I’m sharing this excellent feature because of the many valid points Philip Gwyn Jones makes not just about writers being manipulated into self censorship, but how difficult it is for authors to earn a living -v- the PROFITS being made by many of the big-name publishers who have been bleating for years about how badly off they are.
In the feature, for the Spectator, The Civil War For Books, Where is the Money Going? Philip Gwyn Jones talks first about ‘the universe of self-censorship’ and the damage this is doing to the world of writers and readers. I’ve seen this in children’s publishing, where patronising and sanctimonious gatekeepers bring their prejudices and narrow minds to book selections. In adult publishing it’s just as insidious and, yes, inevitably writers of all genres will end up censoring themselves and there will be fewer remarkable novels and more mediocre ones.
Philip Gwyn Jones also mentions that according to the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), “less than 12 per cent of British writers were able to earn a living wage from writing alone, down from 40 per cent of those surveyed in 2005” [my italics]. This means 88 per cent of traditionally published writers cannot earn a living from their writing alone.
By that reckoning, I think we can safely say that the majority of authors who have traditional publishing deals are in danger of becoming the new vanity publishers. They’re not writing because they’re earning a living by it, they’re doing it because being published by a mainstream publisher is more important to them than being paid properly for their work. They may not hand any money over to these large publishing companies, but they are subsidising them and the greedy executives who run them.
Where an editor will be paid around £25,000 to £30,000 pa, executives’ salaries tend to have a few more noughts at the end. For example, Publishers Weekly published figures showing Penguin Group chairman John Makinson taking home just over $2 million dollars in 2010 — and that was five years ago. Around the time they were all shaking their heads and muttering, “Oh dear, we just can’t afford to pay our writers any more…”
That level of remuneration at the top of the pay scale in publishing wasn’t a secret, so it won’t be a surprise to many people. Nor is it unusual. What is completely disheartening is that it tends to confirm that, as with so many areas in life, the richest people are often the greediest. They often have a sickening sense of entitlement, too — they’re entitled to your time, your hard work, your sacrifices. But when big publishing companies talk about sacrifices, they sure don’t mean their executives, their fat salaries or their bonuses. It’s always the creatives who are expected to do the sacrificing.
And what are agents doing about this iniquitous situation?
Fast forward to 2014, let’s have a look at some of the profit figures for other large publishing houses. Philip Gwyn Jones mentions a few: Lagardere (parent of Hatchette), net profits of €197 million for 2014. That’s NET profit. Penguin Random House? €363 million net profit. HarperCollins had revenues of $1.43billion in 2014, with profits of $198 million.
Type in the name of the publisher of your choice onto a search engine and add “profits for 2014”. Then sit back and think about their figures.
I don’t think I’m alone in finding them obscene. Not because publishers shouldn’t be making profit. On the contrary — profit is good! I’m delighted they’re making a profit. What is disgusting is that they don’t share that with their authors, who are genuinely struggling. Most have to take another job so they can earn a living (those with a private income and/or rich spouse notwithstanding). The Bookseller feature Huge Inequality in Writer Earnings states that “Nearly 90 per cent of writers need to earn money from sources other than writing.”
I’m not talking about small or medium-sized publishers. I’m talking about the ones that are doing better than okay but pretending they’re not so they can keep more for themselves — the big names. These large publishers have been bleating for years about what a hard time they’re having maintaining profits and they have cut writers’ incomes to the bone because of it — advances halved, marketing budgets slashed (if they exist at all), royalties squeezed, editors made redundant…
Those figures tell me that something is very rotten in the state of traditional publishing today. They explain why more and more of us are opting for professional independent publishing. So many of the big traditional publishers have their heads so far up their own backsides they haven’t seen daylight in decades. No, I’m not censoring that one out. They’ve been taking the piss out of authors for years. They are greedy, self-serving parasites who have been dining out on authors and winging about their profits for years. They’ve been wringing their hands and making sad eyes for years — “Oh, we’d LOVE to give you more money/more marketing/ bigger royalties, but as you know, times are so tough for everyone, we just can’t afford it… he he.”
Y’know what I think? I think someone should grab them by the collective scruff of the neck, make a fist and … … … WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THE REMAINDER OF THIS BLOG HAS BEEN CENSORED… 🙂
Kay Leitch is the author of Treasure This