Writing? You're Better Off Being A Window Cleaner

Christopher Fowler
I should never have worked out the figures. It started when I read about the latest row to engulf internet payments, which will come as no surprise to other full-time creatives. Far from providing a new way of making a living, Spotify, which will be streaming 36 billion songs by the end of the year, does little for the artists who keep it running. For a solo artist to reach the minimum US monthly wage they must have one of their tracks streamed up to 4.5 million times a month, with performers getting around a tenth of a penny per play. Lady Gaga, who continues to dominate the streaming charts, earned just £108 from one million plays of her hit "Poker Face" last year. The problem isn't helped by the fact the system's financial arrangements are made in secret. With the iPad about to hit UK stores, what chance is there for writers planning to self-publish to supplement their way toward a standard living wage? Publishers help to limit the number of books by only choosing what they think works, and are horrified - with some justification - by the idea of the floodgates opening. There will inevitably be self-publish success stories, but at the moment there's a stigma attached to this method of publication that affects most book-writers. However, a little bit of maths has helped to inch me toward online publishing. I foolishly conducted a study of my own and worked out a timesheet for the hours I had spent on a non-Bryant & May book. I divided the hours into the tax-subtracted advance (which I won't earn out - the larger proportion of writers rarely hit decent royalties) and came up with a figure of 0.0525 pence an hour. Window cleaners get around £5 an hour, often a lot more when it's contract work. I erred on the side of caution getting to this figure, and didn't include travel or expenses (only 20% of which can be claimed) so the final tally would be lower. Publishers recoil at the thought of their authors publishing online, but I wonder what we really have to lose.
Posted in
Reading & Writing
Lady Gaga & spotify


Mary (not verified) Wed, 14/04/2010 - 11:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I imagine Van Gogh's hourly rate was less than yours! perhaps all creative spirits walk this tightrope? My window cleaner is very strange and plays an electric organ in his spare time.My cat and I cower in the lounge when he's about.

Nathaniel Tapley (not verified) Wed, 14/04/2010 - 15:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've been thinking about this a lot for the last few days (having got into a debate with Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers' Guild, my union, about their support of the Digital Economy Act*), and I'm faintly optimistic about the new avenues and opportunities there are for making a living creatively.

This is a very encouraging article about the proliferation of new business models in the music world: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091119/1634117011.shtml

Having had a busy and encouraging start to the year in 2009 (a half-hour pilot sitcom broadcast on CBBC, various sketches on TV, some commissions optioned) a lot of things dried up for me after April. Things didn't materialise, lots of projects got mired in development, and nothing was going into production.

Combined with having a new baby who had various health issues, the whole situation was a little depressing. However, at the end of last year I decided to stop being so dependent on production companies, and that I'd take one of theideas they had all said they'd really liked but couldn't afford to make and make it.

So I got actors, a sound designer and a studio together, and made In The Gloaming (http://inthegloamingpodcasts.wordpress.com - look in the Podcast Archive for all of the episodes) Obviously, we had to adapt the idea slightly from its original form (we're doing it as audio plays rather than half-hour TV plays), but we've made four episodes and will have a whole series of six finished in June.

Financially, of course, it hasn't been a huge success. However, donations have meant that we have covered the hosting costs, and they paid for out entry in the Sony Radio Academy Awards. We've also been sent on a CD to troops in Afghanistan, been featured on Canadian radio, asked to perform live at the World Horror Convention, I was asked to pitch for the last series of The Man In Black, and we have a number of subscribers who have asked us to release CDs that they can buy. Above all, it feels great to be actually making something, and to have control over it.

In June, when the series is over, I'm going to look at ways in which we can develop the revenue side of things, and have a number of ideas about value-added services we can offer.

Anyway, part of me thinks we're on the cusp of a creator-owned and -driven economy.

The other part wonders how I'm going to pay the Council Tax...

Cliff Burns (not verified) Wed, 14/04/2010 - 18:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, anyone who goes into the arts for the money has been sorely deceived (or is seriously self-deluded). Annual earnings from my writing would make me a pauper anywhere on earth, except perhaps economic disaster zones like Haiti. Every once in awhile a film option or radio play saves our bacon, pays the house/automobile insurance, wipes out the VISA debt, takes a bite from our line of credit. But for the most part it's living from month to month and praying there are no catastrophic events (car trouble, roof caves in) that would incur costs that couldn't possibly be met. We scrimp and save where we can--no cable TV, rarely go out to eat, have never taken an extended vacation, etc. I'll be 47 years old in October and 2010 is my 25th year as a professional author. At some point it's only natural to wonder: when is that breakthrough coming and how long can I keep treading water, my nose only slightly above the rushing tide...

Helen Martin (not verified) Thu, 15/04/2010 - 00:19

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In the Gloaming was aired by the CBC? As a podcast I assume? I do try to pay attention to our national radio system, but I certainly missed that if it was anywhere except on podcast.