Authors laid the blame for the decline at the feet of publishers, with the Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon estimating that authors were paid just 3% of publishers’ turnover in 2016, based on their profits.

A reasonable guess is that the farmer receives, for his labour, less than 3% of the price of a loaf of bread. And?

23 thoughts on “Hmm”

  1. The fiction-publishing industry is, in one sense, a way to exploit the urge to write. This urge is compounded of ignoble vanity and a noble desire to communicate, is reinforced by dopamine, and once acquired is very hard to give up. Unfortunately there exist in this world a handful of financially successful writers. These create a general impression that writing novels is a sure way to riches, which of course it is not.

    Speaking as a professional author myself (under another name), I developed a profound loathing for publishers, agents and chain booksellers like the execrable W H Smith. In fact after landing a hugely profitable film deal I gave up altogether for some years. I returned when electronic self-publishing took off and made a lot of money during the goldrush years of 2011-14, since when that too has gone down the shitter.

    My advice to anyone contemplating writing fiction is, preferably, don’t bother, because at least 99% of the population are either illiterate or will not be interested in your opinions. If you really must write fiction, regard it as a harmless hobby, like beekeeping, for its return on your labours will be similarly nugatory.

  2. Being an author is like being a professional musician or sportsman – the top 1% make huge sums and the rest mostly struggle to get by (but are compensated by earning a living doing something they love).

  3. If you really must write fiction, regard it as a harmless hobby, like beekeeping, for its return on your labours will be similarly nugatory.

    This, really. No one who writes fiction should expect great riches or even a living wage from their efforts. A few make it big but most don’t. I do it with no illusions. I do it because I enjoy it. If someone reads it and enjoys it, that’s a bonus. The few quid I get in royalties won’t keep the wolf from the door.

  4. Wait until everyone only publishes ‘diverse’ authors like those clowns announced last week…the income of current white authors will decline a bit further.

  5. ‘A reasonable guess is that the farmer receives, for his labour, less than 3% of the price of a loaf of bread.’

    A bit more in fact. In a 800g loaf there’s about 500g of flour, which means 1 tonne of wheat can make about 2k loaves. Milling wheat is currently £160/tonne ish, so there’s about 8p worth of wheat in a loaf.

    So if you’re buying cheapo bread at Aldi at 47p/loaf, the farmer’s doing pretty well, at 17% of the sale price. But if you’re buying a hand made artisan loaf for £2 from some overpriced middle class deli, then its down to 4%.

  6. My advice to anyone contemplating writing fiction is, preferably, don’t bother, because at least 99% of the population are either illiterate or will not be interested in your opinions.

    I’d agree with that.

    If you really must write fiction, regard it as a harmless hobby, like beekeeping, for its return on your labours will be similarly nugatory.

    Yup. Although my sister tried to tell me some mate of hers got a £100k advance for a novella, and she’s a first-time author. No, I didn’t believe it either.

  7. @TimN

    Having said that, someone I knew did get an advance that big and did become a high profile author… But I still wonder how the maths works out on it as they were in literary fiction, not the mass market stuff. I suspect some of it is prestige attached to the publisher for discovering/having a “big name” (in terms of press coverage, literary criticism etc if not sales) on their books.

  8. I also write for a living under my real name, and the royalties my publisher offers on my novels — typically 10% to 15% on trade hardbacks, 8% to 15% on trade paperbacks, and 7.5% to 10% on mass market paperbacks, all calculated on the cover price, plus 25% of net receipts on ebooks — strike me as an entirely reasonable.

    Publishing is a high-risk, low-margin business, particularly when a publisher gets it wrong — as my publisher did when releasing a book they were convinced would be “the next Harry Potter”: despite a huge promotional push, it sank without trace.

    My closest friend among their other authors — an ex-London gangster turned writer who has had a number of bestsellers — succinctly summed up his feelings on why it hadn’t sold: “Because it’s fucking shit, son!”

  9. “Slightly trick set up from me. “For his labour” – not for his capital plus his labour.”

    Machines don’t drive themselves you know (yet), there won’t be any grain harvested with the combine sat in a shed. You can’t remove the human element from the capital one like that, they’re intertwined. Both are needed to produce the product.

  10. @ Iliam Dhone

    The royalty rates you quote are pretty generous. If your book comes out in hardback with Publisher X, who then sells the paperback rights to Publisher Y, the 7.5% paperback royalty is shared equally between the author and Publisher X. So the author gets 3.75%, and might have to wait over a year to get it, when (if he is agented) he will lose 15% of that, plus VAT; and the commission is 20% on foreign sales. Royalty statements are normally issued on 30 September and 31 March to reflect the sales from January-June and July-December respectively.

    Thus on a £10 home-market paperback he might well receive a miserly 30p, if my sums are correct (always a dodgy proposition).

    Literary contracts also allow for the author to receive a percentage (typically 10%) of the price received by the publisher in any sale. Thus if he discounts your £20 hardback to £8 (e.g. when trying to flog it to Amazon), you’ll get 80p rather than £2 a copy. Such shenanigans are becoming increasingly common, especially with ebooks. Sometimes a £5 ebook is discounted to 99p at Amazon or Apple, who pay 70% of net receipts, say 70p, of which the author receives less than 6p. And Amazon always do a price-match, John Lewis stylee, so if your ebook is being promoted at Kobo for 99p and Amazon’s relentless algos find out, down goes the Kindle price too.

    The industry is shot: greed and vulgarity have won. FFS the shareholders in Bertelsmann make more money than the deluded saps churning out potboilers for Penguin Random House.

  11. Napsjam – it means the writer of the article has no clue.
    Turnover is the sales. Profit will be less, may not exist at all.

  12. Bloke in North Dorset

    “What does buggy whip making pay these days?”

    A former Bridge partner’s son makes them and sells them mostly at country fares.

    The answer is sqrt(bugger all).

    But you knew that.

  13. Occasional plug for my mate James Deegan MC’s recent book ONCE A PILGRIM. I believe he’s doing okay out of it…

  14. Re: Farmers

    White potatoes ~£100/tonne = 10p/kg

    Tesco value white potatoes 2..5kg £1.29 = 52p/kg

    Farmer receives, for his labour ~20% of the price

  15. Re: Farmers

    The farmer receives 20% of the (loss leader) supermarket price? Maybe but then the farmer has input costs to cover, and capital employed to consider: how much ‘for his labour’?

  16. @ Thomas Fuller

    It’s perfectly true that when rights are sold on, the publisher takes 50% of receipts, but this would generally apply to overseas rights: most publishers are capable of issuing a book in the four major formats (trade hardback, trade paperback, mass market paperback, ebook) themselves.

    It’s also true that some publishers have attempted to introduce royalties on net receipts as the new standard — there was considerable controversy when Macmillan New Writing was launched with a no-advance, 20%-on-net deal. Thankfully, in my experience royalties on cover price is still the norm in trade publishing.

  17. What djc said
    What the farmer recives for his labour is selling price MINUS EXPENSES: seed, fertliser, machinery and diesel fuel etc

  18. MINUS EXPENSES: seed, fertliser, machinery and diesel fuel

    …interest on farm mortgage and/or any business loans…

  19. Separating out the labour and capital components is something economists do often – even if the two are intertwined in the production function there are still ways of breaking these things down. Don’t economists generally measure this via the “user cost of capital”? Decent link here:

    Along with labor input, the service flows from capital assets are used by businesses to generate revenue. For many applications in economic research, such as measuring “multifactor” productivity or evaluating the potential effect on investment of changes in tax policy, one needs to measure the prices of capital and labor services. For labor, measuring this price is easy: It is simply the wage. For capital, though, measuring the price of a unit of service, that is, the user cost, can be much more complicated. If the firm leases a car for a year, for example, then, as with “renting” labor, the user cost is simply the rental price. This rent compensates the car’s owner for “wear and tear” (depreciation) inflicted on the car over the year, taxes on the rental income, the decline in its market (e.g., “blue book”) value over the year, and the foregone interest the owner could have earned if she had instead sold the car and invested those funds. Most capital assets used by a firm, however, are owned by the firm. Nonetheless, one can think of the firm as renting these assets to itself at an “implicit” rental price, equal to what the firm would get if it rented these assets out to other firms. In fact, government statistical agencies and others attempting to measure the user costs of specific capital assets often measure them by the prices observed in rental markets.

    Most types of capital, however, do not have active rental markets. In these cases, the user cost is often measured by appealing to the neoclassical model and the seminal work of Robert Hall and Dale Jorgenson (1967). Hall and Jorgenson derived the formula for the user cost based on the neoclassical model’s proposition that the price of a capital asset should be equal to the present value of the rental income stream generated by the asset net of taxes and depreciation. From this equation, one can solve for the rental income per period, that is, the user cost, as a function of the price of the capital asset, the expected change in its price over the period, the interest rate, the depreciation rate, and taxes. Because these values are either known or can be estimated reasonably well, the user cost can be calculated using this formula.

    This seems to tally with wot I got taught in my econ degree, though hopefully someone a tad more economically literate can confirm.

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