Future of UK’s writing profession is under threat

The future of writing as a primary profession is under threat in the UK, according to new research led by the University of Glasgow into authors’ earnings and contracts.

A report shares findings from a nationwide survey of 60,000 authors about their earnings and professional lives. This was undertaken by CREATe (the UK Copyright & Creative Economy Research Centre based at the University’s School of Law and Advanced Research Centre - ARC), who were commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) to conduct this independent research.

This report is situated amidst a global trend towards the de-valuing of creative labour, and findings suggest that COVID-19, Brexit and the cost of living crisis have all accelerated an existing decline in writing as a profession. In the same survey undertaken in 2006, 40% of authors earned all of their income from writing, compared to 19% in 2022. Self-employed writing earnings for primary occupation writers (who spend more than 50% of their working time writing) have also dropped substantially from £17,608 in 2006 (allowing for inflation), to £7,000 in 2022.

The report found that diversity is an issue in the profession, with women, black and mixed-race authors, the very young, and very old, all earning less than their respective counterparts.

In addition, copyright continues to be little understood and under-utilised by authors, which can curtail an author’s earning potential. Advances are becoming rarer, with almost half of all authors never having received one. Despite a growing trend in audio-visual streaming, this doesn’t appear to be filtering through to authors.

The findings of the report were presented at the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group Winter Reception at the House of Commons on December 6.

Amy Thomas, Project Investigator for the survey, said:

“Our report has been fairly unique in its timing, taking place after both the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, and now the ongoing cost of living crisis. Although there has been a general decline in author earnings over the past two decades, our 2022 survey shows an accelerated decline that has no doubt been exacerbated by world events. This raises serious questions about the sustainability of the writing profession in the UK.

“Consistently, we find that earnings from writing are decreasing and creative labour becoming de-valued. Whilst many of our respondents talked about their love of creating, and passion for writing, relying on their altruism has been used to justify an increasingly unliveable wage.

“We also found that writing is far from an equal opportunity profession. There are substantial inequalities between those who are being adequately rewarded for their writing, and those who are not. This begs the question whether we are stifling our creative culture by disincentivising a broad and diverse group of writers from participating in this market.

“There were also meaningful changes as to how writers are accessing both digital and foreign markets in response to these disruptive changes. Whilst both changes offer opportunities, they also introduce risks to a distinctly vulnerable profession.”

‘Authors’ Earnings and Contracts’ forms part of a longitudinal series of surveys, funded by ALCS, first conducted in 2006 (also led by Kretschmer), repeated in 2014 (by Gibson, Johnson & Dimita out of Queen Mary, University of London), and 2018 (also led by Kretschmer). This series of surveys captures robustly the effects of digital changes on the labour market and working conditions of a specific professional sector.


Contact amy.thomas@glasgow.ac.uk.

First published: 7 December 2022