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Diminishing Returns: Creative Culture at Risk

Income Survey 2018

January 23, 201923 January 2019

Situation of artists

The Writers’ Union of Canada

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Based on a survey of 1,499 writers in the spring of 2018 (with income statistics from 2017) and previous iterations of a similar survey, this report examines writers’ incomes from writing. (The report generally excludes other sources of income for writers.) As with any survey where respondents self-select to participate (or not), there is uncertainty as to whether the respondents provide a representative sample of all writers in Canada.

The survey found that, in 2017, “the average net income from writing was $9,380, while the median net income was less than $4,000”.

The report notes that, “for more than 85% of respondents, their writing income falls below the poverty line”, despite the fact that writers tend to be highly educated (88% have an undergraduate degree, and 53% have a master’s or doctoral degree).

The declining incomes of writers (from writing) is a key finding of the report. Over a three-year period, writers’ income from writing decreased by 27%, from about $12,900 in 2014 to about $9,400 in 2017. (It is not clear whether this change was adjusted for inflation.) Despite making less money, writers reported working more than they had three years earlier. Over a 20-year period, income from writing decreased by 78% (after adjusting for inflation). The report indicates that “studies in both the U.S. and U.K. indicate similar negative trending, but Canada’s results are by far the worst”.

In 2017, the main sources of writers’ income from writing were traditional royalties from publishers (about 45% of writing income), income from corporate or government writing (approximately 17%), and income from freelance writing (approximately 15%). The authors of the report note that the Public Lending Right remains an essential source of income for writers but that recent changes to the Copyright Act have had a negative impact on writers’ income. The report links the decreasing incomes from writing to a “a massive increase in uncompensated educational copying”: “respondents noted their income from Access Copyright has decreased in the last three years, with an average decrease of 42%”.

Given the low income levels, the report concludes that “it is now almost impossible for writers to make a living solely from their writing”.

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