From Publishers Weekly
Behind the Authors Guild's New Proactive Approach
A membership survey and contract initiative are part of a more proactive approach by the organization
Sep 18, 2015
Since Mary Rasenberger took over as executive director of the Authors Guild last November, the writers’ group has undertaken two significant projects: its Fair Contract Initiative and the first survey of guild membership in six years. Both efforts, Rasenberger said, are designed to help the organization better represent the interests of its 9,000 members, not just with publishers, but with government officials and other groups that can affect the livelihood of all authors.
The membership study, released last week, found that the median income for Authors Guild members dropped from $10,500 in 2009 to $8,000 in 2014, a decline of 24%. The decline came for both full-time and part-time authors, with full-time authors reporting a 30% drop in income, to $17,500, and part-time authors seeing a 38% decrease, to $4,500. The report, Rasenberger said, is a clear indication that “authors are struggling to make a living."
So why are authors not earning what they used to expect?
The survey revealed that much of the loss in income was due to digital sales. While costs to the publisher are minimal, it is usual for the author to get only 20% or 25% of the monies received. When digital books are priced below $10, this means only about $2 to the author from each sale. While the royalty for a hardback priced at about $25 might only be 10%, it adds up to a lot more money.
Unsurprisingly, the survey also found that a third of the authors who responded are "hybrid," meaning that they are publishing some of their books themselves, either because the traditional publishers have turned them down, or because they know that they will get a much bigger share of sales -- up to 70% in the case of Amazon. At the same time they are protecting their image by traditionally publishing, too. And, unsurprisingly, the Authors Guild has relaxed its previously rigid dislike of self-publishing, so that indie authors who make at least $5000 a year from sales are now eligible for membership.