The Kind Of Stuff That Sells

Christopher Fowler
My old pal Joanne Harris is in the press again, this time for revealing what she was paid for the rights to have her excellent novel 'Chocolat' made into a mediocre film - £5,000 apparently. I have never been paid a figure remotely as high as that for the rights to anything. The standard fee for a new short story still hovers between £50 - £100, static after two decades. To put that in perspective, a good newspaper article can earn you ten times the cost of a short story. Unfortunately, one comes along every three or four years. Joanne admits she was paid an unguaranteed £100,000 back-end (coughed up when the production is in profit) so I expect she did very nicely out of it in the end, one of the only writers I've heard of to do so. However, the article concerned the small amounts writers make from selling rights. I've mostly been forced to accept no-money-upfront deals because the British film and TV industry is fed by borderline broke production companies with no advances to spare (so they tell me), and my current work has little international (ie. TV) appeal.
It doesn't help that I can't compromise by writing The Kind Of Stuff That Sells.
Joanne admits having to accept compromises for the film version of 'Chocolat', as the book's jolly pantheism was quietly dropped to please America's church-going oblong states. Fair enough; after all, they're paying for it. I wonder whether China (now a bigger entertainment supplier than Hollywood) will cope with Western adaptation or just not bother. Writers used to be paid a minimal fee for some festivals, but I'm told there's no such deal for virtual ones.
Commissions are being put back, projects shelved.
Playwrights have picked a bad year to earn a living. At least poets never expected to make money in the first place.
Many deem the arts unnecessary. Britain is no longer a nation of shopkeepers, but a nation of middle managers. Why hire arty-farty creatives? Here's your answer: Because the UK's creative industries contribute almost £13 million to the UK economy every hour. New government figures show that the country's successful creative industries employed 2 million people and contributed a staggering £111.7 billion to the UK in 2018, equivalent to £306 million every day. It's worth remembering that the next time a publisher explains that they can only pay you fifty pounds for a month's work.


E8 (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 08:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I wish we could find alternative terminology. Music, visual arts and literature are far less 'creative' than science, medicine and engineering, but the latter are not performed in front of an adoring (or abusive) crowd. Indeed everyday life is 'creative' in all kinds of ways, many of them subtle and superior, often marked by improvisatory genius, almost invariably unrecorded, and rarely compensated with money. The 'creative industries' are more like 'sports', which are equally 'unnecessary' activities. Not that I have ever heard anyone refer to the 'poetry industry'.

Peter Dixon (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 10:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The no money up front deal has become the norm since the turn of the century.

This is a big set of questions with no real answers. Why is it that £111.7bn can't be divided up in such a way that creators can get a fair share? The answer is in that arcane art - Economics.

How much of those billions is spent on buildings, staff, insurance, electricity and all sorts of expenses? Who controls and apportions the money? How much are they paid to do it?

I've worked within the arts community all of my life, both in the 'commercial' and non-commercial wings. I've worked with theatres and musicians, four of my good friends are poets, two are playwrights. I paint, write, design graphics, edit and produce books and am a pro photographer, yet I constantly struggle to get by, particularly in winter when work dries up bu fuel bills rise. In the provinces there's not enough work to go around. Low pay and rotating shifts means that those in work can't afford theatre or can't attend due to working hours; the unemployed can't afford anything. Magazines and publishers don't exist (I co-edited a regional live entertainment mag for 10 years but it folded because local authorities' budgets were cut year-on-year and small venues were closing) the money simply ran out, and this was 7 years ago - long before COVID.

In London huge amounts of money go in rents and rates. How much does it cost to change a lightbulb in a west-end theatre?

In some ways this is an argument for a Basic Living Wage. If everyone has enough money to live a healthy existence without having to worry about rent or debt collectors then we could all do what we do best. I've never met a 'creative' who actively strives to be a millionaire - most just want to get on with their particular skill and be respected for what they do without starving in a garret.

Roger (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 13:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"Why is it that £111.7bn can't be divided up in such a way that creators can get a fair share? The answer is in that arcane art — Economics."

Someone said - I think about the claim that none of the films based on Tolkien had made a profit - that the most creative people in Hollywood were accountants.

How far are Bryant and May creating a bigger market for your work, by persuading people to look for more, Admin?

snowy (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 15:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


117Bn, might seem like a 'Big Number' but is it?

[This number comes apparently from the DCMS aka <i>Department of Fun</i>, but really the raw data is provided by the Arts Council and the BFI, two bodies whose prime focus is on bigging up their value and not so much on rigorous accounting, some activities are counted twice by being included in both sets of figures.]

117Bn from a GDP of 3Tn is approx 0.4%

Breaking it down further is complex! [And dull, you have been warned!]

The Creative Sector includes, [according to DCMS]:

Advertising and marketing
Design and designer fashion
Film, TV, video, radio and photography
IT, software and computer services
Museums, galleries and libraries
Music, performing and visual arts

Some data, back after the jump...

<i>'IT, software and computer services' (which is also entirely
within the Digital sector) accounted for £45.4bn GVA in 2018
(40.6% of Creative Industries GVA), increasing by 10.3% since

'Film, TV, video, radio and photography' (six out of seven SIC
codes within this sub-sector overlap with the Digital sector and it
overlaps entirely with the Cultural sector) contributed £20.8bn to
the UK economy, up 3% since 2017.'

'Advertising and marketing' contributed £18.6bn in 2018,
increasing by 11.5% since 2017. These three sub-sectors were
the key drivers of growth in the Creative Industries...'</i>

It now gets further complicated, a sizable chunk of IT etc. is sales of Games, but after Services the rest is money from Ads. Tv and Radio create a product but their income is mainly from Ads. Film creates a product that it sells to TV, but spends massively on Ads. There is a lot of money circulating around in loops upon loops upon loops.

Who pays for Ads? Everybody, it's included in the price of all the products you buy.

To do a very simplistic exclusion, [which is a form of generalisation and goes against the cardinal rule "All generalisations are wrong; including this one."] Taking those out leaves about 32Bn which after some maths leads to:

The Creative industries that are not the big three above ie. Theatre, Opera, Ballet, Music etc, contribute 0.1% to the economy, but boy do they make a lot of noise about it.

Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 18:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you for popping the balloon, Snowy. (I'm just a cloud, floating in the blue, as Pooh sang.)
For both sides - it's just numbers, which is statistics and we all know what that is.
We've talked about a minimum guaranteed income for a long time but there are always those who say that there would be so many people who would just coast along and never bother getting a job that the country would go bankrupt. Why are so many people worried about how someone else would try to take advantage of anything the community offers? There are people complaining about the money offered to those who lost their jobs because businesses closed in March.
Who cares whether a few people take advantage - they'll find a way regardless of the situation. People who write or paint or sculpt or act or sing or sweep the streets or clean windows or repair things all add to the livability of the world. Things that add beauty or interest should be celebrated. Even the things which force us to examine what we think and act on, painful though it may be, improves life. Vivisection is now considered animal abuse and is illegal in most places. You may own the animals on your farm but you're not allowed to mistreat them (even though it happens behind closed doors). We're struggling to improve life and the struggle is painful for all the wrong people but it continues.
In the meantime I want to see people's vision of what life could be, things of joy and beauty.

Peter Dixon (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 18:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks Snowy, I was too exhausted to maintain the argument.

Once advertising is removed the picture looks very different. But it keeps changing - up until about 2010 the biggest advertisers were the Government and local councils. Job vacancies and official announcements all had to be placed in national and regional press at a premium rate, now its all on t'internet. Thats why newspapers are struggling; the papers ran on official government spend for Jobcentres, training, education, armed forces and public announcements as well as recruitment ads for colleges and universities. Oh, and ads for cigarettes and booze. All of that money has been 'saved' over the last 10 years or so - but where have the supposed savings gone?

Here's a thing to ponder - there are more than 10 universities in the UK currently offering degree courses in Illustration. Between 1910 and 1960 there were hundreds of regular magazines that required up to 20 illustrations per issue, most of them had illustrated covers. Later, illustrators became famous for LP sleeves, posters and the like. Now we have hardly any illustrated articles in magazines or newspapers, an illustrated cover is a rarity, most advertising and publicity involves manipulated photography. So why are we turning out over 200 degree-level illustrators per year for an industry that hardly exists? They can't all be working for that talentless prat David Walliams.

Peter T (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 19:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As a consultant engineer with a leaning to science and mathematics and an occasional artist, I'd claim the STEM areas to be as creative as the arts. Though our audience may often be less public, it's as critical, adoring, abusive and even downright dishonest as any. The secret is not to care, at least not too much. Work for the fun of it, for your own satisfaction and the reward of having done a good job.

Expressing big numbers of spondulicks as a per cent of government expenditure, government tax income or GDP does often give a different perspective. That's when you realise that our biggest creative industry is people like Jaguar Land Rover making stuff.

Dawn Andrews (not verified) Mon, 31/08/2020 - 06:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Helen, that is brilliant. That's what all creativity is really about, in the arts, sciences, teaching, industry, wherever.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Wed, 02/09/2020 - 01:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The argument wasn't science vs. arts but that arts should get funding because it does create wealth as the 'it enriches life' isn't something politicians think is necessary.

Actually a lot of things in life aren't necessary, I really don't need a camera and phone all in one or global warming. Actually a lot of theoretical science and academia are considered unnecessary and if art goes guess what is next? Both academia and theoretical science are under attack.

Arts are called creative industries because you make things up, in science if you just made things up you'd be called Donald Trump.

Also there is the tourist attraction of art, just like the royal family, we have The Mousetrap and so on which generates other wealth. When you go out you go out you also go out and have a meal, there is merchandise etc. Plus without the programmes etc. you don't have the advertising space. It also creates blogs like this (this statement should be the clincher.)

The bottom line is we can afford to fund both, the financial markets, basically a gambling forum once the initial shares are sold, was propped up for over a decade with shocking amounts. And lets not forget over 50% of the worlds wealth is held by the top 1% (and getting worse - {in the US A September 2017 study by the Federal Reserve reported that the top 1% owned 38.5% of the country's wealth in 2016.}) and in a market run system it this is a disaster, a monopoly of capital (any monopoly is bad) means fewer investors, fewer place for capital to come from and a ready made cash flow problem which really is lethal to a market based economy. If these people and companies re-invested across the board either voluntary or by means of tax systems we wouldn't have this discussion. wee could even get rid of poverty. Blair and Brown almost git rid of child poverty in the UK (now getting worse) and they were hardly generous to the poor. (creation of uni fees, privatisation of NHS and so on.)

The money is there for both.

Also what Helen said.