On Sunday, I blogged on Awfully Big Blog Adventure about how proposed changes to ALCS threaten to cut the income of writers to such an extent that some will stop writing books for use in schools. You need to read that post before this one, as it was some of the comments, particularly from catdownunder, that prompted this continuation. (ALCS is the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society; it distributes to writers the money collected by the Copyright Licensing Agency.)
Many people, catdownunder said, assume all authors are rich. This seems laughable to real authors, but if that's the case the only way to persuade them otherwise is to show them why we are not. I suggested in the comments to that post that books should come with a declaration of how much the author was paid as a fee or advance. Then perhaps teachers and others - who get more per month than a writer gets from writing a book - might understand why it matters that we get paid for use of our work. It wasn't an entirely serious suggestion when I made it. But it has become one. Here are some of the fees/advances I've been paid for writing books that are likely to be photocopied in school classrooms. These books were all commissioned in the last two years:
(There's more than one book in each category; books that are unlikely to be used much in schools and that paid more are not included.)
See that one at the bottom? All my income from these (seven) books will come from royalties, ALCS and PLR. If a school can make any number of copies of the book without paying a license to ALCS there will be no royalties - because why would they buy them if they can use them for free? These books with zero advance have taken the best part of eight months to write. Would YOU (non-writers) work for eight months, to be paid up to 18 months later? And how would you feel if the government then legislated away a portion of your income by saying people can steal it?
Money from copying of our books is NOT a bonus, a bit of extra cash - it's yet another part of the complex jigsaw of writers' income. It is a legitimate part: payment for the work that we have done and that someone wants to use. If the work is rubbish, and no one wants it, there is no payment from PLR, royalties or ALCS. That's a far more brutally meritocratic and commercial system than most people - including politicians - are likely to encounter in their workplace. There can be no legitimate defence for withholding the payment if the work IS good enough for people to want it.