Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Macquarie University author survey finds authors earn on average $12,900

Macquarie University has revealed key findings from a February 2015 survey of more than 1000 Australian authors of trade and educational titles.

The report is part of the university’s three-year research project examining the impact of the changing publishing industry on authors, publishers and readers, which began in February 2014 and is led by David Throsby.

The report finds that genre fiction authors have been the biggest beneficiary of changes in the publishing industry, with one quarter reporting an improvement in their financial position over the past five years and 13% earning more than $101,000 in 2013-14. The report suggests genre fiction authors are the most likely to have benefitted from the growth of book sales at discount department stores (DDS) over traditional bricks-and-mortar stores, while literary fiction authors, the largest group to have experienced a drop in income over the past five years, may have been adversely affected by this trend.

Forty-three percent of all authors earn the 2013-14 average annual income of $61,485 or above from all income sources, including those unrelated to writing, although just under two-thirds of trade authors earn less than this amount. The average income for authors is $62,000, and the average income derived from practising as an author is $12,900.

The highest average income from ‘author activities’ for authors earning in the top 25% came from education authors ($16,500), followed by children’s authors ($14,000) and genre fiction authors ($11,100). The lowest came from poets ($4900). Among the authors earning in the bottom 25%, incomes ranged from $100 to $900. Twenty percent of authors work full-time on their writing but less than 5% earn the average annual income from their writing alone.

Nearly half of all authors supplement their work with a job unrelated to their writing, and 37.3% are supported by their partner’s income. Asked about the changes to their income over the past five years, 40% of authors said there is no change, 15% said they are better off and 15% said they are worse off. Literary fiction authors were the largest group to experience a deterioration in earnings (30%), followed by children’s authors (19.2%).

‘While some children’s authors may have benefited from the strengthened retail presence of discount department stores such as Big W and Target in the Australian market, others may have been disadvantaged by the closure of traditional bookstores,’ said the report.

One quarter of authors are not working with a publisher, 42% are working with one publisher and one third are working with more than one publisher, according to the survey. Nearly 20% of authors are very satisfied with their primary publisher and another 35% are satisfied. Among the most satisfied are education authors (61%), genre fiction authors (59%) and scholarly authors (58%). Thirty percent of authors are ‘neither satisfied nor dissatisfied’ and 15% of authors are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their publisher.

The research on demographics found authors in Australia are predominantly female, with women making up two thirds of all authors. Female authors outnumber male authors in most genres, particularly children’s books, with education and scholarly books the closest to a gender balance. More than 80% of authors have attended university and almost half have completed a postgraduate degree, although attaining higher levels of education does not correspond to higher levels of income. Almost all (97%) of authors speak English as a first language.

The research also found professional authors are relatively old compared to Australia’s population, with 50% aged 40-59 years and almost 40% older than this. ‘The older age of authors may point to a possible misalignment between general media interest in new, emerging writers who tend to be younger and the reality that the majority of professional book authors are likely to be older, especially if they have successfully authored and published a number of books,’ said the report.

Industry changes
Almost 70% of all authors reported a change in the way their work is published or distributed, reflecting the uptake of ebooks, among other technological changes. Nearly half of all authors (44.5%) have sold overseas rights to their work during their career, although the report notes this doesn’t represent the international reach of Australian-authored books, as it doesn’t cover individual sales of titles overseas and those who self-publish. Nearly one third of authors have had their work translated. More than a quarter have had their work pirated, with genre fiction authors the most likely (44.7%).

More than 50% of authors spend more time promoting their work than they did five years ago. Almost half of the authors surveyed believe they have the greater responsibility for promoting their work, while a quarter nominated their publishers and 14% nominated their readers. Two thirds of all authors said serious reviews of their work are important for sales, including 86.5% of literary fiction authors, 75.8% of scholarly authors and 70.2% of poets. Winning a ‘well-regarded prize’ is regarded as most important for poets (60.7%), followed by literary fiction authors (55.1%) and children’s book authors (49.5%).

For more information on the research project and the findings, click here.



Category: Local news