Words Worth Less Than Ever, According to New ALCS Research

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New ALCS research finds working writers earnings continue to decline sharply, and exposes growing gender gap.


The earnings of writers in the UK continue to fall, new research commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) reveals. The median earnings of professional writers – that is those who dedicate over half their working hours to writing – has fallen by 42% in real terms since 2005 and by 15% since 2013.

The ALCS research, Authors’ Earnings 2018: A survey of UK writers, found that the median annual income of a professional writer now stands at under £10,500. In 2017 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard (MIS), the income level considered to be a socially acceptable standard of living for a single person, was £17,900.

Earnings well below minimum wage

The current minimum wage in the UK for those over 25 is £7.83. Based on a standard 35 hour week, the median hourly earnings of a professional writer are just £5.73.

At £3,000 a year, the typical median earnings of “all writers” – which includes occasional and part-time writers in addition to professional writers as defined above – are also declining steeply, falling in real terms by 49% since 2005 and 33% since 2013.

Steep decline in full-time writers since 2005

In 2005, 40% of professional writers earned their income solely from writing. In 2017, that figure had fallen to 13.7%. This reflects the fact that due to their declining earnings, the majority of professional writers now need to have “portfolio” careers, supplementing their writing income with other activities such as teaching. Whilst the incomes of all writers continue to fall, the creative industries in the UK – now valued at £92 billion – are growing at twice the rate of the UK economy as a whole, calling urgently into question the extent to which writers’ significant contribution to those industries is properly valued.

Growing gender gap

Troublingly the latest ALCS research has also revealed a growing gender gap, with the average earnings of female professional authors only around 75% of those of the average male professional writer down from 78% in 2005.

Over 5,500 writers working in a wide range of fields responded to the ALCS survey which was carried out by CREATe; that is more than double the number of respondents who participated in ALCS’s previous research into author earnings in 2013, and a higher number than the combined total of those who participated in 2005 and 2013. More detailed findings from the research will be published later in 2018.

Commenting on the findings of the latest ALCS research Tony Bradman, children’s writer and chair of the ALCS Board, said:

“The results of this third ALCS survey into author earnings confirm what most writers know only too well – that incomes continue to decline, and that it is harder than ever to make a living as a professional writer. Given the enormous contribution that the work of UK writers makes to the success of our world-leading creative industries, the ALCS research calls starkly into question the extent to which we value that work. Without writers, our country and our culture would be poorer in every imaginable way and so we must ensure that we give writers as favourable an environment in which to make a living as possible”.

Editor’s Notes

All types of writer were invited to take part in the latest ALCS research to help paint an accurate picture of how authors really earn their money from writing today. 5,523 writers responded.
“Professional writers” are those who dedicate over half their time to writing.
“All writers” are a wider group where the time they spend writing is not taken into account, so this group may include occasional and part-time writers.
55% of the respondents were men, 44% were women, and 1% preferred not to state their gender.
19% of respondents were aged 44 or under, 48% were aged between 45-64, and 34% were aged 65 or over.
ALCS has commissioned two previous independent surveys into the earnings of writers reported in: What Are Words Worth? in 2007 and What Are Words Worth Now? in 2014.