Monday, September 21, 2015

Do Writers Starve Post Great Recession?

“The starving artist” is not just a phrase from a century ago nor is it to be applied to just painters.  Apparently, those who write aren’t making much money and they are making less than they used to.  According to a preliminary survey released by the Authors Guild, as reported by Publishers Weekly, writers earn below the Federal Poverty Line.

Full-time authors reported a 30% drop in income – to $17,500, and part-time authors saw a 38% decrease – to $4,500.  So what’s the take-away here?

The median income for a writer in 2009 was $10,500 and now it sunk to $8,000 in 2014.  We can conclude this:

·         Too many writers are fighting each other to make a buck.  Competition has led to a lot more books being published but with fewer sales per book.
·         Royalties from publishers or self-published windfalls are not paying as much as they did in the past.
·         Too much free content competes with writers getting paid from book sales.

The study doesn’t say anything about the role of eBook sales but that could be a factor.

Authors see their e-books being sold for a few bucks and then they’re paid a certain percentage, leaving them with little per sale.

Another factor is the publishers’ and authors’ mistaken belief they don’t need to push for sales with traditional media and a paid publicist.  Too many rely on social media to sell books.  All of those FB posts and Tweets can move some books, but it takes more than those free tools to make it rain money.

The Great Recession is over.  Book sales are growing, year over year, and people still buy and read books. There are many ways to generate sales and many outlets to sell books. Authors will need to work harder at getting publicity and sales – and there will need to be a reduction in the number of authors and books released in order for more of them to make more money.  Just as the world is overpopulated and can’t be fed with current resources, the writing world can’t be prosperous for everyone.

So who will stop publishing books?  Who will sacrifice their craft for that of others?  No one.  We will continue to see more people try to score it big with a book until eventually enough who try realize they can’t get the financial reward that they seek. Some will stop trying, but many writers write for reasons other than financial ones.  Still, some need to get paid – and they deserve to be compensated fairly.

What the survey doesn’t show is how a book figures into a writer’s overall earnings.  For instance, a business book writer may make $9,000 in book sales but maybe the bigger story is the book led the writer to find three new consulting clients that yielded a payday of $50,000.  The survey didn’t show how, despite mediocre sales, an author’s book got the attention of the media, and as a result of the subsequent media coverage saw their web traffic shoot up 300%, leading to sales of videotapes, audiotapes, or other products.

Still, regardless of whether writers write for riches or not, and whether they obtain other benefits beyond book sales, writers should be able to earn more than spare change.  Raise book prices and stop giving away free books. The public needs to be trained to value the written word, otherwise words will lose their ability to influence and impact others.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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