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Book Sales Rise as Author Incomes Fall

By Charlotte Walker on 20th July 2018

Some great news has been announced for the publishing industry. 2017 has been a record-breaking year for publishers as sales from books exceed £5.7bn. This amazing announcement shows that book sales has increased by 5% in comparison to the year before according to the Publishers Association. 

However, in opposition to the flourishing of the publishing industry, a survey of authors’ earnings has seen a drastic 42% drop over the course of the last ten years. The recent survey revealed that the median annual income now sits below £10,500.

The record-breaking year in the book industry has been a result of a 31% rise in the revenue from hardback sales and a 25% increase in income from audiobooks. There has also been an increase in exports of 8%. The increase in income has taken place in both fiction and non-fiction categories, there the industry has seen an increase of 3% and 4% respectively. 

It is great to see the publishing industry catering to a range of different tastes - consumers looking to read a traditional hardback book, buying a collectible edition of their favourite title, or stocking up on audiobooks to listen to on the morning commute. It is great to see that people’s love of reading and books - in whatever form - remains strong.

The figures that have been announced by the Publishers Association did not include any reference to the publisher’s profits. However, as the annual profits of the two biggest publishers in the UK are announced the increase in book sales has not lead to an increase in the publishers’ profits. A failure to match profits with turnover is being attributed to retailers who can dictate their prices across the sector. In contrast, authors are seeing their income slowly declining with reductions in pay and investment. Life is particularly hard for authors who are still working on creating their breakout bestseller. 

Today, the low author income is leading to most authors having to hold two or three different roles - writer, teacher, journalism and a range of odd jobs - to supplement their income. The physical and emotional toil of holding several different job roles while finding the time for family and rest makes that bestselling novel even more elusive. There are concerns that the shrinking income will lead to a reduction in the number of authors as they struggle to make a living out of writing.

The Royal Literary Fund is a charity that works to support writers who are in financial difficulty. It has been noticed by the charity that there has been an increase in the number of applications for the hardship grant, and this rise is coming from younger writers. This increase seems to show that publishers are hesitant to take a risk and support an author for more than one or two books at a time. However, publishers are seen to get behind celebrities or social media stars and their products (some of which don’t always sell), with lavish marketing campaigns that could be used to support more debut authors.  

However, popular Grime artist Stormzy has recently announced that he is collaborating with Penguin to open #Merky Books – a publishing imprint that will support young writers and help them to break into the publishing world.