The Authors Guild isn’t always a mouthpiece for publishers, much as it might seem that way sometimes. Though it has been their staunch advocate in the matter of the Google Books case, it has lately also found the time to complain about publisher treatment of authors via restrictive contract terms, especially with regard to e-books.
The most recent move in the Authors Guild’s Fair Contract initiative comes via a pair of open letters from the Guild and its UK sister organization, the Society of Authors. In these letters, the Guild and Society call upon publishers to reform their contracts and offer authors better terms. In particular, they want a royalty rate on e-books of 50% of net income, rather than the current standard of 25%.
Authors’ income is down across all categories. According to a 2015 Authors Guild survey—our first since 2009—the writing-related income of full-time book authors dropped 30% over that time period, from $25,000 to $17,500. Part-time authors saw an even steeper slide: their writing income dropped 38%.
The Society of Authors survey shows authors making a median annual income of £11,000, well below the £16,850 requirement for an acceptable living standard. The Guild and Society warn that, without improvement, society runs the risk of losing the creative output of these authors as they have to give up writing and find better-paying jobs.
It’s certainly good to hear this kind of rhetoric come out of an organization known more for working with than against publishers these days. On his blog, self-publishing booster J.A. Konrath heartily endorses the move, and even started a Change.org petition to show support. One would hope that, after all the Guild has done for the publishers (or at least tried to do), the publishers will be inclined to give it a little quid pro quo.
Still, I wouldn’t be inclined to hold my breath. As an advocacy organization, the Guild seems fairly toothless—especially given its success rate lately. If the publishers tell it to take a hike, what then?
I suppose they could always tell their members to self-publish instead.