Who profits in the creative economy?

A Bookseller article today reports that ‘less than 10% of self published authors make a living‘, based on a survey of around 1000 self-published authors. But the remarkable thing about this story is the intensely negative spin it gives to the data it presents. It could easily read “Holy Fuck! A percentage of self-published authors actually make a living!!!!!!” OK, it couldn’t read like that because the august pages of The Bookseller would never use that many exclamation points, but you get my meaning.

There is a clear argument that a self-publishing model, even one that continues to be complimented by a stripped down legacy publishing framework dealing with the very top authors, could deliver a far higher percentage of the revenue of the creative economy to writers. Why? Well put very simply, much of the revenue of publishing ends up in things which are extrinsic to the creation of good books. Some of that expense sits in things like the distribution framework for print books. But much of sits in tiers of executive management and of course the profits that go to owners and shareholders of the media conglomerates that own major publishers.

Let’s say that writers in the legacy publishing model receive a total of 10% of the revenue of publishing, not an unreasonable guess based on existing advances and royalties. Now lets say that in a self publishing model writers received 35%, the lower tiers of royalties paid by Amazon. Even at that low level, its quite easy to see how a much larger number of writers might make a living in a self-publishing model. What if the percentage were 50% or 70%, not at all impossible. I’m not frothing at the mouth to have mid-level regional marketing executive ousted from their jobs in publishing, but I would much rather see writers getting that money in the long run.

The conversation about self-publishing often turns around the argument of quality control. Perhaps at this point its more interesting to talk about the liberating creative potential in a model where writers who can achieve the quality have a much better chance of making a fair living from their work.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

3 thoughts on “Who profits in the creative economy?

  1. What made me a little uncomfortable is that the survey seems geared towards encouraging would-be authors to spend more on their efforts, i.e. by making use of the publishing services offered by the company that produced the survey, and purchasing the report itself. Can’t deny the results were interesting, though.


  2. Well, if 10% of self-published authors (let me shorten that to SPA) make a living, what are the numbers for traditionally published authors? I doubt it reaches 50%. Maybe 25%. Considering the fact that publishing houses should be a filter that selects only the most profitable authors, they’re not doing that much of a great job.


  3. Great article, your posts never disappoint. On a note about self-publishing, I see it as a way for great writers to be responsible for their own success. It’s up to the writer to market and promote their own work. Even if their words are not up to the level of NY Times Bestselling, I appreciate the work-ethic from an individual who doesn’t need a team of marketing suits to sell their book.



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