – from 41% round one to 57% round two and 65% this time. There was a corresponding decrease in respondents reporting that their author-related earnings had remained stable – from 23% in April to 14% in September and October. Only 14% in the latest poll said that it was too early to tell, compared to 32% in round one.

The proportion of respondents unable to mitigate their financial losses following the cancellation of events remained steady at 58% compared to 57% and 62% respectively for rounds one and two – with 63% of contributors reporting no increase in bookings six months on from lockdown and a further 31% judging that, on balance, bookings for 2020 and 2021 were continuing to be cancelled.

Of the 18% of respondents reporting that they had been offered advances since lockdown, just over half (53%) reported that the amounts remained unchanged, compared to one in five who reported considerable decreases relative to earlier works.

The extent of the crisis on writers, illustrators and literary translators’ earnings also remained unchanged, with just over a fifth (21%) reporting that they expected to lose between a quarter and a half of their income in rounds two and three – up from 16% in round one – and 49% confirming the loss of more than a quarter of their income for the current financial year (2020/21), compared to just 34% in the spring who said that they expected to lose more than 25% of their income. A further 20% of authors in September and October said that the effect of Covid-19 on their income for this year was still unclear.

It was slightly better news for authors’ assessment of their 2018/19 earnings, with 46% confirming that their income for the year ending 5 April 2020 had remained stable despite lockdown, and only 8% reporting a drop of more than a quarter on the financial year 2018/19.

Government support 

With 2018/19 earnings used as a baseline for calculating support under the SEISS, only 28% of respondents in September and October reported that they had successfully claimed under tranche one (ending 13 July 2020) and two funding (ending 19 October 2020) with a further 2% reporting that they had claimed under either tranche. The combined 30% figure matched the proportion of respondents in May who confirmed that they expected to benefit from SEISS support following publication of the scheme’s eligibility criteria.

Worryingly, a further 37% of respondents reported that they were ineligible for SEISS and had therefore not applied successfully for funding, compared to 96% who said that they would not benefit from the Government’s Job Retention (furlough) Scheme and 97% who would not benefit following changes to Universal Credit rules. Less than a third of respondents (32%) reported that they had no need to make a claim under SEISS, with only 12% confirming that they felt the Government had, on balance, done enough to support self-employed workers since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Commenting on the third Authors in the Health Crisis survey results, SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said: 

This latest in our series of income surveys highlights what many of us had feared: most authors are being significantly financially affected by the crisis without proper Government support and without any prospect of authors’ appearances picking up.

While initial concerns surrounding supply chain difficulties have now largely been resolved, we remain extremely concerned about writers, illustrators and literary translators’ declining incomes as a result of the crisis and the change in buying patterns and we will be looking at the impact on our members’ autumn royalty statements very closely.

We are also extremely concerned about the Treasury’s introduction of ‘viability’ as a criterion for ongoing Government support, which suggests a misunderstanding of many of our members’ business models, which depend on appearances – whether at schools, festivals or other venues – to supplement their writing incomes.

We will continue to work through the Creators’ Rights Alliance and with ALCS, the Creative Industries Federation and others to lobby Government and MPs on the shortcomings of the Treasury’s financial support schemes and, while we were pleased to see the Chancellor announce a further emergency extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme in his Winter Economy Plan, it is simply not enough.

It is clear across the data that far too many writers, illustrators and literary translators are still falling between the gaps in Government support, with emerging and midlist authors particularly hard hit, given the extent of publishing staff that have been furloughed since the spring and the increased trend towards online sales at the expense of our much-loved, high-street bookshops.

We are therefore incredibly worried about the financial viability and diversity of the publishing and creative industries following the crisis, and we are working with a huge number of organisations to ensure that we have a vibrant arts scene and that the Government really understands the scale of the challenge facing the arts and the creative industries.

From our perspective in literature, what is clear is that the Government cannot expect to ask Arts Council England, DCMS and others to move from ‘protect and reset’ to ‘rebuild and recover’ without recognising that we are not ‘there’ yet. Our members simply cannot continue as they were before the pandemic with so many schools and venues closed and without any means of support, having lasted fully seven months now without meaningful financial support.

  • We have issued guidance on contractual cancellations in the wake of COVID-19, available here. SoA members should contact our team of advisors about their individual circumstances as each case will differ commercially and contractually.
  • The Authors’ Contingency Fund continues to accept applications for small grants to help mitigate financial losses caused by the crisis, open to all types of writers, illustrators and literary translators For more on how to help, visit our 3 ways to help page here.
  • If you are in need of urgent help with your mental health, visit our help pages for support options or call Samaritans for free on 116 123.