One of the favorite pastimes of the publishing community is sharing author income survey reports, and wringing hands over the results. The reports are usually bullshit for various reasons (more on this in a later post), and usually wildly misinterpreted.
Both generalizations are true in the case of The Writers’ Union of Canada annual report on its members’ income.
It’s a story as old as the craft itself: an impoverished author, serving coffee or scrubbing floors while writing what would become a seminal novel.
Except in Canada today, tales of financial hardship extend to writers who are established, have published several books and even those who have won major prizes.
When the Writers’ Union of Canada recently surveyed its members about their incomes, the results were sobering: an average writer made $9,380 a year from his or her writing. That’s 27 per cent less than what writers made three years ago, and a whopping 78 per cent less than they made in 1998.
The problem with this report is the makeup of the survey group.
If you go download the report from the TWUC website, you’ll see that, of the 1,499 respondents, 62% are over the age of sixty (another 20% of the survey group were in their fifties).
The thing about this age distribution is that only about 31% of Canada’s adult population is over the age of 60 (Wikipedia).
What’s even crazier is that 31% of the survey group were over the age of 70, while at the same that age cohort only makes up about 14.4% of Canada’s adult population. This population is over-represented in the survey group even though they are statistically more likely to be dead than working.
This survey is not a representative sample of the population, and should not have been published. Then again, the same can be said for just about all surveys on author income.
The problem with these surveys is that they are conducted by groups living in the past. All of these groups share the assumption that author income is controlled by external forces when in reality author income is market-driven. Writing is a skill and writer and author are both professions.
An author’s income is dependent on how good they are at marketing their work, but do you ever hear one of these reports being framed in those terms?
Nope. Every time one of these reports is published, the group behind it always talk about somehow changing the external forces that supposedly control authors’ incomes. They never talk about this business matter in terms of authors learning to be better business people; oh no, authoring is a noble calling, and it cannot be sullied with crass commerce.
Any group that feels this way has achieved the zenith of irrelevancy, and should be allowed to continue to wither away into nothing.