The Oxford Literary Festival announced on Tuesday that, once it had finished hosting its next annual festival in April, it will "meet with all interested parties to discuss how to achieve payment of fees for all speakers" in 2017.
This announcement followed last week's news that author Philip Pullman had cut ties with the book fair in protest over authors not getting paid. His resignation lead to a campaign to boycott Oxford and other book fairs that don't pay authors.
The Bookseller reports that the Oxford Literary Festival has released a statement which said that "We have of course been aware of the debate regarding author payments for some time, but given the limitations of the tight budgets we run to (the Festival’s last audited accounts show a loss of £18,000 in 2014) paying each speaker would require an additional 15% in costs or £75,000 for the 500 speakers across our 250 events planned for 2016. However, once April’s Festival is over, we will meet with all interested parties to discuss how to achieve payment of fees for all speakers while safe-guarding the presence of our record-levels of unknown writers for 2017 and beyond".
According to the financial documents that this book fair files with the UK govt, it took in around half a million pounds in the fiscal year ending June 2014 (the most recent annual report). A little under half of the revenue came from donations, with the rest coming from ticket sales.
According to David Gaughran, The Oxford Literary Festival is a huge event. "I’ve never been, but it’s a gigantic affair. You don’t just buy one ticket and get to attend everything. It’s sprawling – 250 separate talks/events, all separately ticketed, each costing $15-$20 a pop," he writes over at The Passive Voice. "A common complaint from attending writers is that there seems to be enough money being spent in various areas to compensate writers, but it’s just the will to do so that is lacking."
How could such a large enterprise pay authors, when it can't even cover its own expenses?
That's a good question, and yet other book fairs manage to do. David added in a later comment "I must have been very lucky because all the events I’ve attended in a professional capacity (most in the UK too) have looked after me very well, covering all expenses and paying a reasonable fee as well. The one event which didn’t pay a fee was an international one in a gorgeous location which covered flights and a very nice hotel instead, and *really* looked after the writers on the ground. No complaints there whatsoever."
Many of those events are set up to make a profit or at least break even, and that raises the point that perhaps the Oxford Literary Festival's problem isn't whether it can pay authors but instead the fact that it is structured as a money pit.
It is a business where half of the revenue comes from donations. That is no more a viable long-term model for a charity running a commercial event like a book fair than it is for tech companies (some of which depend on capital investors to fill the same role).
So this is a good time for the Oxford Literary Festival to get its financial house in order, wouldn't you say?
images via Blackwell's,