Writers on the Brink: The Current Economics of Authorship – Transcription

On November 13, The Authors Guild hosted a panel discussion, “Writers on the Brink: The Current Economics of Authorship,” at Scandinavia House in New York City, which was also streamed live via videoconferencing for AG members who couldn’t attend in person.

Panelists:
Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors
Siobhan O'Connor, Associate Director of the Writers Union of Canada
Peter Hildick-Smith, President of Codex-Group LLC
Richard Nash, Publisher and Digital Media Strategist

Moderator: Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild

The panel focused on the economic challenges that authors face regarding the long-term viability of book authorship in today’s publishing climate and what it means for the authors of tomorrow. The discussion opened with a presentation of the latest survey results on authors’ incomes in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain.

Full Transcription:

Mary Rasenberger:
Okay, good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Authors Guild event, Writers on the Brink. I’m sure you’re all on the brink of your chairs. We’ll find out what that means. Anyways, I’m glad to see everyone who’s here in person. We also had 450 people sign up online. I hope you’re all online, and that you can hear and see us okay.

So, we are really thrilled—I'm Mary Rasenberger by the way. I’m the Executive Director of the Authors Guild, and we are very lucky to have this panel tonight, including our friends from the UK and Canada who flew in for this. I want to thank Siobhan and Nicola for that.

Let me introduce our speakers.

First on my left is Nicola Solomon, who is Chief Executive Officer of the Society of Authors in the UK.

Next to her is Siobhan O’Connor, who is the Deputy Director of the Writers’ Union of Canada.

Then we have Richard Nash, who is a Publisher and Digital Media Strategist. He advises numerous start-ups in digital media and consults with corporations on using narrative to run a business. He’s led partnerships and content at the cultural discovery start-up, Small Demons, and Byliner. He ran the iconic indie Soft Skull Press and founded Cursor, and as one of the projects of Cursor, ran Red Lemonade. He’s won a bunch of awards and I won’t mention them all here because we’d be here all night, but we’re delighted to have him and his expertise here tonight.

Now we have Peter Hildick-Smith, who’s the founder and president of Codex-Group. Codex is a leader and premiere in large sample quantitative market testing to help book publishers, retailers, authors, agents and tech companies develop successful commercial web strategies, platforms and titles. And most importantly for us tonight, he conducted the 2015 Authors Guild income survey and the 2018 authors income survey, which we will mention briefly tonight.

I do want to start by saying that we in the US, UK and Canada all just conducted author income surveys this year. Some of you here in the audience or at home may have completed our survey, and so thank you very, very much. We really appreciate it.

Nicola and Siobhan will talk about their data, but unfortunately, we won’t be able to talk about the specifics about our data tonight because we have so much data that we’re still parsing through it. So we’ll talk in very, very broad terms about it. We did survey 18 different US based author organizations, sent the survey out to their members, and we had over 5,000 authors complete the survey. We had many more start, but it was a very long survey and I’m impressed by how many people did complete it.

From the survey, we got income data based on the type of book, from whatever genre. Academia. Children’s. By type we also got type of publisher, large, small. Self-publishing. We also asked authors whether they’re full-time, part-time. Whether they considered themselves professional. Whether they considered being an author their primary occupation. And we’re looking at the data from all those perspectives. We also asked how much of their writing-related income and how much of their book-related income comprised their total income. Their total personal income and their total family income. And so, we asked a lot of questions and a lot of details in the survey, and it was amazing the responses that we got. It’s kind of amazing that anybody responded when you consider how detailed the surveys were, but we needed to do that because we want to get a sense of what it really is like to be an author today, and not just in a very general sense. But by field. By type of writing. By type of book. By type of publishing. And also, where is the income coming from? Is it coming from publishers? Is it coming from speaking? Is it coming from other royalties? What portion of writing income is coming from what sources? And that way we feel like we can help authors understand how to increase their income. The bottom line from this survey, which I will disclose today, is that the mean incomes for American authors are less than half of what they were just 10 years ago, and that self-publishing is very much on the rise and is increasingly a part of the overall author income landscape.

Tonight, we’re going to discuss the challenges of surviving financially as author today given these results, and to talk about what this means for the future of literature. What it means for us as societies that it’s hard for most authors to earn a living or close to a living. We also want to discuss ways that authors can supplement their incomes and survive today, and how we as societies can ensure that great books still get written. I think one of the interesting things that we’ll find out from the UK and Canada is how other countries and their governments support writing in ways that we don’t necessarily hear in the States.

We’re going to start with presentations from Nicola and Siobhan about their author income surveys, and then I’m going to have Peter talk a little bit about the role that Amazon plays in the overall landscape and what that means for authors, as well as touch on the growth of self-publishing. I’m going to turn it over to you now, Nicola.

Nicola Solomon:
First of all, just a huge thank you, Mary, for putting on the panel. We as unions speak to each other quite regularly and it’s incredibly helpful. And, what’s really noticeable to us is how the trends for everything we see for authors are global and almost always, if we raise up a problem any time, one of you two will go “yeah, we just had that.” It’s enormously collegiate and helpful. Once, for example, we were doing our surveys to talk to each other about the questions we’ve done and the results we’ve had, and being the chief executive of a trade union, even for ten and a half thousand members, can be quite lonely, so I really appreciate having some friends out there on these occasions. It’s great to be together to talk about our results and to answer some of these really, really, well maybe not, but pose some of these important questions about what’s happening with writing and writers today.

Can we just look at these slides? So, these are the slides from ALCS, who commissioned a survey. ALCS is our collecting society because one of the ways authors get income in the UK is secondary licensing, for example, photocopying. ALCS administers that money and gives it to authors, and they were the ones who ran the survey that we worked very closely with. They have done this survey for the last three years, and you can see that they posed a lot of questions. The first question was how many people were earning their income solely from writing and what those incomes were. They were saying that the number of authors earning their incomes solely from writing has now stabilized. It’s about 13.7 percent, of people who classify themselves as writers and earning their income solely from writing. That’s down from 40 percent 12 years ago. That is quite concerning, and you can see that the median figure they were earning from actual income solely from writing was about ten and a half thousand pounds. When we last surveyed them in 2013 that was eleven thousand pounds, but the equivalent then to now is about twelve and a half thousand. When we surveyed them in 2005, it was twelve and a half thousand pounds, but that would now be eighteen thousand pounds. That means that we got around a 40 percent drop, which is quite terrifying and not surprising that the number of people who are saying that they’re full time authors is continuing to go down.

If we can look at the next slide, what this says for those of you who aren’t very good at pounds, which I can understand and all I can tell you is that with Brexit going on, it is dropping at a great rate against the dollar. Our current minimum wage for people over 25 is seven pounds and eighty-three an hour. If you divided those hours that we’ve given you for professional writers’ incomes, it would equate to about five pounds and seventy-three an hour. So, what we’re saying is that writers are earning less than the minimum wage for people under 25 in our country. Not great.

If we can see the next slide, the other headline figure we have is that we did ask all writers, people who were spending less than 50 percent of their time on writing, how much they were earning from writing. And, we should say that when we surveyed writers it was a huge range of writers, illustrators, people who doing all types of thing with writing and people who clearly couldn’t afford to dedicate all their time to writing. One thing that was very noticeable to us, and perhaps we could talk about later, is our numbers about household income, because it was clear that people’s writing is being subsidized very often by other household members. But, for the typical median earnings, all writers have also fallen from four thousand pounds in 2005 to again four thousand pounds in 2013, but that was a real term drop to three thousand pounds now. These are tiny amounts of money, particularly because some of those people are self-publishing and would have paid to have their work published. If they’re only three thousand pounds a year, they probably paid that much to put their books up in the first place. These are not great figures. And these are, just like Mary said that she can’t give all her figures yet, only our headline figures. We haven’t put out a full survey yet, but they are concerning and certainly fit in with our anecdotal information when we speak to authors. One of things that we’ve been doing, and if you look at the Society of Authors website, is getting a lot of writers to give us personal accounts of how they earn their money and put those into pie charts. Those are very revealing in a way that sometimes headline figures can’t be.

Let’s show if there’s another the other slide. I think it’s the last one. So, that’s a very brief headline that you can see where things are in the UK. I’m sure we’ll talk about in a lot more detail later about how people earn their money and why these figures matter. Thank you.

 

Siobhan O'Connor:
I’d like to reiterate what Nicola said. Thank you so much for inviting us to be here, and it is so wonderful to have that companionship and the opportunity to chat over lunch and during the day about all the common things that we face. These are our highlights from our surveys. I think the title says a lot, “Diminishing Returns, Creative Culture at Risk.”

Can you go to the next slide? You’ll see that this is a very similar story. In fact, you might want to think of this as the battle of the infographics now. So, if you can see here, the average net income in 1998 was $16,464. In 2014, it was $13,390, and in our most recent survey it was $9,380 dollars. The story in Canada is similar to the story that we just heard in the UK, perhaps even a little more depressing. As you can see here when we take inflation into account, authors are making significantly less from their writing than they were 20 years ago. And, since 1998, authors’ net incomes have declined 78 percent, and I would say even more discouragingly, in Canada we have seen a 27 percent drop over the past 3 years.

The next slide. What I continue to find discouraging is not only that writers’ incomes are dropping, but that these creators, who are the very people on whom the entire $2 billion-dollar industry in Canada is built, and their median income is far, far below the average income for a worker in the information and cultural sector as you can see here. It’s far below the median Canadian income, and it is far below the poverty line. It is unsustainable. This is a highly educated group of individuals who responded. More than 88 percent of respondents have a university degree, and more than half have a graduate degree. They’re a talented group of individuals who are making not very much for their work.

Next slide. We not only looked at writing incomes, but we also looked at where this income comes from. As you can see from this slide, traditional royalties continue to be the driving force behind a writer’s income. This income is augmented by corporate and government writing, as well as freelance writing. Income from self-publishing continues to be a significant source of income for writers, and public lending right, which is our payment for the presence of books in libraries is also a significant source of income for Canadian writers.

Next slide. One of the most significant and detrimental changes that writers have faced in Canada since 2012 is the Copyright Modernization Act, which included changes that have been broadly misinterpreted as an educational exemption. As you can see from this slide, this has had a devasting impact on the monies that Access Copyright, which licenses copying to educational institutions, can distribute to writers. And this has been a significant part of the story of writers’ incomes in Canada. The reduction in income not only affects writers’ incomes, it impacts the materials available to Canadians in the classroom. A 2015 study noted that 50 percent of small and medium sized publishers said they would produce less content for education, and as a result of the changes 30 percent of creators said they would produce fewer works as a result of the educational exemption guidelines. The Canadian government is currently undertaking a mandated review of the Copyright Act, and the Union is highly focused on trying to reverse these trends. That is sort of the overview of our survey.

Mary Rasenberger:
Thank you, Siobhan. I’m now going to ask Peter to show us some of the interesting stats on Amazon’s effect on the marketplace.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Thank you, Mary. I think Siobhan gives some interesting context about what’s happening in Canada in a broader way, and so we wanted to put some context around what’s happening in the US market. I think there’s sort of a broad narrative that we’re seeing fiction declining. We’re seeing e-books declining. Most of the information that’s publicly available and discussed in the US market comes from the Association of American Publishers, which does a terrific job of aggregating all the member publishers’ revenue information every year and most recently giving us a 5-year look, which is consistent with the 5-year look that we’re doing for the author incomes study.

So, what you see here on the left is what’s reported by the AAP, and what you see on the right is what we’ll consider the reality of what’s really going on in the broader market context. Above all that, AAP members in trade fiction generated somewhere over $15 billion dollars in revenue in 2017. That’s up only 5 percent from 2013. Amazon media in North America, which is the closest that we can get to knowing what Amazon is actually doing in terms of business in the media space, is just over $13 billion dollars, and it’s up over 27 percent between 2013 and 2016. They don’t report anymore on their media revenue, so we can only guess at 2017. But it looks like they’re getting more revenue gain on their media business than the AAP is getting for their member publishers overall, and we have to think that much of Amazon media in North America is going to be book. Because if you’re a Prime member, you’re getting your movies for free. Your music for free. So how is their revenue up? It has to be significantly purely book. That’s the overall piece.

Then what we’ve been hearing much more in the last several months has become more of a topic of discussion than I think recently is that publisher e-book revenue is down 36 percent from 2013 to 2017, and the piece that’s got a lot more people concerned is the fact that fiction revenue is down 16 percent over that time horizon. Many of the publishers are saying people are reading less fiction. They’re reading less literature. They’re not going to novels as much as they’re going to streaming media. We put forth a totally different counterargument.

One of things that Codex-Group does is a roughly quarterly study of regular US book buyers. In our data, we’re looking at market share and trends with Kindle and trends with Kindle Unlimited, Kindle is actually up dramatically in units over that same time period 43 percent. So, what we think is going on is that all those sales that would normally go to the publishers are happening behind the curtain in Amazon or Kindle land. There are transactions going to self-published authors that only Amazon can see. There are transactions going to Amazon proprietary titles that they publish. They do over 1,100 titles a year and their free reads that are being generated through the Prime Reading program. In fact, we think that there’s a lot of reading going on, but we don’t think that the revenue is going as much to authors, and it’s certainly not going to publishers. What we do think is going on, in the lower right corner, is that Kindle Unlimited, which is Amazon’s all you can eat book subscription program $9.99 a month, is growing dramatically. It’s up over 20 percent in the last 13 months, and we think with their most recent data set, they will be at over 5 million US book buyers. So, for every person who becomes a Kindle subscriber, $9.99 for all you can eat, they’re much more likely to be buying books by the self-published authors in Amazon proprietary titles within the Kindle Unlimited program. Most publishers are not participating, but we think that shifting a lot of people into reading for free or for very low cost per book is having a big effect on the overall business. That’s what we think is going on behind the curtain. Amazon now has 50 percent of all book units sold in the US. So, to ignore Amazon is to ignore the tectonic plate shifts going on affecting the whole industry and authors particularly.

So next slide. This is data from the Bowker ISBN report. They are the ISBN agency of record in the United States. If you’re going to publish a book in the US, outside the Amazon ecosystem, you need an ISBN. They’re the folks that you buy it from. They’re the people that you register it for. And they have seen a huge increase in the number of books registered, particularly just in the last year, from 2016 to 2017, a 28 percent increase in what they’re calling self-publishing. In other words, individuals or major self-publishing platforms registering ISBNs or product identifiers. Part of what’s going on here is not just a tremendous amount of self-publishing, but a lot of people are leaving Amazon exclusive relationships to go out and really be much more self-sufficient in publishing and a lot of other platforms besides the Amazon closed ecosystem. So, again, this is sort of emblematic of some of the shifts that are taking place. You can see down in the lower corner that in 2017 there were over 1 million ISBNs registered, so we see about a million new books sitting in the Kindle store in the US each year. It’s a tremendous amount of new content coming out, and it’s having a great diluting effect overall on author income. So that’s some broader context.

 

Mary Rasenberger:
Thank you, Peter. I do think those statistics are fascinating when we talk about author incomes because one, as Peter pointed out, in the world of Amazon and Kindle Unlimited there’s no real transparency there, and the AAP does not get that data. So, much of what we read about and what’s going on in the publishing industry today based on the AAP stats ignores that side of the business, which is, as Peter showed for fiction, really flourishing.

I would like to move on now, and we’ll start suggesting some of the questions about what’s causing these declines. I’ll also say that the data that we have so far from our survey is very similar to what you’ve heard from Siobhan and Nicola. So why are author incomes declining so much? Does it matter? Do we need to reverse this? If so, how? In the US, I’ll say that we’ve studied this since our last survey in 2015 which found that there had been a 30 percent decline since 2009, from a mean of $24,000 to $17,500, and that was of Authors Guild members, which is higher than the national mean. We looked into this, and the factors that we identified were Amazon’s force on the market. Its pushing prices down. Having a stranglehold on the market because no publisher can survive without Amazon, and so they don’t have much negotiating leverage. The impact of forcing deep discounts. Then there are publisher terms. For instance, the 25 percent e-book royalty. On the other hand, it’s not like the publishers are making hand over fist right now. They’re stable, the largest publishers. But I think profits were even down for some of the big houses last year. And then there’s piracy. There’s expanded fair use, certainly in the US as we saw in Canada. The fair use for educational purposes greatly decreased the royalties going to authors. That’s happened in the US too. Very few authors are seeing royalties from educational use at all anymore. Then there’s the argument that there are more books than authors. I hear that a lot from people. That’s just to throw some ideas out there. Now I’m going to ask Richard to tell us what he thinks is going on and what we might do about it.

 

Richard Nash:
Well I very much zero in on the very last factor that you mentioned. To put it in terms that Peter put it, dilution. The interesting thing, of course, is that it’s been going on for about 1,500 years. The one time in human history when a writer was guaranteed to make a living was before Gutenberg, when the mere fact of being literate was so remarkable and so scarce that you were guaranteed a roof over your head and food simply because you could read and write. And in a certain sense, it’s been going downhill ever since.

The impact of the printing press on the writer as scribe was catastrophic, much like the impact of the steam engine or the mechanical loom. But of course, we survived, right? We survived the printing press. The printing press didn’t in fact destroy writing. We adapted. The main way in which we adapted was that writers became the front end of a massive industrial supply chain, and over the course of 500 years that supply chain evolved in to a $200 billion dollar a year industry and writers got 10, 15 percent of that. The hassle is that as we got really, really good at increasing the supply of writers and increasing the supply of readers, at a certain point the total amount of revenue started going flat, but the total number of writers kept increasing.

Between 1985 and 2007, the number of original titles published per year in the United States went from about 35,000 to close to 300,000. We increased tenfold the number of titles in the space of 25 years without a dramatic commensurate increase in the amount of money. In fact, to some degree, it’s remarkable that the decline in author incomes hasn’t been much, much, much starker given how many more authors were chasing a relatively static pie. I know this sounds horrible, but what is remarkable—I didn’t realize that we were going to have visuals because the slide that I would throw up at this moment is from The Economist. It’s a slide that emerged out of a series of labor market analyses done by labor economists exploring the changes in employment in different sectors of the economy projected over the next 15 years in response to automation. And in this particular graph, you’ll see at the very, very bottom with the number .99, in other words, 99 percent likelihood of significant job losses was for telemarketers. Not something to worry too much about. But, ironically at .50, i.e. 50 percent, there was airline pilots and firefighters. And way up at the top, very low .06, i.e. 6 percent, chance of job losses was editors. At the very top, .002, i.e. .2 percent, chance of job losses was something called recreational therapy, which in labor economist lingo means yoga instructor. Yoga instructors would be fine, but telemarketers are screwed. Editors come much closer to yoga instructors than they do to telemarketers. Effectively, where I think the opportunities for writers are is reconceiving themselves as being something closer to a yoga instructor than to a person who plugs a bunch of words into a physical object that is physically reproduced, using dramatic analogue economies of scale, which is effectively what writers have been.

And just as every profession—lawyers are dealing with the same issues that writers are dealing with. We don’t know that, because we don’t go to conferences where a whole bunch of lawyers complain about how they are screwed. The lawyers at the very top are not screwed, but then again the authors at the very top of this are not screwed either. But, people from mediocre law schools, who graduated in 2007 and have no jobs, are barely able to get jobs as paralegals, and they have a quarter of a million dollars in student loans, are even more screwed than authors whose numbers are being represented in the previous slides. So, they are all trying to figure out how to reinvent themselves, and that reinvention is going to be different for every individual author. That’s something that I think we’ll be able to kind of get into in granular detail. It’s where some of those reinventions look—we see little glimmers of it in one of those slides. I think in Mary’s slides about speaker’s fees? I think in more and more areas we’re going to see all the other ways—what might be called the 360 degree revenue model for authors.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
This is more to Richard’s point. In the study, which Mary says will be released in a short while, where we looked at 18 additional non-book related author income sources, such as editing, coaching new aspiring authors, ghostwriting—there's a whole host of roles and skills that once you become an author, labored and achieved that incredible status of having published a book, you really are given permission to do so many other things with that skill set that others can benefit from. So, I totally agree with his point of the yoga instructor model. That it’s a much moldy sort of way of monetizing, if you will, your skill as a published author.

Mary Rasenberger:
As recreational therapy.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Well,  there you go.

Nicola Solomon:
I think that writers are very versatile, but my problem with that is that with the yoga teaching model, one of the things that we learned from our survey, is that all those areas that used to be monetized, where authors used to make money, are no longer monetized. Journalism, which used to be a huge way of supplementing your income, has more or less gone away. Speaking. I had one of our comic writers speaking recently, and he said if I go and speak at the festival as a comic, I get paid $1,000 dollars. But if I go and speak about my book, I get paid $100, if anything at all. Writers aren’t paid for festivals. So, our concern about diversifying is that it’s been the other way around. People expect you to get your money from book royalties, and it’s really, really hard to monetize other areas. Again, authors doing creative writing get paid a lot less than other university professors. It’s very hard to know how we can deal with that, but I don’t think that’s the only reason that incomes are going down. I should say that in the UK, publisher profits are actually going up, while author incomes are going down. I think that one of the things that we have to look at is, exactly as you say, in a celebrity culture a lot of that money is going to people at the top, the highest earning authors. The people who are in the middle, who used to be able to make a reasonable earning from writing, are not. Advances are really going down, and then, of course, there are a huge number of people at the bottom, who are never even actually expecting to make a living from writing.

Siobhan O'Connor:
That’s what I was going to say.

I was going to talk about the blockbuster culture. I think we see that in all art and culture right now, certainly in the movie theaters. It’s all the comic book movies that people are going to. On a podcast that I was listening to, they said that “Terms of Endearment” would never be made today, and “Broadcast News” would never be made. I think that’s what we’re seeing in the publishing industry as well. We’re seeing a few books make a lot of money, and publishers aren’t really taking the same opportunity on the midlist author or helping authors have time to develop. So, that’s sort of concentrating the money at the top. Some later point about the publishing terms is a fair one. The consolidation in the industry. The pressure for free consumption in general. There’s a lot more competition now. Writers are competing with games and other screen-based entertainment. I swear my children can never ever have televisions in their room. Then somebody gave them a computer and then somebody invented Netflix, and now my children have unlimited—the next show starts right away. It’s like stop it and pick up the book on your bedside table. “But it keeps going, mom. It just keeps going.” So, I think that competition is real. I think there’s been a decline in advances. A decline in multi-book or development contracts. So, again, authors need to have that same opportunity to develop and to be supported. It is a limited resource, talented authors. If we don’t continue to support them through those midlist opportunities, we’ll see that dwindle, and we’ll be left with more blockbusters and fewer opportunities.

Mary Rasenberger:
Thanks. I’ll just add a couple notes about advances. We have spoken to publishers in the US about advances because we know from our past survey, anecdotally and from agents, that advances by and large are going down. They say, to Siobhan and Nicola’s point, they are spending more in advances than they ever have as a line item in their overall budget, which is interesting, but it’s because they are paying so much money for some books. And, the midlist is really getting shafted. We haven’t seen a huge decline in the last few years, but the really big decline happened in 2008/2009 with the recession in 2008 and then the introduction of the e-book, well the Kindle, whose real growth started in 2009. So, that is an issue, and publishers will acknowledge it. The Obamas, I think, got $65 million together. And yes, that’s going to drive up Random House’s overall number for advances.

The other point that we haven’t really talked about yet is the inability of, not just low advances, to sell books. I met recently with a group of agents, and they said that’s probably their number one issue. Not that the advances are so much lower that they were 3-5 years ago, but the number of authors who have been writing books their entire career who no longer can sell books. And, I think our survey data did show a little bit about this, and although we haven’t really gone through it completely, there were a significant number of professional authors, people who call themselves full-time authors, to have little or no book income at all.

I want to move from that on to the question of why should we care? Do people other than authors care about the fact that most authors are earning less and that we’re moving towards a blockbuster culture?

Do you want to take that?

Nicola Solomon:
My view of this is that we should care passionately for a couple of reasons. One is that just in every area that we might succeed, and I’m going to talk for the UK but I’m sure it’s here, as a nation—if we want to be manufacturing, if we want to be succeeding in a new world, we need imagination. And, reading a huge range of books is what fosters the imagination, and having a narrow range of books, means that we’re going to get a very narrow range of readers and that can add to the inequalities that we see in our society. There is a lot of competition for books you know. Again, I had to mention Brexit, and being a Brit I have to mention Winston Churchill. When Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples came out, it sold like half a million copies. No book can do that now. Of course, because, there was no competition. We have films. We have everything else that is competing with books. If we want to create readers, we have to create books that people can see themselves in. And, if all we got are blockbusters by the same range of basically pale, male and stale people, we are not going to get more readers, and it’s all going to be suffering. We have to be able to support a diverse book landscape. I really passionately believe that it matters to all of us to be making sure that a huge range of writers can come in, particularly younger and newer writers, writers from the working class, writers from different backgrounds, so that we can see a range of experiences. It also makes us more empathetic people, and I would suggest to say that on both sides of the pond one thing that we are quite lacking is empathy, and this can really help us.

Siobhan O'Connor:
Ditto. Completely agree on that. Going back to my children, who are now watching Netflix on their computers and not us. Reading my daughter the American Girl books, what did she say to me? “Mom, do you think it was fair that they taxed the tea?” How else are we going to have those conversations without those books? Or the books that we read about slavery? She came to me and said that’s how she learned about empathy and how the world was different, by the words that I read to her as a young girl, and my son as well. It’s so important, and, really to follow up on your point, if those are the incomes that people are making, it’s not sustainable, and the people who are writing will be people who—it won’t give us a diversity of voices, because those incomes don’t allow everybody the opportunity to write, and we need to ensure that the world is reflective in the writing and that there is a diversity of voices to do that.

Richard Nash:
In the United States, there is actually a tremendous diversity. What you’ve seen is effectively more a bifurcation of publishing in to two distinct ecosystems, one of which is absolutely blockbuster driven and will become more so. This is true of software. How many small software studios are there? How many companies make word processing software? How many companies make project management software? The entire economy, even the media, is shifting to one very extreme power-law distributions. Fat head, long tail stuff.  And, publishing as a commercial enterprise, there is no way to kind of advocate for change in that direction. So, change in that direction—if we want to find ways to allocate money in order to support those writers who are operating in the non-blockbuster economy, and in the United States the best way to describe that would be the AWP economy, which is the Associated of Writing Programs. It’s effectively the group that comprises all creative writing programs in the United States, and they have a magnificent book fair with about 800 publishers. 780 of whom you’ve never heard of. That represents the kind of ecosystem of diversity in the United States—the poetry presses, the weird literary fiction presses, the presses that do science fiction poetry, and so on and so forth. Now those authors, their incomes might be $200-$500 a year. Now if you want to support those, where is that going to come from? You’re not going to be able to persuade or advocate for them within the commercial economy, because they’re just not playing in that game. So, it’s either going to be government or it’s going to be... my friend the poet, one of the happiest poets I know, whose day job is writing copy for the pharmaceutical industry.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
I think the broader issue is that, at least in the US—I think certainly the UK, Germany are much more literate than the US. The National Endowment for the Arts does an incredible study about every 5 years called the SPPA, the Study of Public Participation in the Arts. And in that, they measure the percentage of American adults, 18 and older, who read literature. The positive news is that in the most recent SPPA, which also falls under the same time horizon as the Authors Guild income study 2013 versus 2017, they have no statistically significant decline in people reading books, reading literature. What’s more disturbing though is that if you dig into the data, only about 1 in 5 US adults regularly read 12 books or more a year. So, we got this tiny population, 1 in 5 adults, supporting this whole world of writing that we’re talking about. Unless you can bring more people to books, you’re dealing with a fixed pie, and we’re just micro-slicing it into more tiny little pieces. The bigger challenge, and this is both from an education standpoint and from a publisher standpoint, is how do you get to the roughly 90 million infrequent book readers, who are reading sort of 1 to maybe 8 or 9 books a year, who aren’t buying programmatically or reading programmatically. They’re doing it when a dynasty comes along, or something unusual like that. None of the major publishing houses that we work with are particularly interested in that 90 million. It’s opportunistic if they get a hit with something like a 50 Shades of Grey, fantastic. But none of them are really pursuing that group. The other issue is if you look at how reading behavior forms with younger children, both the US and the UK start to get them to read books much earlier than the continental European countries do. Boys in particular don’t have the cognitive development to read easily at that age. A lot of them lose interest and drop away. Between ages 5 and 7 from the work we’ve done with Scholastic, we see a huge drop off kids being exposed to and enjoying reading, and that continues at least through 12. So, if we can focus on 5- through 7-year olds, and teach them to read in a different way, and bring them books that they will continue to enjoy once they’re being evaluated for reading, we can increase the population of active readers that way. There are two huge opportunities that are now being approached to grow the overall reading pie, but right now it’s 1 in 5. We’re stuck with it, and nobody’s really changing it, either from a publishing or educational perspective.

Mary Rasenberger:
Thanks. That’s fascinating. So, there’s a huge untapped market out there. Let’s now turn to how authors can support themselves other than through selling their books to publishers and through advances and publisher royalties. We’ve mentioned government support. Let’s talk for a minute about the role that prizes and grants play in this world, and I think that it's particularly true for the AWP world that Richard mentioned. How big a pie is that to be spread among literary authors? I’ll say that in the US the NEA, as many of you may know, gives $25,000 grants to writers. Last year I think they gave 37 out of a pool of about 1,800 applications for a total of something like $1.5 million. The other prizes and grants combined add another $5 or $6 million. So, that’s the sort of total pie of prizes and grants for writers in the US. Anybody wants to talk about the role of prizes and grants?

Nicola Solomon:
In the UK, prizes and grants are really important. We at the Society of Authors run a charity which gives grants for works in progress and financial difficulty. We give about 300,000 pounds a year, and we administer 27 prizes. They’re really important on two levels. Let’s start with the prize money, great. It really isn’t, but it adds to discoverability in a world where it’s really hard for people to differentiate what might be one good book from another. It is really important. And then the bigger prizes, particularly the Booker, do get quite a bit of publicity. I think you were talking afterwards about government grants, and I want to talk about that in a moment. But there are certainly grants available for the more kind of literary fiction, for poetry. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was wearing a button when I came in that said live like a poet, which our poet members really love because it means to live on the red line. It is really important to have a support for literature. We do have quite a strong support still for that in the UK I would suggest.

Siobhan O'Connor:
In terms of prizes, the Giller Award would be the largest fiction prize in Canada. It’s $100,000 for the winner, and $10,000 for each of the shortlisted authors. It’s driven huge increases in book sales, and BookNet Canada, which tracks book sales in Canada, found that being shortlisted resulted in a 426 percent increase, and the winning title experienced an additional 359 percent increase in their sales. And because those awards happen in November, their sales go right through the Christmas season, holiday season, which is the height of selling. The other one I was going to talk about is Canada Reads, which is a radio show produced by our national broadcaster, which has 5 books each championed by a personality, and each week one book is voted off. I know it’s a little uncomfortable, but it does result in good book sales. The average increase in book sales just for being on the shortlist is 355 percent, and the winning title gets an additional boost of more than 400 percent. Those titles, to your point about discoverability, their sales are great, but I think there is some tension in the community about the cost to other titles that don’t get those moments in the fall, especially when there are so many books coming out. So, they certainly do play an exciting role in discoverability and pay for some people, as well as royalties, but then there is that question of what books go unnoticed as a result.

Richard Nash:
My main interest is trying to figure out something akin to growing the pie. So, the prizes are magnificent. I mean obviously, depending on the size of the country, 10 to 1,000 people a year can go from penury to being in very good shape. But effectively, it’s a lottery. I mean if you’re looking at an economic aggregate level, these are lotteries. They aren’t a business plan for an individual writer. They’re an exemption. They’re like a business plan waiver for you. You don’t have to worry about it anymore, or at least a year or two or three. They’re magnificent in that regard, and they’re magnificent because they connect to the value of the book, that particular title for the writer in their society, in their culture, which is just magnificent. I have friends whose lives have been transformed by them. It is deeply moving to watch an individual’s life be transformed in that way. When I think about this though, I think more about the 99.99 percent of writers who are never going to win a prize. It’s more that you’re trying to figure out what is my equivalent of a grant. What can I do in my life to change my economic circumstances? How can I use my expertise and skills to do that?

Nicola Solomon:
I just want to say that the prizes are a bit rigged as a lottery because one of our concerns about publishers is that publishers support only a few books each year. It’s something we find very confusing. And it’s publishers who put books in for prizes, and very often they just choose the same books that they’re going to keep pushing each year. So, they themselves have decided what books are going to be discoverable and what books, although they’ve bought them, they’re going to abandon and not even put in for prizes. It’s very odd, and it’s what I mean by a rigged lottery. It can be that the people who win the prizes are the people whose books are doing very well anyways, because they are being pushed by the publisher.

Mary Rasenberger:
Thanks. I want to move on now to what government can do to support writers. As I just mentioned, really, our only national government support is through the NEA grants to writers. There was a risk of getting them taken away a number of years ago, and the Authors Guild fought that vigorously. The individual grants for other arts were lost, but we did manage to preserve the writer grants, which is fabulous. The last three years the budget for the NEA, the executive branch has threatened to cut it. We lobbied heavily and fortunately it has been saved, but it is still such a paltry amount of money. So, I’d like to hear from Nicola and Siobhan about how their governments, in other ways besides grants, can help support the literary community.

Nicola Solomon:
Well, I must admit before I came here, I thought our government was pretty mean in support for writers but having spoken to Siobhan and Mary, I realize that actually we are not doing too badly. Because, the Arts Council gives about 1.3 billion, which is government money, a year to all the arts. Literature gets a small amount of that, but it does get about 46 million pounds a year and for a much smaller country of about 60 million people for just literature alone. That would be grants for individual writers, but also grants for writing development agencies, ways to help people get their skills up. Then we have public lending right, which Siobhan mentioned as well, which is money given to writers for borrowing their books from public libraries, and that’s 6 million pounds a year, which is also incredibly important to authors, particularly because it often rewards backlist and midlist authors whose books people often don’t buy but borrow from libraries. For example, romance or science fiction authors. And then, we have money for, which I think I spoke about before, secondary licensing for photocopying, and that gives about 50 million pounds a year to writers as well. All of these amounts are extra ways on top of royalties, and they are very significant amounts for many writers, even more than their royalty income.

The other thing I would just like to mention, and again quite radically in our country, and perhaps I can give a quote here. Anna Burns just won the Booker Prize for her book, Milkman, which is a 50,000 pound prize, and I just want to read from the acknowledgements in her book. She gives thanks to her friends, publisher and editor, and then she says, “I’d like to thank Lewes District Churches Homelink. I’d like to thank the Housing Council Tax Benefit System, the Department of Work and Pension System.” What you see is actually, although it’s increasingly difficult, if you’re a very low paying author, you can still get support from our benefits system. And, of course, our national health system is free as well. For people who are not paying back huge college loans, it is possible still, although it’s not very nice, to live on quite a low income in the UK, to get support from the government to be doing it and to be able to have healthcare if you get ill. I think that is a tremendous difference.

I was also asked by Mary to just say something because it is true that the UK is really mean compared to Europe, which actually treats authors as employees. They get pensions. They get sick pay. They’re given extra money by the state from the cultural capital that they’re putting in. So, that’s it. I thought we were doing really badly until I spoke to you two, and now I feel a bit better.

Siobhan O'Connor:
Well, I was feeling that way until you talked about Europe.

Canada has a national arts council, and it recently had its budget doubled. They were giving out a $150 million to arts, artists and arts organizations, and they’re now giving out $300 million. So, for a country of our size, we’d always like more. We have many provincial arts councils, which also fund that. There are municipal arts councils as well. Thank you for reminding me about health care, because we often take universal health care for granted and we shouldn’t. One of the other things that we are advocating for too is tax provisions in the province of Quebec. They have a copyright income deduction for anyone whose copyright income is under $60,000, and that can be really helpful. We’ve also had, although we don’t at the moment, is income averaging, which can certainly be helpful with the cyclical nature of our writers’ incomes. We’re continuing to advocate for that as well.

Mary Rasenberger:
In the US, we used to have income averaging, but that was taken away. I don’t know, 10 or 20 years ago. Something like that. And we don’t have special deductions for writers. In Ireland, I think writing income is not taxable up to about 50,000 pounds? Is that right?

Siobhan O'Connor:
I think they also have some basic income program in Ireland for artists. There are not a lot of artists out there to get it, but there are 60 or 80 something a year. And they also, I can’t remember if it’s Norway or Sweden, have programs which guarantee the purchase of books, and then they go in every school and every library. There are really a lot of fabulous programs out there.

Mary Rasenberger:
So, if you have a culture that supports books, then there are a lot of possibilities. When Richard and I spoke over the phone, Richard mentioned local government support here in the US, and I was going to ask him to say a few words about that.

Richard Nash:
I think philosophically it would be most powerful, when engaging in advocacy, to conceive of it in terms of retraining as opposed to subsidy. I mean this in the United States, because so many professions are going through all these same issues at the same time. It tends to be hard politically in the United States to advocate on sort of a special snowflake basis. You see it in the numbers in the United States. To say that we should be subsidized because we’ve been important for as long as we’ve been in existence just simply doesn’t work. However, it is the case objectively that on a scale of our entire economy, in terms of where the economy is going, away from manufacturing towards services, that a case can be made for retraining. The number of jobs available to work in product in software companies, to work writing speeches for CEOs, dwarfs what the NEA will ever offer. To retrain authors for those purposes would be compelling. It’s the other version of the Nordic model.

Generally speaking, I say subsidy style stuff doesn’t work, and in general, in heterogenous societies, it never works. Generally speaking, the more homogenous the society, the more likely it is that they’re going to provide support for the arts, because the people who are getting the support look like the taxpayer. The more the taxpayer doesn’t look like the people who might be getting the money, the less likely it is the society will subsidize them. And so, I think realistically in the United States, where it’s going to be hard for us to get that, it’ll be much likelier for us to get that retraining, and that is much likelier to happen on a state municipal county level than it is on a federal level.

Part of what Mary and I have been talking about is a magnificent study that was produced by the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland Foundation, Cleveland Arts and several other arts organizations in Cleveland, that was looking at eclectic ranges of ways in which people made money, ranging from slam poetry to corporate content strategy editing to library level grants produced at the county level. There you have a much richer and more complex environment where it’s much easier to have conversations about all the ways in which different types of education, retraining and engagement, build a richer community rather than try to do that in the abstract level in Washington D.C., where they can’t see that, and they can’t argue that.

Mary Rasenberger:
Okay, thanks. I want to ask one last question and then let’s go to Q&A. I’m going to try to roll two questions in to one. One has to think about what other business models there are for writers besides the traditional publishing or self-publishing as it is today, where authors spend something like 50 percent of their time on the business side of writing. Are there alternatives that might be more fruitful for authors, or at least for some authors? What do we think about self-publishing? Hybrid publishing? As ways to do that. And/or if you'd like to talk about other things that authors can do to supplement their income. Like how useful is it to—we talked a little bit about speaking. How can you get speaker’s fees? How can you make real money from your books other than book sales?

Nicola Solomon:
I thought what you said about retraining was fascinating. The thing that we have to remember is that writers are different people. I don’t mean that writers are snowflakes. The range of writers is huge, and it’s very hard to make one decision for all. The other ways my members make money is always fascinating to me, and I think that authors on the whole are really quite inventive by what they can do. Retraining is really important and also connecting with audiences. And actually, that’s where our arts council is putting our writing development money over the next few years, and we’re talking to them about that. How they can develop audiences? How writers can connect directly and with different ranges of audiences? How they can use other areas?

The other thing we have to remember though this is not just snowflakes for the UK. We produce more books per capita than anyone else in the world, and that’s because over a third of our books are exports. This is a huge exporting industry for the UK, and there is a huge economic argument for supporting writers. I venture to mention Harry Potter, My Fair Lady. All of these are books which are written by Society of Authors members, and they are huge cultural exports. It’s not just about supporting people because it’s good for the world. It’s about supporting people because it brings huge amounts of money in. And, I think that is one of the reasons it gets supported. There are a lot of things that writers can do, and I really agree with you—retraining, grants and various things—to make them more businesslike. Very important.

Another thing that is very important is public opinion. One of the reasons that writers are now paid better for festivals is because we did a huge campaign to get writers paid for festivals, and why was it supported? Because the public didn’t know that what they were paying their ticket money for wasn’t going to the writers. Once we made that clear to the public, there was really quite an outcry, and it actually changed things. And although authors are not paid enough, they’re at least getting paid now. It’s also about making people realize how the economics work, so that they know what it is they’re paying for and make buying choices. The same way you might make fair trade and ecological buying choices for food, we’re trying to educate people to make fair trade buying choices for books.

Siobhan O'Connor:
Agree with that, Nicola, about the inventiveness of writers. Creative writing programs have certainly become an important source of income for a lot of writers. Teaching in those programs. The question about whether or not there is a whole new way to look at the ecosystem—we're actually looking at funding right now to set up a national writers lab, which would give us an opportunity to bring all of our minds and the minds of writers and publishers together to sort of say is there a different way of looking at this using the technology that’s now available. People are doing things like... serialization has come back. That’s where we started with Dickens was a weekly... at the same time when everyone can binge on Netflix, I’m not sure serialization will work. But those are all the kinds of questions that we want to throw up in the air and see if there’s a different way that things can land. Somebody was talking about today that self-publishing authors were happier? Was that from somebody’s study?

Nicola Solomon:
Yeah, some research was done in the UK. We have a lot of self-publishing and hybrid members, and the research basically shows that self-publishing authors earn less but they’re happier because they have the control and creative freedom. And that’s really important as well, so that’s what was very interesting.

Richard Nash:
You know it’s funny, because one of the things I did, because publishing when you’re a publisher you face the same issues that authors do downstream, was become an executive coach, which was my own version of retraining. I just did it myself. What I think was one of the most important things—I suppose you could say retraining, but also reframing. So instead of framing oneself as a creator of books, you think well what are my books about? One writer I know makes most of her money from doing talks about murder, mystery and mayhem on cruises. Another writer I know... actually, not even a writer, it was a bookstore. Village Voice bookstore, the lesser of the two English language bookstores in Paris. I remember meeting them once a upon a time and said what’s working for you, and they said Dan Brown. And I said were you selling a lot of copies of the Dan Brown books in English language edition? And they said no. The tours. I once had a friend who was reading a book by a French crime novelist, Jean-Claude Izzo, called Total Chaos at a Mediterranean bar. He was reading the book, and he wanted to listen to Mingus because the character was listening to Mingus. So, he started downloading a bunch of Mingus, and he bought a bottle of Lavignone, because the character drank Lavignone. Then he changed the European trip to go to Marseille instead of Paris because he wanted to hang out in Marseille, and he had just spent $900 because of a $15 book. Books themselves may be pretty crappy ways to capture the value that is created by narrative, and one of things that I think would be most powerful for writers to do would be to imagine all the ways in which people do not want the story to end. Look at how much money kids pay dressing up in manga outfits and traveling to Comic Con. Look at people who throw Gatsby dinner parties. There’s a website where you can download not just a menu but the font to be able to throw your own Gatsby dinner party. So, the ability to take what your book is about and what your book engages with—and again as Nicola said there is no one path. There is no one answer. Retraining is certainly not something that 10,000 writers should be told to write pharmaceutical copy. It would need to be structured in terms of what is it that is unique to that writer and what are some of the other ways they can engage with the world and create value in the world, especially stuff that is experiential. That is not subject to being copied, but something that is unique and experiential.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Building on that, the skillset required to be a published author today is different. From the study, we’re seeing at least a full day a week is being spent at least on marketing, whether it’s marketing experiential trips or your own book, or whatever it is. I think many MFA programs are still suggesting that if you’re just good at writing, that’s enough. But it’s not. You have to be able to do all the other things that bring you in to awareness with an audience and constantly trying to find new people to get in to your world, whether it’s through your books or other avenues. We need to proactively redefine what being an author means today. It’s not what it meant 10 years ago.

Mary Rasenberger:
Well, that’s a good note to end on. I’ll just put in a pitch for our marketing series. We’re going to be launching right at the start of the new year, and it’s an eight-part course in everything you need to know about marketing your book and creating your narrative around your book and your story. I’m going to take 5 minutes for questions from the audience here. I understand that we cannot take questions online. Is that correct? Yeah, it’s just too many, but I would encourage you to continue the conversation in the new online communities if you're a member of the Authors Guild. If you’re a member and you’re not on the communities yet, please join. They’ve been so much fun and so interesting and engaging. It’s just amazing the conversations going on there. Does anybody here in person have a question for the panelists?

Audience member #1:
Yeah, I’m just amazed—why do you think the publishers are not going after that 90 million people that you—it'd be in their best interest clearly. I was blown away by that.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
That’s a good question. It’s very perplexing. The question is why don’t the publishers go after the 90 million infrequent book buyers. We’ve had many high-level discussions with people in the industry saying this is what happens when they come to play 30 million units of 50 Shades of Grey or I don’t know many millions of dollars of Duck Dynasty books. It’s a different kind of publishing. Sensibilities are different. It may be more brand oriented. But if you don’t seek it out, you’re not going to get it very consistently. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. It’s a different kind of reader. Not everybody has the same prose reading fluency. That little group of 1 in 5 have. You have to do what James Patterson does in his work with different levels of prose density or different levels of reading ability. So, that may be a part of it. It’s frustrating.

Audience member #2:
It’s very interesting that you say that because you’re touching on the question that I had, which is since we’re talking about a business situation here, why have we not spoken about the market demand for writing and for books? It seems to be sliding. We could encourage it. For example, in France just this past summer, a new law was passed that kids up until 9th grade are not allowed to use their devices in school, and that is to encourage them to talk to each other and to read books. I several little kids in France who are absolutely just stuck on their books. So I’m wondering if there’s something that we could do to encourage market demand?

Mary Rasenberger:
I’ll try to repeat the question. There seems to be a decline in reading, or at least competition with other media, and an example is in France where they have disallowed students up until 9th grade from having their cellular devices with them during the school day, and that in part is to encourage talking to each other and maybe doing things like reading. Anybody want to talk about that?

Peter Hildick-Smith:
I mean I’ll talk about some interesting sort of technological innovations that are being tested right now. I know the New York Public Library recently released a classic novel in Instagram format. So if you do have your nose in your phone all day long, here’s a way to access that you might not have before. One of the Big Five, I think Harper Collins, recently did a Snapchat novel, and there’s a very interesting start-up called Serial Box, which is presenting serial reads on a weekly basis, sort of modeled on television programming. Again, not saying it’s a book, but making it much more sort of current and fluid. More story driven than format driven. So I think there are some attempts to find new ways to expand the market using technology, which I’m very excited about. But I come back to my early point, and I think early education is a huge issue to solve this problem as well.

Nicola Solomon:
I really get that, but if I can say something else as well. If people do invest in it, it really can work. And I think none of us can overlook the rise of audio, which in the UK is rising about 27 percent year on year. I think the same in the US. That’s been tremendously powerful, and of course helps people who find it less easy to read and brings in a new audience. That is just one small area where things can be done. There are a huge range of things that we should be doing, and I do sometimes find it disappointing that publishers are perhaps not looking for as many new ways as they could do to be engaging new audiences. It’s the new, smaller publishers that have been coming up with some new exciting things. And as I said, it’s an area where I know our government is about to start trying to concentrate partly because, unlike what you seem to think we are, we have a smaller number of readers than the US I’m sorry to say.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Really?

Nicola Solomon:
I’m afraid so.

Mary Rasenberger:
That’s surprising.

Nicola Solomon:
Apparently 1 in 3 British children doesn’t own a book, doesn’t have a book in their house.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
But are they reading books from the library or other sources?

Nicola Solomon:
A lot of our libraries are closing down. It’s very depressing.

Mary Rasenberger:
We’re going to take one last question.

Audience member #3:
I actually have a two-part thing. I recently tried to give a chunk of my library to Hunter College, to the library there, and I was told that the current president—I've talked to the library people several times--is deaccessioning half of the books in order to make electronic units available on those floors. The students are coming to the librarians saying that they want physical books and don’t want to read everything electronically. And I think there are certain assumptions being made that all kids want to read things electronically, and lots of people don’t. It’s not easy to get academic information in that form. And in terms of the audible books, it’s very hard for authors to get that piece of a contract because the publishers now really want to retain the audible rights. I know because I just went through this. So that’s something that may be great for the publishers but not so good for authors, and it is a growing market.

Mary Rasenberger:
It’s the trend for libraries, including academic libraries—certainly law libraries it’s already happened—to deaccession hard copies of books and digitize everything or acquire ebooks and provide electronic access to their patrons.

Audience member #3:
But a law book is extremely expensive. A medical book is extremely expensive—

Mary Rasenberger:
Yeah, no, I get it. This is a growing phenomenon, and I will say that we do spend a lot of our time talking to libraries and non-for-profit organizations about the fact that they want to provide more and more electronic access because they say that patrons aren’t coming to the library, and what was just pointed out is actually many students are clamoring for hard copies of books. Maybe one other panelist here has some data for that? The second question was about audio books and what can be done there because publishers are now asking for audio rights. And that is something that we at the Authors Guild follow closely because there are audio book publishers who will pay a separate advance, and they’ll pay decently for audio rights. We strongly advocate for authors to retain those rights and fight for them, and we have been arguing with publishers about this. If they want the audio, then they should pay an additional advance for it. By just taking them as part of the overall rights acquisition, you, the authors, are actually losing out. Does anybody want to respond to either of those?

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Yes, on the first question about deaccessioning at Hunter College library, there is a lot of data that suggests you do not assimilate information as readily in a digital interface. And certainly, probably 8 years ago, Amazon had a big test at Princeton University where they gave a bunch of students large format Kindles, and it was not very successful. Before, 7 or 8 years ago, there were a lot of large format display start-ups to try and crack in to the academic market. They all failed. It doesn’t work in terms of learning and certainly not student preference. I would say he’s about 8 years out of date. As far as the audio piece, not to plug Audible, but Audible does have an audio self-publishing platform called ACX. And the people who have used the ACX platform in the Authors Guild study were doing quite well in terms of median income.

Audience member #3:
By that you mean, you can—

Peter Hildick-Smith:
You can self-publish audio books directly through Audible. It’s called ACX.

Mary Rasenberger:

Okay, well I think with that we should probably close and continue to talk outside the auditorium.

 

Writers on the Brink: The Current Economics of Authorship – Transcription

On November 13, The Authors Guild hosted a panel discussion, “Writers on the Brink: The Current Economics of Authorship,” at Scandinavia House in New York City, which was also streamed live via videoconferencing for AG members who couldn’t attend in person.

Panelists:
Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors
Siobhan O'Connor, Associate Director of the Writers Union of Canada
Peter Hildick-Smith, President of Codex-Group LLC
Richard Nash, Publisher and Digital Media Strategist

Moderator: Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild

The panel focused on the economic challenges that authors face regarding the long-term viability of book authorship in today’s publishing climate and what it means for the authors of tomorrow. The discussion opened with a presentation of the latest survey results on authors’ incomes in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain.

Full Transcription:

Mary Rasenberger:
Okay, good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Authors Guild event, Writers on the Brink. I’m sure you’re all on the brink of your chairs. We’ll find out what that means. Anyways, I’m glad to see everyone who’s here in person. We also had 450 people sign up online. I hope you’re all online, and that you can hear and see us okay.

So, we are really thrilled—I'm Mary Rasenberger by the way. I’m the Executive Director of the Authors Guild, and we are very lucky to have this panel tonight, including our friends from the UK and Canada who flew in for this. I want to thank Siobhan and Nicola for that.

Let me introduce our speakers.

First on my left is Nicola Solomon, who is Chief Executive Officer of the Society of Authors in the UK.

Next to her is Siobhan O’Connor, who is the Deputy Director of the Writers’ Union of Canada.

Then we have Richard Nash, who is a Publisher and Digital Media Strategist. He advises numerous start-ups in digital media and consults with corporations on using narrative to run a business. He’s led partnerships and content at the cultural discovery start-up, Small Demons, and Byliner. He ran the iconic indie Soft Skull Press and founded Cursor, and as one of the projects of Cursor, ran Red Lemonade. He’s won a bunch of awards and I won’t mention them all here because we’d be here all night, but we’re delighted to have him and his expertise here tonight.

Now we have Peter Hildick-Smith, who’s the founder and president of Codex-Group. Codex is a leader and premiere in large sample quantitative market testing to help book publishers, retailers, authors, agents and tech companies develop successful commercial web strategies, platforms and titles. And most importantly for us tonight, he conducted the 2015 Authors Guild income survey and the 2018 authors income survey, which we will mention briefly tonight.

I do want to start by saying that we in the US, UK and Canada all just conducted author income surveys this year. Some of you here in the audience or at home may have completed our survey, and so thank you very, very much. We really appreciate it.

Nicola and Siobhan will talk about their data, but unfortunately, we won’t be able to talk about the specifics about our data tonight because we have so much data that we’re still parsing through it. So we’ll talk in very, very broad terms about it. We did survey 18 different US based author organizations, sent the survey out to their members, and we had over 5,000 authors complete the survey. We had many more start, but it was a very long survey and I’m impressed by how many people did complete it.

From the survey, we got income data based on the type of book, from whatever genre. Academia. Children’s. By type we also got type of publisher, large, small. Self-publishing. We also asked authors whether they’re full-time, part-time. Whether they considered themselves professional. Whether they considered being an author their primary occupation. And we’re looking at the data from all those perspectives. We also asked how much of their writing-related income and how much of their book-related income comprised their total income. Their total personal income and their total family income. And so, we asked a lot of questions and a lot of details in the survey, and it was amazing the responses that we got. It’s kind of amazing that anybody responded when you consider how detailed the surveys were, but we needed to do that because we want to get a sense of what it really is like to be an author today, and not just in a very general sense. But by field. By type of writing. By type of book. By type of publishing. And also, where is the income coming from? Is it coming from publishers? Is it coming from speaking? Is it coming from other royalties? What portion of writing income is coming from what sources? And that way we feel like we can help authors understand how to increase their income. The bottom line from this survey, which I will disclose today, is that the mean incomes for American authors are less than half of what they were just 10 years ago, and that self-publishing is very much on the rise and is increasingly a part of the overall author income landscape.

Tonight, we’re going to discuss the challenges of surviving financially as author today given these results, and to talk about what this means for the future of literature. What it means for us as societies that it’s hard for most authors to earn a living or close to a living. We also want to discuss ways that authors can supplement their incomes and survive today, and how we as societies can ensure that great books still get written. I think one of the interesting things that we’ll find out from the UK and Canada is how other countries and their governments support writing in ways that we don’t necessarily hear in the States.

We’re going to start with presentations from Nicola and Siobhan about their author income surveys, and then I’m going to have Peter talk a little bit about the role that Amazon plays in the overall landscape and what that means for authors, as well as touch on the growth of self-publishing. I’m going to turn it over to you now, Nicola.

Nicola Solomon:
First of all, just a huge thank you, Mary, for putting on the panel. We as unions speak to each other quite regularly and it’s incredibly helpful. And, what’s really noticeable to us is how the trends for everything we see for authors are global and almost always, if we raise up a problem any time, one of you two will go “yeah, we just had that.” It’s enormously collegiate and helpful. Once, for example, we were doing our surveys to talk to each other about the questions we’ve done and the results we’ve had, and being the chief executive of a trade union, even for ten and a half thousand members, can be quite lonely, so I really appreciate having some friends out there on these occasions. It’s great to be together to talk about our results and to answer some of these really, really, well maybe not, but pose some of these important questions about what’s happening with writing and writers today.

Can we just look at these slides? So, these are the slides from ALCS, who commissioned a survey. ALCS is our collecting society because one of the ways authors get income in the UK is secondary licensing, for example, photocopying. ALCS administers that money and gives it to authors, and they were the ones who ran the survey that we worked very closely with. They have done this survey for the last three years, and you can see that they posed a lot of questions. The first question was how many people were earning their income solely from writing and what those incomes were. They were saying that the number of authors earning their incomes solely from writing has now stabilized. It’s about 13.7 percent, of people who classify themselves as writers and earning their income solely from writing. That’s down from 40 percent 12 years ago. That is quite concerning, and you can see that the median figure they were earning from actual income solely from writing was about ten and a half thousand pounds. When we last surveyed them in 2013 that was eleven thousand pounds, but the equivalent then to now is about twelve and a half thousand. When we surveyed them in 2005, it was twelve and a half thousand pounds, but that would now be eighteen thousand pounds. That means that we got around a 40 percent drop, which is quite terrifying and not surprising that the number of people who are saying that they’re full time authors is continuing to go down.

If we can look at the next slide, what this says for those of you who aren’t very good at pounds, which I can understand and all I can tell you is that with Brexit going on, it is dropping at a great rate against the dollar. Our current minimum wage for people over 25 is seven pounds and eighty-three an hour. If you divided those hours that we’ve given you for professional writers’ incomes, it would equate to about five pounds and seventy-three an hour. So, what we’re saying is that writers are earning less than the minimum wage for people under 25 in our country. Not great.

If we can see the next slide, the other headline figure we have is that we did ask all writers, people who were spending less than 50 percent of their time on writing, how much they were earning from writing. And, we should say that when we surveyed writers it was a huge range of writers, illustrators, people who doing all types of thing with writing and people who clearly couldn’t afford to dedicate all their time to writing. One thing that was very noticeable to us, and perhaps we could talk about later, is our numbers about household income, because it was clear that people’s writing is being subsidized very often by other household members. But, for the typical median earnings, all writers have also fallen from four thousand pounds in 2005 to again four thousand pounds in 2013, but that was a real term drop to three thousand pounds now. These are tiny amounts of money, particularly because some of those people are self-publishing and would have paid to have their work published. If they’re only three thousand pounds a year, they probably paid that much to put their books up in the first place. These are not great figures. And these are, just like Mary said that she can’t give all her figures yet, only our headline figures. We haven’t put out a full survey yet, but they are concerning and certainly fit in with our anecdotal information when we speak to authors. One of things that we’ve been doing, and if you look at the Society of Authors website, is getting a lot of writers to give us personal accounts of how they earn their money and put those into pie charts. Those are very revealing in a way that sometimes headline figures can’t be.

Let’s show if there’s another the other slide. I think it’s the last one. So, that’s a very brief headline that you can see where things are in the UK. I’m sure we’ll talk about in a lot more detail later about how people earn their money and why these figures matter. Thank you.

 

Siobhan O'Connor:
I’d like to reiterate what Nicola said. Thank you so much for inviting us to be here, and it is so wonderful to have that companionship and the opportunity to chat over lunch and during the day about all the common things that we face. These are our highlights from our surveys. I think the title says a lot, “Diminishing Returns, Creative Culture at Risk.”

Can you go to the next slide? You’ll see that this is a very similar story. In fact, you might want to think of this as the battle of the infographics now. So, if you can see here, the average net income in 1998 was $16,464. In 2014, it was $13,390, and in our most recent survey it was $9,380 dollars. The story in Canada is similar to the story that we just heard in the UK, perhaps even a little more depressing. As you can see here when we take inflation into account, authors are making significantly less from their writing than they were 20 years ago. And, since 1998, authors’ net incomes have declined 78 percent, and I would say even more discouragingly, in Canada we have seen a 27 percent drop over the past 3 years.

The next slide. What I continue to find discouraging is not only that writers’ incomes are dropping, but that these creators, who are the very people on whom the entire $2 billion-dollar industry in Canada is built, and their median income is far, far below the average income for a worker in the information and cultural sector as you can see here. It’s far below the median Canadian income, and it is far below the poverty line. It is unsustainable. This is a highly educated group of individuals who responded. More than 88 percent of respondents have a university degree, and more than half have a graduate degree. They’re a talented group of individuals who are making not very much for their work.

Next slide. We not only looked at writing incomes, but we also looked at where this income comes from. As you can see from this slide, traditional royalties continue to be the driving force behind a writer’s income. This income is augmented by corporate and government writing, as well as freelance writing. Income from self-publishing continues to be a significant source of income for writers, and public lending right, which is our payment for the presence of books in libraries is also a significant source of income for Canadian writers.

Next slide. One of the most significant and detrimental changes that writers have faced in Canada since 2012 is the Copyright Modernization Act, which included changes that have been broadly misinterpreted as an educational exemption. As you can see from this slide, this has had a devasting impact on the monies that Access Copyright, which licenses copying to educational institutions, can distribute to writers. And this has been a significant part of the story of writers’ incomes in Canada. The reduction in income not only affects writers’ incomes, it impacts the materials available to Canadians in the classroom. A 2015 study noted that 50 percent of small and medium sized publishers said they would produce less content for education, and as a result of the changes 30 percent of creators said they would produce fewer works as a result of the educational exemption guidelines. The Canadian government is currently undertaking a mandated review of the Copyright Act, and the Union is highly focused on trying to reverse these trends. That is sort of the overview of our survey.

Mary Rasenberger:
Thank you, Siobhan. I’m now going to ask Peter to show us some of the interesting stats on Amazon’s effect on the marketplace.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Thank you, Mary. I think Siobhan gives some interesting context about what’s happening in Canada in a broader way, and so we wanted to put some context around what’s happening in the US market. I think there’s sort of a broad narrative that we’re seeing fiction declining. We’re seeing e-books declining. Most of the information that’s publicly available and discussed in the US market comes from the Association of American Publishers, which does a terrific job of aggregating all the member publishers’ revenue information every year and most recently giving us a 5-year look, which is consistent with the 5-year look that we’re doing for the author incomes study.

So, what you see here on the left is what’s reported by the AAP, and what you see on the right is what we’ll consider the reality of what’s really going on in the broader market context. Above all that, AAP members in trade fiction generated somewhere over $15 billion dollars in revenue in 2017. That’s up only 5 percent from 2013. Amazon media in North America, which is the closest that we can get to knowing what Amazon is actually doing in terms of business in the media space, is just over $13 billion dollars, and it’s up over 27 percent between 2013 and 2016. They don’t report anymore on their media revenue, so we can only guess at 2017. But it looks like they’re getting more revenue gain on their media business than the AAP is getting for their member publishers overall, and we have to think that much of Amazon media in North America is going to be book. Because if you’re a Prime member, you’re getting your movies for free. Your music for free. So how is their revenue up? It has to be significantly purely book. That’s the overall piece.

Then what we’ve been hearing much more in the last several months has become more of a topic of discussion than I think recently is that publisher e-book revenue is down 36 percent from 2013 to 2017, and the piece that’s got a lot more people concerned is the fact that fiction revenue is down 16 percent over that time horizon. Many of the publishers are saying people are reading less fiction. They’re reading less literature. They’re not going to novels as much as they’re going to streaming media. We put forth a totally different counterargument.

One of things that Codex-Group does is a roughly quarterly study of regular US book buyers. In our data, we’re looking at market share and trends with Kindle and trends with Kindle Unlimited, Kindle is actually up dramatically in units over that same time period 43 percent. So, what we think is going on is that all those sales that would normally go to the publishers are happening behind the curtain in Amazon or Kindle land. There are transactions going to self-published authors that only Amazon can see. There are transactions going to Amazon proprietary titles that they publish. They do over 1,100 titles a year and their free reads that are being generated through the Prime Reading program. In fact, we think that there’s a lot of reading going on, but we don’t think that the revenue is going as much to authors, and it’s certainly not going to publishers. What we do think is going on, in the lower right corner, is that Kindle Unlimited, which is Amazon’s all you can eat book subscription program $9.99 a month, is growing dramatically. It’s up over 20 percent in the last 13 months, and we think with their most recent data set, they will be at over 5 million US book buyers. So, for every person who becomes a Kindle subscriber, $9.99 for all you can eat, they’re much more likely to be buying books by the self-published authors in Amazon proprietary titles within the Kindle Unlimited program. Most publishers are not participating, but we think that shifting a lot of people into reading for free or for very low cost per book is having a big effect on the overall business. That’s what we think is going on behind the curtain. Amazon now has 50 percent of all book units sold in the US. So, to ignore Amazon is to ignore the tectonic plate shifts going on affecting the whole industry and authors particularly.

So next slide. This is data from the Bowker ISBN report. They are the ISBN agency of record in the United States. If you’re going to publish a book in the US, outside the Amazon ecosystem, you need an ISBN. They’re the folks that you buy it from. They’re the people that you register it for. And they have seen a huge increase in the number of books registered, particularly just in the last year, from 2016 to 2017, a 28 percent increase in what they’re calling self-publishing. In other words, individuals or major self-publishing platforms registering ISBNs or product identifiers. Part of what’s going on here is not just a tremendous amount of self-publishing, but a lot of people are leaving Amazon exclusive relationships to go out and really be much more self-sufficient in publishing and a lot of other platforms besides the Amazon closed ecosystem. So, again, this is sort of emblematic of some of the shifts that are taking place. You can see down in the lower corner that in 2017 there were over 1 million ISBNs registered, so we see about a million new books sitting in the Kindle store in the US each year. It’s a tremendous amount of new content coming out, and it’s having a great diluting effect overall on author income. So that’s some broader context.

 

Mary Rasenberger:
Thank you, Peter. I do think those statistics are fascinating when we talk about author incomes because one, as Peter pointed out, in the world of Amazon and Kindle Unlimited there’s no real transparency there, and the AAP does not get that data. So, much of what we read about and what’s going on in the publishing industry today based on the AAP stats ignores that side of the business, which is, as Peter showed for fiction, really flourishing.

I would like to move on now, and we’ll start suggesting some of the questions about what’s causing these declines. I’ll also say that the data that we have so far from our survey is very similar to what you’ve heard from Siobhan and Nicola. So why are author incomes declining so much? Does it matter? Do we need to reverse this? If so, how? In the US, I’ll say that we’ve studied this since our last survey in 2015 which found that there had been a 30 percent decline since 2009, from a mean of $24,000 to $17,500, and that was of Authors Guild members, which is higher than the national mean. We looked into this, and the factors that we identified were Amazon’s force on the market. Its pushing prices down. Having a stranglehold on the market because no publisher can survive without Amazon, and so they don’t have much negotiating leverage. The impact of forcing deep discounts. Then there are publisher terms. For instance, the 25 percent e-book royalty. On the other hand, it’s not like the publishers are making hand over fist right now. They’re stable, the largest publishers. But I think profits were even down for some of the big houses last year. And then there’s piracy. There’s expanded fair use, certainly in the US as we saw in Canada. The fair use for educational purposes greatly decreased the royalties going to authors. That’s happened in the US too. Very few authors are seeing royalties from educational use at all anymore. Then there’s the argument that there are more books than authors. I hear that a lot from people. That’s just to throw some ideas out there. Now I’m going to ask Richard to tell us what he thinks is going on and what we might do about it.

 

Richard Nash:
Well I very much zero in on the very last factor that you mentioned. To put it in terms that Peter put it, dilution. The interesting thing, of course, is that it’s been going on for about 1,500 years. The one time in human history when a writer was guaranteed to make a living was before Gutenberg, when the mere fact of being literate was so remarkable and so scarce that you were guaranteed a roof over your head and food simply because you could read and write. And in a certain sense, it’s been going downhill ever since.

The impact of the printing press on the writer as scribe was catastrophic, much like the impact of the steam engine or the mechanical loom. But of course, we survived, right? We survived the printing press. The printing press didn’t in fact destroy writing. We adapted. The main way in which we adapted was that writers became the front end of a massive industrial supply chain, and over the course of 500 years that supply chain evolved in to a $200 billion dollar a year industry and writers got 10, 15 percent of that. The hassle is that as we got really, really good at increasing the supply of writers and increasing the supply of readers, at a certain point the total amount of revenue started going flat, but the total number of writers kept increasing.

Between 1985 and 2007, the number of original titles published per year in the United States went from about 35,000 to close to 300,000. We increased tenfold the number of titles in the space of 25 years without a dramatic commensurate increase in the amount of money. In fact, to some degree, it’s remarkable that the decline in author incomes hasn’t been much, much, much starker given how many more authors were chasing a relatively static pie. I know this sounds horrible, but what is remarkable—I didn’t realize that we were going to have visuals because the slide that I would throw up at this moment is from The Economist. It’s a slide that emerged out of a series of labor market analyses done by labor economists exploring the changes in employment in different sectors of the economy projected over the next 15 years in response to automation. And in this particular graph, you’ll see at the very, very bottom with the number .99, in other words, 99 percent likelihood of significant job losses was for telemarketers. Not something to worry too much about. But, ironically at .50, i.e. 50 percent, there was airline pilots and firefighters. And way up at the top, very low .06, i.e. 6 percent, chance of job losses was editors. At the very top, .002, i.e. .2 percent, chance of job losses was something called recreational therapy, which in labor economist lingo means yoga instructor. Yoga instructors would be fine, but telemarketers are screwed. Editors come much closer to yoga instructors than they do to telemarketers. Effectively, where I think the opportunities for writers are is reconceiving themselves as being something closer to a yoga instructor than to a person who plugs a bunch of words into a physical object that is physically reproduced, using dramatic analogue economies of scale, which is effectively what writers have been.

And just as every profession—lawyers are dealing with the same issues that writers are dealing with. We don’t know that, because we don’t go to conferences where a whole bunch of lawyers complain about how they are screwed. The lawyers at the very top are not screwed, but then again the authors at the very top of this are not screwed either. But, people from mediocre law schools, who graduated in 2007 and have no jobs, are barely able to get jobs as paralegals, and they have a quarter of a million dollars in student loans, are even more screwed than authors whose numbers are being represented in the previous slides. So, they are all trying to figure out how to reinvent themselves, and that reinvention is going to be different for every individual author. That’s something that I think we’ll be able to kind of get into in granular detail. It’s where some of those reinventions look—we see little glimmers of it in one of those slides. I think in Mary’s slides about speaker’s fees? I think in more and more areas we’re going to see all the other ways—what might be called the 360 degree revenue model for authors.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
This is more to Richard’s point. In the study, which Mary says will be released in a short while, where we looked at 18 additional non-book related author income sources, such as editing, coaching new aspiring authors, ghostwriting—there's a whole host of roles and skills that once you become an author, labored and achieved that incredible status of having published a book, you really are given permission to do so many other things with that skill set that others can benefit from. So, I totally agree with his point of the yoga instructor model. That it’s a much moldy sort of way of monetizing, if you will, your skill as a published author.

Mary Rasenberger:
As recreational therapy.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Well,  there you go.

Nicola Solomon:
I think that writers are very versatile, but my problem with that is that with the yoga teaching model, one of the things that we learned from our survey, is that all those areas that used to be monetized, where authors used to make money, are no longer monetized. Journalism, which used to be a huge way of supplementing your income, has more or less gone away. Speaking. I had one of our comic writers speaking recently, and he said if I go and speak at the festival as a comic, I get paid $1,000 dollars. But if I go and speak about my book, I get paid $100, if anything at all. Writers aren’t paid for festivals. So, our concern about diversifying is that it’s been the other way around. People expect you to get your money from book royalties, and it’s really, really hard to monetize other areas. Again, authors doing creative writing get paid a lot less than other university professors. It’s very hard to know how we can deal with that, but I don’t think that’s the only reason that incomes are going down. I should say that in the UK, publisher profits are actually going up, while author incomes are going down. I think that one of the things that we have to look at is, exactly as you say, in a celebrity culture a lot of that money is going to people at the top, the highest earning authors. The people who are in the middle, who used to be able to make a reasonable earning from writing, are not. Advances are really going down, and then, of course, there are a huge number of people at the bottom, who are never even actually expecting to make a living from writing.

Siobhan O'Connor:
That’s what I was going to say.

I was going to talk about the blockbuster culture. I think we see that in all art and culture right now, certainly in the movie theaters. It’s all the comic book movies that people are going to. On a podcast that I was listening to, they said that “Terms of Endearment” would never be made today, and “Broadcast News” would never be made. I think that’s what we’re seeing in the publishing industry as well. We’re seeing a few books make a lot of money, and publishers aren’t really taking the same opportunity on the midlist author or helping authors have time to develop. So, that’s sort of concentrating the money at the top. Some later point about the publishing terms is a fair one. The consolidation in the industry. The pressure for free consumption in general. There’s a lot more competition now. Writers are competing with games and other screen-based entertainment. I swear my children can never ever have televisions in their room. Then somebody gave them a computer and then somebody invented Netflix, and now my children have unlimited—the next show starts right away. It’s like stop it and pick up the book on your bedside table. “But it keeps going, mom. It just keeps going.” So, I think that competition is real. I think there’s been a decline in advances. A decline in multi-book or development contracts. So, again, authors need to have that same opportunity to develop and to be supported. It is a limited resource, talented authors. If we don’t continue to support them through those midlist opportunities, we’ll see that dwindle, and we’ll be left with more blockbusters and fewer opportunities.

Mary Rasenberger:
Thanks. I’ll just add a couple notes about advances. We have spoken to publishers in the US about advances because we know from our past survey, anecdotally and from agents, that advances by and large are going down. They say, to Siobhan and Nicola’s point, they are spending more in advances than they ever have as a line item in their overall budget, which is interesting, but it’s because they are paying so much money for some books. And, the midlist is really getting shafted. We haven’t seen a huge decline in the last few years, but the really big decline happened in 2008/2009 with the recession in 2008 and then the introduction of the e-book, well the Kindle, whose real growth started in 2009. So, that is an issue, and publishers will acknowledge it. The Obamas, I think, got $65 million together. And yes, that’s going to drive up Random House’s overall number for advances.

The other point that we haven’t really talked about yet is the inability of, not just low advances, to sell books. I met recently with a group of agents, and they said that’s probably their number one issue. Not that the advances are so much lower that they were 3-5 years ago, but the number of authors who have been writing books their entire career who no longer can sell books. And, I think our survey data did show a little bit about this, and although we haven’t really gone through it completely, there were a significant number of professional authors, people who call themselves full-time authors, to have little or no book income at all.

I want to move from that on to the question of why should we care? Do people other than authors care about the fact that most authors are earning less and that we’re moving towards a blockbuster culture?

Do you want to take that?

Nicola Solomon:
My view of this is that we should care passionately for a couple of reasons. One is that just in every area that we might succeed, and I’m going to talk for the UK but I’m sure it’s here, as a nation—if we want to be manufacturing, if we want to be succeeding in a new world, we need imagination. And, reading a huge range of books is what fosters the imagination, and having a narrow range of books, means that we’re going to get a very narrow range of readers and that can add to the inequalities that we see in our society. There is a lot of competition for books you know. Again, I had to mention Brexit, and being a Brit I have to mention Winston Churchill. When Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples came out, it sold like half a million copies. No book can do that now. Of course, because, there was no competition. We have films. We have everything else that is competing with books. If we want to create readers, we have to create books that people can see themselves in. And, if all we got are blockbusters by the same range of basically pale, male and stale people, we are not going to get more readers, and it’s all going to be suffering. We have to be able to support a diverse book landscape. I really passionately believe that it matters to all of us to be making sure that a huge range of writers can come in, particularly younger and newer writers, writers from the working class, writers from different backgrounds, so that we can see a range of experiences. It also makes us more empathetic people, and I would suggest to say that on both sides of the pond one thing that we are quite lacking is empathy, and this can really help us.

Siobhan O'Connor:
Ditto. Completely agree on that. Going back to my children, who are now watching Netflix on their computers and not us. Reading my daughter the American Girl books, what did she say to me? “Mom, do you think it was fair that they taxed the tea?” How else are we going to have those conversations without those books? Or the books that we read about slavery? She came to me and said that’s how she learned about empathy and how the world was different, by the words that I read to her as a young girl, and my son as well. It’s so important, and, really to follow up on your point, if those are the incomes that people are making, it’s not sustainable, and the people who are writing will be people who—it won’t give us a diversity of voices, because those incomes don’t allow everybody the opportunity to write, and we need to ensure that the world is reflective in the writing and that there is a diversity of voices to do that.

Richard Nash:
In the United States, there is actually a tremendous diversity. What you’ve seen is effectively more a bifurcation of publishing in to two distinct ecosystems, one of which is absolutely blockbuster driven and will become more so. This is true of software. How many small software studios are there? How many companies make word processing software? How many companies make project management software? The entire economy, even the media, is shifting to one very extreme power-law distributions. Fat head, long tail stuff.  And, publishing as a commercial enterprise, there is no way to kind of advocate for change in that direction. So, change in that direction—if we want to find ways to allocate money in order to support those writers who are operating in the non-blockbuster economy, and in the United States the best way to describe that would be the AWP economy, which is the Associated of Writing Programs. It’s effectively the group that comprises all creative writing programs in the United States, and they have a magnificent book fair with about 800 publishers. 780 of whom you’ve never heard of. That represents the kind of ecosystem of diversity in the United States—the poetry presses, the weird literary fiction presses, the presses that do science fiction poetry, and so on and so forth. Now those authors, their incomes might be $200-$500 a year. Now if you want to support those, where is that going to come from? You’re not going to be able to persuade or advocate for them within the commercial economy, because they’re just not playing in that game. So, it’s either going to be government or it’s going to be... my friend the poet, one of the happiest poets I know, whose day job is writing copy for the pharmaceutical industry.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
I think the broader issue is that, at least in the US—I think certainly the UK, Germany are much more literate than the US. The National Endowment for the Arts does an incredible study about every 5 years called the SPPA, the Study of Public Participation in the Arts. And in that, they measure the percentage of American adults, 18 and older, who read literature. The positive news is that in the most recent SPPA, which also falls under the same time horizon as the Authors Guild income study 2013 versus 2017, they have no statistically significant decline in people reading books, reading literature. What’s more disturbing though is that if you dig into the data, only about 1 in 5 US adults regularly read 12 books or more a year. So, we got this tiny population, 1 in 5 adults, supporting this whole world of writing that we’re talking about. Unless you can bring more people to books, you’re dealing with a fixed pie, and we’re just micro-slicing it into more tiny little pieces. The bigger challenge, and this is both from an education standpoint and from a publisher standpoint, is how do you get to the roughly 90 million infrequent book readers, who are reading sort of 1 to maybe 8 or 9 books a year, who aren’t buying programmatically or reading programmatically. They’re doing it when a dynasty comes along, or something unusual like that. None of the major publishing houses that we work with are particularly interested in that 90 million. It’s opportunistic if they get a hit with something like a 50 Shades of Grey, fantastic. But none of them are really pursuing that group. The other issue is if you look at how reading behavior forms with younger children, both the US and the UK start to get them to read books much earlier than the continental European countries do. Boys in particular don’t have the cognitive development to read easily at that age. A lot of them lose interest and drop away. Between ages 5 and 7 from the work we’ve done with Scholastic, we see a huge drop off kids being exposed to and enjoying reading, and that continues at least through 12. So, if we can focus on 5- through 7-year olds, and teach them to read in a different way, and bring them books that they will continue to enjoy once they’re being evaluated for reading, we can increase the population of active readers that way. There are two huge opportunities that are now being approached to grow the overall reading pie, but right now it’s 1 in 5. We’re stuck with it, and nobody’s really changing it, either from a publishing or educational perspective.

Mary Rasenberger:
Thanks. That’s fascinating. So, there’s a huge untapped market out there. Let’s now turn to how authors can support themselves other than through selling their books to publishers and through advances and publisher royalties. We’ve mentioned government support. Let’s talk for a minute about the role that prizes and grants play in this world, and I think that it's particularly true for the AWP world that Richard mentioned. How big a pie is that to be spread among literary authors? I’ll say that in the US the NEA, as many of you may know, gives $25,000 grants to writers. Last year I think they gave 37 out of a pool of about 1,800 applications for a total of something like $1.5 million. The other prizes and grants combined add another $5 or $6 million. So, that’s the sort of total pie of prizes and grants for writers in the US. Anybody wants to talk about the role of prizes and grants?

Nicola Solomon:
In the UK, prizes and grants are really important. We at the Society of Authors run a charity which gives grants for works in progress and financial difficulty. We give about 300,000 pounds a year, and we administer 27 prizes. They’re really important on two levels. Let’s start with the prize money, great. It really isn’t, but it adds to discoverability in a world where it’s really hard for people to differentiate what might be one good book from another. It is really important. And then the bigger prizes, particularly the Booker, do get quite a bit of publicity. I think you were talking afterwards about government grants, and I want to talk about that in a moment. But there are certainly grants available for the more kind of literary fiction, for poetry. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was wearing a button when I came in that said live like a poet, which our poet members really love because it means to live on the red line. It is really important to have a support for literature. We do have quite a strong support still for that in the UK I would suggest.

Siobhan O'Connor:
In terms of prizes, the Giller Award would be the largest fiction prize in Canada. It’s $100,000 for the winner, and $10,000 for each of the shortlisted authors. It’s driven huge increases in book sales, and BookNet Canada, which tracks book sales in Canada, found that being shortlisted resulted in a 426 percent increase, and the winning title experienced an additional 359 percent increase in their sales. And because those awards happen in November, their sales go right through the Christmas season, holiday season, which is the height of selling. The other one I was going to talk about is Canada Reads, which is a radio show produced by our national broadcaster, which has 5 books each championed by a personality, and each week one book is voted off. I know it’s a little uncomfortable, but it does result in good book sales. The average increase in book sales just for being on the shortlist is 355 percent, and the winning title gets an additional boost of more than 400 percent. Those titles, to your point about discoverability, their sales are great, but I think there is some tension in the community about the cost to other titles that don’t get those moments in the fall, especially when there are so many books coming out. So, they certainly do play an exciting role in discoverability and pay for some people, as well as royalties, but then there is that question of what books go unnoticed as a result.

Richard Nash:
My main interest is trying to figure out something akin to growing the pie. So, the prizes are magnificent. I mean obviously, depending on the size of the country, 10 to 1,000 people a year can go from penury to being in very good shape. But effectively, it’s a lottery. I mean if you’re looking at an economic aggregate level, these are lotteries. They aren’t a business plan for an individual writer. They’re an exemption. They’re like a business plan waiver for you. You don’t have to worry about it anymore, or at least a year or two or three. They’re magnificent in that regard, and they’re magnificent because they connect to the value of the book, that particular title for the writer in their society, in their culture, which is just magnificent. I have friends whose lives have been transformed by them. It is deeply moving to watch an individual’s life be transformed in that way. When I think about this though, I think more about the 99.99 percent of writers who are never going to win a prize. It’s more that you’re trying to figure out what is my equivalent of a grant. What can I do in my life to change my economic circumstances? How can I use my expertise and skills to do that?

Nicola Solomon:
I just want to say that the prizes are a bit rigged as a lottery because one of our concerns about publishers is that publishers support only a few books each year. It’s something we find very confusing. And it’s publishers who put books in for prizes, and very often they just choose the same books that they’re going to keep pushing each year. So, they themselves have decided what books are going to be discoverable and what books, although they’ve bought them, they’re going to abandon and not even put in for prizes. It’s very odd, and it’s what I mean by a rigged lottery. It can be that the people who win the prizes are the people whose books are doing very well anyways, because they are being pushed by the publisher.

Mary Rasenberger:
Thanks. I want to move on now to what government can do to support writers. As I just mentioned, really, our only national government support is through the NEA grants to writers. There was a risk of getting them taken away a number of years ago, and the Authors Guild fought that vigorously. The individual grants for other arts were lost, but we did manage to preserve the writer grants, which is fabulous. The last three years the budget for the NEA, the executive branch has threatened to cut it. We lobbied heavily and fortunately it has been saved, but it is still such a paltry amount of money. So, I’d like to hear from Nicola and Siobhan about how their governments, in other ways besides grants, can help support the literary community.

Nicola Solomon:
Well, I must admit before I came here, I thought our government was pretty mean in support for writers but having spoken to Siobhan and Mary, I realize that actually we are not doing too badly. Because, the Arts Council gives about 1.3 billion, which is government money, a year to all the arts. Literature gets a small amount of that, but it does get about 46 million pounds a year and for a much smaller country of about 60 million people for just literature alone. That would be grants for individual writers, but also grants for writing development agencies, ways to help people get their skills up. Then we have public lending right, which Siobhan mentioned as well, which is money given to writers for borrowing their books from public libraries, and that’s 6 million pounds a year, which is also incredibly important to authors, particularly because it often rewards backlist and midlist authors whose books people often don’t buy but borrow from libraries. For example, romance or science fiction authors. And then, we have money for, which I think I spoke about before, secondary licensing for photocopying, and that gives about 50 million pounds a year to writers as well. All of these amounts are extra ways on top of royalties, and they are very significant amounts for many writers, even more than their royalty income.

The other thing I would just like to mention, and again quite radically in our country, and perhaps I can give a quote here. Anna Burns just won the Booker Prize for her book, Milkman, which is a 50,000 pound prize, and I just want to read from the acknowledgements in her book. She gives thanks to her friends, publisher and editor, and then she says, “I’d like to thank Lewes District Churches Homelink. I’d like to thank the Housing Council Tax Benefit System, the Department of Work and Pension System.” What you see is actually, although it’s increasingly difficult, if you’re a very low paying author, you can still get support from our benefits system. And, of course, our national health system is free as well. For people who are not paying back huge college loans, it is possible still, although it’s not very nice, to live on quite a low income in the UK, to get support from the government to be doing it and to be able to have healthcare if you get ill. I think that is a tremendous difference.

I was also asked by Mary to just say something because it is true that the UK is really mean compared to Europe, which actually treats authors as employees. They get pensions. They get sick pay. They’re given extra money by the state from the cultural capital that they’re putting in. So, that’s it. I thought we were doing really badly until I spoke to you two, and now I feel a bit better.

Siobhan O'Connor:
Well, I was feeling that way until you talked about Europe.

Canada has a national arts council, and it recently had its budget doubled. They were giving out a $150 million to arts, artists and arts organizations, and they’re now giving out $300 million. So, for a country of our size, we’d always like more. We have many provincial arts councils, which also fund that. There are municipal arts councils as well. Thank you for reminding me about health care, because we often take universal health care for granted and we shouldn’t. One of the other things that we are advocating for too is tax provisions in the province of Quebec. They have a copyright income deduction for anyone whose copyright income is under $60,000, and that can be really helpful. We’ve also had, although we don’t at the moment, is income averaging, which can certainly be helpful with the cyclical nature of our writers’ incomes. We’re continuing to advocate for that as well.

Mary Rasenberger:
In the US, we used to have income averaging, but that was taken away. I don’t know, 10 or 20 years ago. Something like that. And we don’t have special deductions for writers. In Ireland, I think writing income is not taxable up to about 50,000 pounds? Is that right?

Siobhan O'Connor:
I think they also have some basic income program in Ireland for artists. There are not a lot of artists out there to get it, but there are 60 or 80 something a year. And they also, I can’t remember if it’s Norway or Sweden, have programs which guarantee the purchase of books, and then they go in every school and every library. There are really a lot of fabulous programs out there.

Mary Rasenberger:
So, if you have a culture that supports books, then there are a lot of possibilities. When Richard and I spoke over the phone, Richard mentioned local government support here in the US, and I was going to ask him to say a few words about that.

Richard Nash:
I think philosophically it would be most powerful, when engaging in advocacy, to conceive of it in terms of retraining as opposed to subsidy. I mean this in the United States, because so many professions are going through all these same issues at the same time. It tends to be hard politically in the United States to advocate on sort of a special snowflake basis. You see it in the numbers in the United States. To say that we should be subsidized because we’ve been important for as long as we’ve been in existence just simply doesn’t work. However, it is the case objectively that on a scale of our entire economy, in terms of where the economy is going, away from manufacturing towards services, that a case can be made for retraining. The number of jobs available to work in product in software companies, to work writing speeches for CEOs, dwarfs what the NEA will ever offer. To retrain authors for those purposes would be compelling. It’s the other version of the Nordic model.

Generally speaking, I say subsidy style stuff doesn’t work, and in general, in heterogenous societies, it never works. Generally speaking, the more homogenous the society, the more likely it is that they’re going to provide support for the arts, because the people who are getting the support look like the taxpayer. The more the taxpayer doesn’t look like the people who might be getting the money, the less likely it is the society will subsidize them. And so, I think realistically in the United States, where it’s going to be hard for us to get that, it’ll be much likelier for us to get that retraining, and that is much likelier to happen on a state municipal county level than it is on a federal level.

Part of what Mary and I have been talking about is a magnificent study that was produced by the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland Foundation, Cleveland Arts and several other arts organizations in Cleveland, that was looking at eclectic ranges of ways in which people made money, ranging from slam poetry to corporate content strategy editing to library level grants produced at the county level. There you have a much richer and more complex environment where it’s much easier to have conversations about all the ways in which different types of education, retraining and engagement, build a richer community rather than try to do that in the abstract level in Washington D.C., where they can’t see that, and they can’t argue that.

Mary Rasenberger:
Okay, thanks. I want to ask one last question and then let’s go to Q&A. I’m going to try to roll two questions in to one. One has to think about what other business models there are for writers besides the traditional publishing or self-publishing as it is today, where authors spend something like 50 percent of their time on the business side of writing. Are there alternatives that might be more fruitful for authors, or at least for some authors? What do we think about self-publishing? Hybrid publishing? As ways to do that. And/or if you'd like to talk about other things that authors can do to supplement their income. Like how useful is it to—we talked a little bit about speaking. How can you get speaker’s fees? How can you make real money from your books other than book sales?

Nicola Solomon:
I thought what you said about retraining was fascinating. The thing that we have to remember is that writers are different people. I don’t mean that writers are snowflakes. The range of writers is huge, and it’s very hard to make one decision for all. The other ways my members make money is always fascinating to me, and I think that authors on the whole are really quite inventive by what they can do. Retraining is really important and also connecting with audiences. And actually, that’s where our arts council is putting our writing development money over the next few years, and we’re talking to them about that. How they can develop audiences? How writers can connect directly and with different ranges of audiences? How they can use other areas?

The other thing we have to remember though this is not just snowflakes for the UK. We produce more books per capita than anyone else in the world, and that’s because over a third of our books are exports. This is a huge exporting industry for the UK, and there is a huge economic argument for supporting writers. I venture to mention Harry Potter, My Fair Lady. All of these are books which are written by Society of Authors members, and they are huge cultural exports. It’s not just about supporting people because it’s good for the world. It’s about supporting people because it brings huge amounts of money in. And, I think that is one of the reasons it gets supported. There are a lot of things that writers can do, and I really agree with you—retraining, grants and various things—to make them more businesslike. Very important.

Another thing that is very important is public opinion. One of the reasons that writers are now paid better for festivals is because we did a huge campaign to get writers paid for festivals, and why was it supported? Because the public didn’t know that what they were paying their ticket money for wasn’t going to the writers. Once we made that clear to the public, there was really quite an outcry, and it actually changed things. And although authors are not paid enough, they’re at least getting paid now. It’s also about making people realize how the economics work, so that they know what it is they’re paying for and make buying choices. The same way you might make fair trade and ecological buying choices for food, we’re trying to educate people to make fair trade buying choices for books.

Siobhan O'Connor:
Agree with that, Nicola, about the inventiveness of writers. Creative writing programs have certainly become an important source of income for a lot of writers. Teaching in those programs. The question about whether or not there is a whole new way to look at the ecosystem—we're actually looking at funding right now to set up a national writers lab, which would give us an opportunity to bring all of our minds and the minds of writers and publishers together to sort of say is there a different way of looking at this using the technology that’s now available. People are doing things like... serialization has come back. That’s where we started with Dickens was a weekly... at the same time when everyone can binge on Netflix, I’m not sure serialization will work. But those are all the kinds of questions that we want to throw up in the air and see if there’s a different way that things can land. Somebody was talking about today that self-publishing authors were happier? Was that from somebody’s study?

Nicola Solomon:
Yeah, some research was done in the UK. We have a lot of self-publishing and hybrid members, and the research basically shows that self-publishing authors earn less but they’re happier because they have the control and creative freedom. And that’s really important as well, so that’s what was very interesting.

Richard Nash:
You know it’s funny, because one of the things I did, because publishing when you’re a publisher you face the same issues that authors do downstream, was become an executive coach, which was my own version of retraining. I just did it myself. What I think was one of the most important things—I suppose you could say retraining, but also reframing. So instead of framing oneself as a creator of books, you think well what are my books about? One writer I know makes most of her money from doing talks about murder, mystery and mayhem on cruises. Another writer I know... actually, not even a writer, it was a bookstore. Village Voice bookstore, the lesser of the two English language bookstores in Paris. I remember meeting them once a upon a time and said what’s working for you, and they said Dan Brown. And I said were you selling a lot of copies of the Dan Brown books in English language edition? And they said no. The tours. I once had a friend who was reading a book by a French crime novelist, Jean-Claude Izzo, called Total Chaos at a Mediterranean bar. He was reading the book, and he wanted to listen to Mingus because the character was listening to Mingus. So, he started downloading a bunch of Mingus, and he bought a bottle of Lavignone, because the character drank Lavignone. Then he changed the European trip to go to Marseille instead of Paris because he wanted to hang out in Marseille, and he had just spent $900 because of a $15 book. Books themselves may be pretty crappy ways to capture the value that is created by narrative, and one of things that I think would be most powerful for writers to do would be to imagine all the ways in which people do not want the story to end. Look at how much money kids pay dressing up in manga outfits and traveling to Comic Con. Look at people who throw Gatsby dinner parties. There’s a website where you can download not just a menu but the font to be able to throw your own Gatsby dinner party. So, the ability to take what your book is about and what your book engages with—and again as Nicola said there is no one path. There is no one answer. Retraining is certainly not something that 10,000 writers should be told to write pharmaceutical copy. It would need to be structured in terms of what is it that is unique to that writer and what are some of the other ways they can engage with the world and create value in the world, especially stuff that is experiential. That is not subject to being copied, but something that is unique and experiential.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Building on that, the skillset required to be a published author today is different. From the study, we’re seeing at least a full day a week is being spent at least on marketing, whether it’s marketing experiential trips or your own book, or whatever it is. I think many MFA programs are still suggesting that if you’re just good at writing, that’s enough. But it’s not. You have to be able to do all the other things that bring you in to awareness with an audience and constantly trying to find new people to get in to your world, whether it’s through your books or other avenues. We need to proactively redefine what being an author means today. It’s not what it meant 10 years ago.

Mary Rasenberger:
Well, that’s a good note to end on. I’ll just put in a pitch for our marketing series. We’re going to be launching right at the start of the new year, and it’s an eight-part course in everything you need to know about marketing your book and creating your narrative around your book and your story. I’m going to take 5 minutes for questions from the audience here. I understand that we cannot take questions online. Is that correct? Yeah, it’s just too many, but I would encourage you to continue the conversation in the new online communities if you're a member of the Authors Guild. If you’re a member and you’re not on the communities yet, please join. They’ve been so much fun and so interesting and engaging. It’s just amazing the conversations going on there. Does anybody here in person have a question for the panelists?

Audience member #1:
Yeah, I’m just amazed—why do you think the publishers are not going after that 90 million people that you—it'd be in their best interest clearly. I was blown away by that.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
That’s a good question. It’s very perplexing. The question is why don’t the publishers go after the 90 million infrequent book buyers. We’ve had many high-level discussions with people in the industry saying this is what happens when they come to play 30 million units of 50 Shades of Grey or I don’t know many millions of dollars of Duck Dynasty books. It’s a different kind of publishing. Sensibilities are different. It may be more brand oriented. But if you don’t seek it out, you’re not going to get it very consistently. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. It’s a different kind of reader. Not everybody has the same prose reading fluency. That little group of 1 in 5 have. You have to do what James Patterson does in his work with different levels of prose density or different levels of reading ability. So, that may be a part of it. It’s frustrating.

Audience member #2:
It’s very interesting that you say that because you’re touching on the question that I had, which is since we’re talking about a business situation here, why have we not spoken about the market demand for writing and for books? It seems to be sliding. We could encourage it. For example, in France just this past summer, a new law was passed that kids up until 9th grade are not allowed to use their devices in school, and that is to encourage them to talk to each other and to read books. I several little kids in France who are absolutely just stuck on their books. So I’m wondering if there’s something that we could do to encourage market demand?

Mary Rasenberger:
I’ll try to repeat the question. There seems to be a decline in reading, or at least competition with other media, and an example is in France where they have disallowed students up until 9th grade from having their cellular devices with them during the school day, and that in part is to encourage talking to each other and maybe doing things like reading. Anybody want to talk about that?

Peter Hildick-Smith:
I mean I’ll talk about some interesting sort of technological innovations that are being tested right now. I know the New York Public Library recently released a classic novel in Instagram format. So if you do have your nose in your phone all day long, here’s a way to access that you might not have before. One of the Big Five, I think Harper Collins, recently did a Snapchat novel, and there’s a very interesting start-up called Serial Box, which is presenting serial reads on a weekly basis, sort of modeled on television programming. Again, not saying it’s a book, but making it much more sort of current and fluid. More story driven than format driven. So I think there are some attempts to find new ways to expand the market using technology, which I’m very excited about. But I come back to my early point, and I think early education is a huge issue to solve this problem as well.

Nicola Solomon:
I really get that, but if I can say something else as well. If people do invest in it, it really can work. And I think none of us can overlook the rise of audio, which in the UK is rising about 27 percent year on year. I think the same in the US. That’s been tremendously powerful, and of course helps people who find it less easy to read and brings in a new audience. That is just one small area where things can be done. There are a huge range of things that we should be doing, and I do sometimes find it disappointing that publishers are perhaps not looking for as many new ways as they could do to be engaging new audiences. It’s the new, smaller publishers that have been coming up with some new exciting things. And as I said, it’s an area where I know our government is about to start trying to concentrate partly because, unlike what you seem to think we are, we have a smaller number of readers than the US I’m sorry to say.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Really?

Nicola Solomon:
I’m afraid so.

Mary Rasenberger:
That’s surprising.

Nicola Solomon:
Apparently 1 in 3 British children doesn’t own a book, doesn’t have a book in their house.

Peter Hildick-Smith:
But are they reading books from the library or other sources?

Nicola Solomon:
A lot of our libraries are closing down. It’s very depressing.

Mary Rasenberger:
We’re going to take one last question.

Audience member #3:
I actually have a two-part thing. I recently tried to give a chunk of my library to Hunter College, to the library there, and I was told that the current president—I've talked to the library people several times--is deaccessioning half of the books in order to make electronic units available on those floors. The students are coming to the librarians saying that they want physical books and don’t want to read everything electronically. And I think there are certain assumptions being made that all kids want to read things electronically, and lots of people don’t. It’s not easy to get academic information in that form. And in terms of the audible books, it’s very hard for authors to get that piece of a contract because the publishers now really want to retain the audible rights. I know because I just went through this. So that’s something that may be great for the publishers but not so good for authors, and it is a growing market.

Mary Rasenberger:
It’s the trend for libraries, including academic libraries—certainly law libraries it’s already happened—to deaccession hard copies of books and digitize everything or acquire ebooks and provide electronic access to their patrons.

Audience member #3:
But a law book is extremely expensive. A medical book is extremely expensive—

Mary Rasenberger:
Yeah, no, I get it. This is a growing phenomenon, and I will say that we do spend a lot of our time talking to libraries and non-for-profit organizations about the fact that they want to provide more and more electronic access because they say that patrons aren’t coming to the library, and what was just pointed out is actually many students are clamoring for hard copies of books. Maybe one other panelist here has some data for that? The second question was about audio books and what can be done there because publishers are now asking for audio rights. And that is something that we at the Authors Guild follow closely because there are audio book publishers who will pay a separate advance, and they’ll pay decently for audio rights. We strongly advocate for authors to retain those rights and fight for them, and we have been arguing with publishers about this. If they want the audio, then they should pay an additional advance for it. By just taking them as part of the overall rights acquisition, you, the authors, are actually losing out. Does anybody want to respond to either of those?

Peter Hildick-Smith:
Yes, on the first question about deaccessioning at Hunter College library, there is a lot of data that suggests you do not assimilate information as readily in a digital interface. And certainly, probably 8 years ago, Amazon had a big test at Princeton University where they gave a bunch of students large format Kindles, and it was not very successful. Before, 7 or 8 years ago, there were a lot of large format display start-ups to try and crack in to the academic market. They all failed. It doesn’t work in terms of learning and certainly not student preference. I would say he’s about 8 years out of date. As far as the audio piece, not to plug Audible, but Audible does have an audio self-publishing platform called ACX. And the people who have used the ACX platform in the Authors Guild study were doing quite well in terms of median income.

Audience member #3:
By that you mean, you can—

Peter Hildick-Smith:
You can self-publish audio books directly through Audible. It’s called ACX.

Mary Rasenberger:

Okay, well I think with that we should probably close and continue to talk outside the auditorium.