Monday, June 01, 2015

Writers' Union reports a "cultural emergency" as authors are working harder to make less

Because of the considerable overlap and complementarity between magazine freelancers and book writers, research on pay and work experience is always of interest. So with this week's release of a study by The Writers Union of Canada about the incomes of Canadian writers Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity. It contains the lamentable news that many writers are working harder to make less than they were in 1998 when TWUC last asked the question(s). 

81% of respondents have writing income that falls below the poverty line. TWUC says it considers this situation a "cultural emergency". 
“This is not a sustainable situation,” said TWUC Chair Harry Thurston. “If we want a strong and diverse publishing and cultural industry in Canada, it’s essential that creators are reasonably rewarded. Everyone — governments, corporations, institutions, and individual consumers — have a part to play in fairly compensating writers for the content they expect, need and enjoy.”
The study shows that respondents earn 27% less (taking inflation into account) from their writing that they were making in 1998 and that the average writer's income is $12,879 , about $36,000 below the national average. 45% of respondents said they were working harder to earn the lower amount. 

Even more dismaying, there is a significant gender gap, with women representing a majority in the industry but earning 55% of what male writers do. 
[click graph to enlarge]
Traditional royalties from publishers continue to make up 46% of writers' revenues and Public Lending Right, government grants and Access Copyright payments combined make up an additional 15%.

TWUC attributes at least some of the decline in income to weaker copyright protection because royalties are part of an income mix and half of the respondents noted that their income from Access Copyright has decreased on average 25% since recent changes to the Copyright Act came in. Many schools of higher education (who should know better) have as a result stopped paying royalties for use, citing a nebulous "education exemption". 

In 2012, TWUC released  A Writer's Bill of Rights for the Digital Age: 2.0., an updated version of a document unveiled in 2011 with changes based on feedback from writers. It was largely concerned with ensuring the fair share of the proceeds of sales from digital books to libraries.

TWUC made a number of proposals to staunch or reverse the trend in its 2015 federal budget submission. These include:

  • a capped federal deduction on income gained through creating copyrighted works
  • income averaging for authors over 3 to 5 years
  • federal subsidy of a health care insurance scheme for artists and writers

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