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The Guardian view on declining authors’ pay: an unequal burden | Editorial

A steep slump in average earnings not only affects individuals, but impoverishes literature by dictating which stories get told

News that the average earnings of self-employed writers have slumped to £7,000 in the UK might seem par for the course in the context of a pandemic followed by a cost of living crisis. However, the 38% drop in median earnings since 2018 continues a 16-year downward trend, with the number of authors who earn all their income from writing more than halving since 2006, from 40% to 19%. This phenomenon is not unique to the UK, with similar trends reported in Australia, Canada, the EU and the US, according to the authors of a new report.

The survey, commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), is not going to set alarm bells ringing like the low pay of nurses or ambulance drivers. These are people in a network of industries, across publishing and the media, that have always rewarded the successful few at the expense of the aspiring many. The full significance of the drop becomes clear when you burrow down into where the authors live and how they manage to survive on such low earnings. Nearly half are based in London and the south of England, and many rely on financial support from partners or family (where they do so, their household earnings average £50,000). One in five primarily support themselves through academic work.

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