Fiction is important to me. I get a great deal of pleasure from visiting the people and places created by the imagination and hard work of authors around the world.
I read 150ish books a year and I buy twice as many as I read, which is why my TBR pile stand at more than 1,000 books.
My reading has been helped by audiobooks, which allow me to read while driving or doing mundane chores or simply sitting with my eyes closed at the end of the day, and by ebooks, which let me increase the font size to something my failing eyes can cope with.
Yet, when the folks on BookLikes asked:
“What one thing would you change about the book-reading world?“
my mind didn’t go to improving the technology used to distribute and read books. My answer was:
“I want a bigger share of the money I spend on books to go to the people who write them. “
In a thriving book market, writers live in poverty.
The book market is thriving. In 2018 675 million books were sold in the US. The net revenue of the US book publishing industry was $25.82 billion. Audiobooks sales were $940 million. Ebook sales were $162 million.
Yet a 2018 Authors Guild Survey of 5,067 part-time and full-time American authors showed a 42% decline in author earnings in the past decade, with full-time authors achieving median earnings of $20,300 which is below the Federal Poverty Guideline for a family of three or more.
This is despite a trend for full-time authors to supplement their income with other writing-related activities, such as speaking engagements, book reviewing or teaching.
The Author’s Guild sees the impoverishment of authors as caused by:
“The growing dominance of Amazon over the marketplace, lower royalties and advances for mid-list books (which publishers report comes from losses they are forced to pass on), including the extremely low royalties paid on the increasing number of deeply discounted sales and the 25 per cent of net ebook royalty.
The blockbuster mentality of publishers who grant celebrity writers massive advances and markets them wildly at the expense of the working writers.”
Amazon is the key to change
The market leader here is not the Big Five publishing houses, but Amazon. It doesn’t publish its revenue from book sales separately but it dominates the market in ebook sales, audiobook sales and subscription services like Kindle Unlimited ad Audible. It has become a publisher in its own right, is the most significant channel for third party publishers and has created a large and growing re-sale market (from which authors earn nothing).
The kay to lifting writers out of poverty is for Amazon to lead the way in providing a bigger share of sales revenue to authors, to giving them a share of the resale market and to invest in the growth and development of the writers on whom their business and my reading pleasure depend.
I believe that Amazon’s treatment of authors needs to be publicised in the way that its treatment of its warehouse staff and delivery drivers has been, so that Jeff Bezos can make a choice between social stigma for the sake a few percentage points in the overall Amazon business or restoring his claim as a visionary in the book market.
How Amazon Could Help: A Sustainable Authorship Model
I’d like to see Amazon coming up with a “Sustainable Authorship” model, like the ones used for other limited natural resources like forests and fish, that supports and nurtures each generation of new writers and fairly rewards well-established mid-list authors.
As part of such a scheme, Amazon could sponsor creative writing programs that would bring income to the writers teaching them and encourage new writers to get their work published.
Amazon could amplify the work of platforms like Patreon to provide crowd-funding to writers. Having an option to make a donation via your amazon account or as part of a subscription service could release a lot of funding.