Authors Guild: full-time authors income down 30% since 2006

Authors Guild: full-time authors income down 30% since 2006

I recently wrote about

On Labor Day: how writers make money

I didn’t talk about how much money authors make.

I think most of you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it isn’t much.

Oh, sure, there are a tiny percentage who make a lot, but consider this.

According to a survey by the Authors Guild, full-time authors reported making $17,500 annually.

Payscale.com says that a McDonalds “fast food worker” (http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Employer=McDonald%27s_Corporation/Salary) makes between $14,802 – $19,086. Averaging out those two numbers, we get $16,944…about a McDonald’s medium coffee a day’s difference.

Remember, that’s a full-time author…part-time authors reported a writing income of $4,500.

At  least with all of the new books being published through digital means, and all the new datastreams, those salaries may finally become comfortable in the next few years, right?

Again, according to the

Authors Guild report: The Wages of Writing

full-time authors income has declined 30% since 2006 (when they last did the survey).

Part-time authors’ salaries declined even more sharply.

I’ll let you read the report for the rest of it…I don’t want to take too much away from it.

However, we can talk about what this means…the Guild speculates a bit about causative factors: I particularly suggest you read the introductory two paragraphs.

First, it’s possible that there are authors not included in this survey who have seen incomes increase.  The first-year dues to be a member are $125, and you have to meet a standard that has to do with publication and/or income. Certainly, my personal income has a writer has increased a lot over that period.

That doesn’t mean I think that even a sizable chunk of independently published e-authors are making a living wage…that’s going to be an itty bitty percentage.

Second, while this is pretty much the Kindle era (the Kindle was introduced at the end of 2007), this survey isn’t just about e-book income. For indie, newbie authors, I am quite sure that a much higher percentage of their writing income is from e-books than is the case for established, brand name authors.

I want to point out something else…the e-book market, and publishing in general, is not mature…it’s still in flux.

There have been several revolutions in publishing…it’s never entirely predictable, but it was relatively stable for some time.

Some of the big turning points:

  • about 1455: the Gutenberg Bible is published, and books start moving out of being entirely for the elite
  • 1920s: the Book-of-the-Month Club makes affordable versions of curated book titles available
  • 1930s: the rise of paperbacks (1939 in the USA with Pocket Books’ first paperback title, Lost Horizon (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)
  • 1970s: chain bookstores become a force
  • 1994: Amazon goes online,  establishing the internet as a major place to buy books
  • 2007: Amazon introduces the Kindle, revolutionizing the then micro-market e-book trade

E-book growth may have, to some extent, become more steady, but paystreams are still changing rapidly. In particular, the subsers (subscriptions services), like Amazon’s

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

(and Oyster and Scribd) are too new to really judge the impact on authors’ incomes.

For physical books, print-on-demand may matter…including, perhaps, printing at home.

As a reader, do you want authors to make money?

I hope so!😉

That’s not just for my personal benefit.🙂 I make my living as a trainer (I have a different title and I do some different things, like workflow optimization), although the money I make as a writer is certainly welcomed by me and my family! You make that part possible…I’d have a lot harder time justifying the time, focus,  and energy I put into this without it.

Authors need to experience life, of course, but I want authors to be able to concentrate on writing. That’s true for fiction, and it’s especially true for non-fiction.

My Significant Other would like me to retire at some point (we could spend more time together…I want that, too, although I love my job), and I can see that…if I was writing a lot more.🙂

If authors do have declining income, that may not mean you have fewer books to read…but they may be different. There might be fewer “quality” books, and more…books which might be considered not fully formed.

What do you think? Are authors making less money? If they are, do you care? Do you think authors will find some way(s) to make up the losses (if they exist)? If so, how? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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10 Responses to “Authors Guild: full-time authors income down 30% since 2006”

  1. Mightyh Says:

    My hope is this is a case of many more new writers making less bringing the average income down rather than just a few elite types…. well you know.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Mightyh!

      That’s an interesting thought!

      We’ve have to know how many of the newbies would both qualify for the Authors Guild, and be willing to pay the $125.

      Let’s just make up some numbers, and say that there are 100,000 full-time authors in the survey.

      Let’s next say, using the Pareto principle that 20% of them make 80% of the money.

      Now, to keep it really simple, we will say there is $100,000,000 in income involved.

      That would mean that 80,000 people divide $20,000,000 right? That’s $250. The top 20,000 are dividing $80,000,000…$4,000 each. The average, though, is still 1,000.

      If we double the number of full-time authors, the Pareto principle suggests that the distribution would stay about the same, as I understand, but let’s not do that. Let’s just add 80,000 authors to the lower earners…making still 20,000 high earners and now 160,000 low earners. Let’s also add, oh, 10% to the pool of money.

      That means that $110,000,000 is divided by 180,000 people: about $611 each.

      Believe it or not, I didn’t plan that out…but it’s pretty close to the 30% reduction! Well, closer to 40%, but still.🙂

      I totally made up the numbers…my guess is that the number of full-time authors hasn’t doubled, but perhaps it has.

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    It’s impossible to answer your questions as there are almost no credible numbers that cover mass market publishing (let’s leave textbooks, and other categories out of this for now). The numbers you refer to are just a small fragment of the author population (as you stated). Amazon provides no information of any use in analyzing their part of the pie. Traditional publishers are increasingly very coy about their numbers as well.

    It’s known that traditional publisher royalties are quite low — Amazon’s can be quite a bit higher. I suspect that if there was more transparency, you’d see a lot of authors going the direct to sale route.

    As I’ve stated before technology has made a lot of what traditional publishers do, no longer necessary, or not all that valuable. If all the middlemen were cut out, authors might be able to offer their wares to customers at much lower prices, yet keep more of the sale price for themselves. So we’d have win win lower book prices at retail, higher incomes for authors.

    It’s not unlike the situation with Uber or AirBnb, new ways of doing things are disruptive to established players. In the publishing industry I think there’s a lot of obfuscation going on. If detailed, audited income & cost info was available, I expect many authors would have to seriously consider what value they get out of current practices.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      I think the changeover for successful brand name authors from tradpub to indie may be quite slow, at least for their primary income stream. It’s not just that there is a risk, or the reluctance to take on duties like marketing in a different way: it’s could also really mess with their “writing heads”.

      Ritual and routine can be very important for writers…just like it is for many baseball players.🙂 Writing is simultaneously magic and hard work, inspiration and perspiration, as Tom Edison put it about genius.

      New writers will establish new rituals…and many of them will see marketing as part of being an author, and go for the higher royalties per unit (and few units usually) and greater control.

      Many users of social media are really marketers before they even have anything to bring to market.😉

      New authors will be e

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I basically agree. There is a kind of cachet in being “chosen” by agents/publishers — you have become members of a very exclusive elite “club”. Why would I want to give that up when there’s no way for me to tell what my income might be under new distribution methods?

    Also as you say: with agents/publishers on board that creates a writing pattern which the author understands and is comfortable with — change of one’s daily working habits is hard.

    Over the long term traditional publishers are going to have increasing trouble attracting new talent — that might force them to pay authors more, and just in general be more transparent.

    For new authors why go through the rigmarole of getting accepted by an agent, Enduring rejection after rejection for a measly 12% royalty, when I can bypass all that angst, and just write and publish and maybe keep 30-70% of the purchase price?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      In general, a cogent analysis.🙂 I think, though, that tradpubs are not that likely to pay authors more…unless they significantly reduce their costs. They could do that by taking fewer chances on first time authors and doing fewer prestige books (which aren’t likely to make money…often specialized non-fiction). It may make more sense for those to be independently published anyway…except that’s going to make it tougher for someone to do an expensive of research with no advance…

  4. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I wonder how much the marketing of books affects book sales. You mention Book of the Month club as making books more affordable, but book clubs also brought writers to the attention of a wider audience. I belonged to both Literary Guild and Mystery Guild starting in the 70’s. I first discovered many of my favorite mystery writers because they were featured by the Mystery Guild. I’m still buying Kindle versions of new books from these same writers.

    Most of my newer favorite writers came to my attention through Amazon recommendations, but some of their recommendations have been for really badly written books. I wonder how Amazon picks out indie books to feature.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Oh, I think you are absolutely right in your suggestion that BOMC and the Guilds were great contributors to many authors’ sales.

      I think an equivalent now may be the Kindle Daily Deals and Kindle First…

  5. Lady Galaxy Says:

    This seemed an appropriate place to mention that you can now sing “Happy Birthday” in public without having to pay royalties. I guess that means an end to some of the “creative” birthday ditties sung to restaurant patrons who just want to hide under the table until it stops.

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