ASA Book sales and author earnings survey

ASA Survey: book sales strong; author earnings remain precariously low

Details from the Annual survey conducted by ASA, reported December 2021:

Despite a bumper year for publishers, with a book market increase of 6% when compared to the same period in 2020 and book sales surging following the reopening of bookshops after restrictions lifted, it is clear that this has not translated into improved earnings for the majority of authors and illustrators. As you may know, last year we surveyed both members and non-members to understand the impacts of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic on the income of Australian creators, and reported on the perilous state of author earnings in Australia. This year’s survey results demonstrate a continued downward trend in creator income.

In the survey we asked: What level of advance did you receive for your most recent publication? In 2020, 52% of respondents indicated they received no advance for their publication. This year, that number has grown to 58%. Only 13% of respondents reported receiving an advance over $10,000; a marginal decrease from 14.6% in 2020.

With lower advances, it stands to reason that more authors are earning out their advances: 60% of respondents indicated that they had earned out their advance, an increase of almost 7% from last year.

Again this year, we asked about average author/illustrator income: What was your annual income from your creative practice in the last financial year? Creative practice includes advances, royalties, events/workshop income, Copyright Agency payments, PLR & ELR, and prizes.

Of the total respondents, 81% earned less than $15,000 in the last financial year, which is on par with the results from our 2020 survey. Alarmingly, 58% of the total respondents earned between $0 and $1,999 from their creative practice. This represents an increase from last year where 80% earned less than $15,000 per year, and 49.7% earned between $0 and $1,999 per year from their creative practice.

The survey results demonstrate that income for full-time writers/illustrators has also marginally decreased since last year:

58% of full-time writers/illustrators reported earning less than $15,000 in the last financial year from their creative practice, with 25% earning between $0 and $1,999. In 2020, the results were 54% and 23% respectively.

Yet, when we asked our members about funding applications since 1 January 2020, our findings show that most authors have not applied, and do not intend to apply for funding from Australia Council (57%), Copyright Agency (58%), nor State Government arts bodies (52%). 

More respondents were applying to State Government funding bodies (9.66%) than either Copyright Agency (7.49%) or Australia Council (6.35%). Of the respondents who applied for funding, 14% successfully applied to Australia Council, 37% successfully applied to Copyright Agency, and 36% successfully applied to State Government bodies.

In our view, these results likely reflect a broad sense of pessimism about funding for literature, which is both highly competitive, and sparse – literature received just $4.7 million, or 6%, of the Australia Council grants and initiatives investment for 2020-21, such grants comprising only 13% of Australia Council’s overall investment in the arts.

We know that this situation is unsustainable, which is why we are pushing harder than ever to advocate for:

  • A national plan for literature
  • Increased funding for literature from Australia Council, in particular in direct creators’ grants
  • DLR: an expansion of the PLR/ELR schemes to include digital formats, along with an increase to the lending rights budget