January 20, 2016

Earnings gap widens for authors in the UK



British children’s author David Walliams earned £11 million last year. Image via The Sun.

While rising income inequality in western nations is becoming a major topic of discussion, there hasn’t been much talk about it in the publishing industry yet.

Now, The Bookseller’s Sarah Shaffi reports that the UK has seen a steady increase in the income gap for writers.

Drawing on the findings of a report commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), Shaffi describes a climate of “huge inequality,” where writing is an increasingly lucrative business for an increasingly small number of people. The ALCS research found that “the top 10% of professional authors—defined as those who dedicate more than 50% of their time to self-employed writing—earn 58% of all the money earned by professional authors,” with the top 5% earning 42.3% of that money.

Furthermore, The Guardian’s Richard Lea explains that the data shows a widening disparity, as the “the £199m netted by the top 50 authors represents a 21% increase [from] 2014, compared to a 6.6% rise for the UK print market as a whole.”

And who are the writers dominating the print market? Children’s book authors, of course. According to Lea, last year, Julia Donaldson, author of storybook The Gruffalo, topped the earnings list at £14 million. The British comedian and children’s author David Walliams came in second at £11 million. And JK Rowling was third, earning £8 million—this despite recent reports of struggles at Harry Potter Digital.

No one’s ever gone into the book business to make money, but the trend still warrants concern. As the Society of Authors’ chief, Nicola Solomon, told Lea, “Falling author incomes, and the narrowing of what money there is towards top ‘brand name’ authors, is not healthy for the publishing industry, nor for society as a whole.”

“It’s the great moral issue of our time,” Soloman continued.

Just kidding. She didn’t go that far. Still, the latest numbers in the UK are far from heartening.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.