Amazon has called the conclusions of a recent report into US author earnings flawed, after the Authors Guild suggested that the retail giant’s dominance could be partly responsible for the “a crisis of epic proportions” affecting writers in the US.
The report from the writers’ body, published last week, highlighted the statistic that median income from writing-related work fell to $6,080 (£4,730) in 2017, down 42% from 2009, with literary authors particularly affected. Raising “serious concerns about the future of American literature”, the writers’ body singled out the growing dominance of Amazon for particular blame. “Amazon (which now controls 72% of the online book market in the US) puts pressure on [publishers] to keep costs down and takes a large percentage, plus marketing fees, forcing publishers to pass on their losses to authors,” said the report.
But on Wednesday, Amazon took issue with the report’s conclusions. “The Authors Guild has acknowledged that there are significant differences between the data it compared in its recent survey and years prior, noting that ‘the data does not line up’,” said an Amazon statement. “As a result, many of the survey’s conclusions are flawed or contradictory. For instance, the survey also shows that earnings increased almost 17% for traditionally published authors and 89% for independent [self-published] authors, and that full-time authors saw their median income rise 13% since 2013.”
The Authors Guild report did find that “authors first published prior to 2014 increased author-related income no matter which publishing strategy they used”. Traditionally published writers’ income rose by 17% from 2013 to 2017, to $10,150, while self-published writers’ income increased by 89% over the same period, to $3,400. Full-time authors did also see their median royalty income rise 13%, to $12,400, since 2013.
However, the report also found that the combined median royalty income for all published authors, including those who wrote part-time, was down 11% in 2017, compared with 2013. It pointed out that while self-published authors overall were earning more, they still earned 58% less than traditionally published writers in 2017.
Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger defended the survey, saying that the 17% rise in traditionally published writers’ income cited by Amazon did not include the full pool of authors surveyed, but only those who had published and earned money in both 2013 and 2017. “As we have explained to Amazon and state on our website, if you include all surveyed authors – including those who first published since 2013 – the number is lower: median annual earnings from all writing-related sources of $6,080 versus $8,170,” she said. “As the Authors Guild states on its website, the recent survey does not align perfectly with the data from our prior surveys because we surveyed a much broader pool in 2018, which we felt was important to get a full picture of the author landscape today. That does not make the conclusions ‘flawed or contradictory’ … we believe that the data does indicate a general income decline for published authors as whole, as well as Guild members.”
While Amazon highlighted the fact that the average total income of US authors with earnings is currently $43,247, the Authors Guild said this figure was skewed by the multimillion-selling authors who responded to the survey, and that the median was the more accurate measure of income, as such high earners were “far and few between”.
“The biggest takeaways from the survey are that respondents who identified themselves as full-time book authors still only earned a median income of $20,300, well below the federal poverty line for a family of three or more. That baseline fact should cause some concern,” said Rasenberger. “Also, earnings for all authors from their books alone declined 21% to $3,100 in 2017 from $3,900 in 2013.”
Rasenberger said it was a good sign that self-publishing income had increased, and that overall writing-related earnings had stayed similar to 2013, rising for respondents who had been publishing for more than five years. “This suggests that authors who are still in the business are getting better at finding ways to bring in supplemental income related to their writing.”
Source: The Guardian