Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th March, 2017
Literature does not enjoy the same status in Britain as it does just over the Channel in France, for example. Maybe that partly explains why politicians are far more eager to talk about football in public than about books. Yet a new survey published by the Royal Society for Literature (RSL) this week suggests that three quarters of the British public does read literature (they were allowed to define for themselves what is meant by “literature”) and a significant proportion would like to be able to read more. More women than men consume literature, as apparently do white British rather than ethnic minorities; the fact that more highly educated Brits read more than those with minimal qualifications is hardly surprising. The most common reason given for not reading more is lack of time, though some people said they wished books were cheaper — a problematic response for the RSL as writers need to be able to make a decent living if literature is going to continue to be produced. In reality, according to an earlier survey carried out for the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) writers’ annual incomes have fallen in recent years, to an average of just £11,000. The general public is more aware that a few authors such as J.K.Rowling earn millions, which is the exception rather than the rule. Interestingly, Harry Potter’s creator figured third behind Shakespeare and Dickens in the list of authors cited by respondents to the RSL survey as being “literature”. Otherwise that list of writers was encouraging eclectic, including a sizable proportion of foreign writers. But for me the single most encouraging thing about the RSL survey’s findings was that far from reducing people’s interest in reading literature, using the Internet seems to stimulate it.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALCS, Charles Dickens, J K Rowling, literature, RSL, William Shakespeare, writing | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th December, 2016
To the general public, ALCS is a meaningless set of initials, but for tens of thousands of writers in Britain (and beyond) who have signed up as members of ALCS the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society is like a fairy godmother who, year in year out, sends one a cheque (or these days usually a bank transfer), derived from secondary royalties from photocopying, retransmission of audio-visual material and other such sources, the bulk of it channeled to ALCS from the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA). Anyone who works in universities or the NHS will probably have spotted CLA notices next to their photocopiers. Rather like Public Lending Right (PLR), which pays authors modest sums for loans of their books from a representative sample of public libraries, ALCS works on the basic and important principle that writers should be paid for their work. But ALCS is not just another writers’ organisation; it is a highly professional organisation, which is what it should be, as it has a turnover of more than £30 million a year. Like any reputable company it therefore also has a Board, which in ALCS’s case has a number of Non-Executive Directors who are elected by ALCS members — over 90,000 at present, though only a small proportion of those usually take the trouble to vote in the annual election of Non-Execs. Having come to the end of my three-year term on the Board, I am standing for re-election this month (as one is allowed to do, just once).
ALCS, in common with the creative industries, is facing some critical challenges, no least from the uncertainties generated by Brexit and the digitalisation of so much content. In tandem with CLA, ALCS needs to investigate new revenue streams, but it also needs to keep abreast of legislative changes, at both the international and European level. One of the things I have found most satisfying about being a Board member, given my political experience, has been working with the Executive on some areas of what is effectively lobbying, to help protect writers’ rights. That has meant being one of the ALCS representatives on the steering group of UKWriters, a recently-formed umbrella group that tries to ensure that writers do not lose out in a changing world. As it is, the income of most writers has fallen sharply in recent years, as was demonstrated in a study commissioned by ALCS. I have found it fascinating sitting on the Board itself, learning the dynamics of the company and collaborating with its dedicated staff. So, I would be very grateful for a vote from anyone who is an ALCS member. If you are, you should have received an electronic communication about the election (unless you opted for postal communications only) and voting is open until 23 December.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALCS, PLR, UKWriters, writing | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th November, 2016
Despite its rather cumbersome name — the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society — ALCS could perhaps claim to be the writer’s best friend. As was announced at its AGM at the Royal Society in London yesterday, over the past 39 years it has handed out nearly £500 million pounds to writers for use of their work by broadcasters and institutions such as universities and the National Health Service, not only in the UK but in a growing number of countries abroad. In recent years the rate of distribution has been running at over £30 million a year. Any published writer can register to be a member of the scheme for a one-off fee of £36 (deducted from their first payment) and most will then continue to receive some money every year from then on. Sounds too good to be true? No wonder one gentleman among the members present at the AGM said that when he told a friend about it they thought it must be a scam! But it is absolutely bona fide and great care is taken to ensure the administrative cost (“commission”) is kept low — currently under 9%. Professionally it is run as an efficient company, but several writers, elected by the ALCS membership, sit on the Board. I have done so for the past three years and am now standing for election for a second three-year term.
At the AGM, the outgoing Chair, Adam Singer, handed ver to his successor, Tony Bradman, their two speeches highlighting their difference of style. Adam oversaw a period of transition and change, including moving ALCS into modern premises shared with the Publishers Licensing Society (PLS) and the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA); the latter is the source of the bulk of revenues that are channeled to writers through ALCS. That might appear to be a confusing alphabet soup of acronyms but the work done is immensely worthwhile and for the bulk of writers who earn on average £12,000 a year (and falling), every little helps. It is important that ALCS keep abreast of new developments and for many people yesterday the highlight of the AGM was a lively panel discussion on Writing in the Digital Age: New Ways Writers are Monetising Their Work, with Tom Chatfield, Rebecca Fenton and Joanna Penn. Having just for the first time self-published a book (the childhood memoir Eccles Cakes), rather than go down the traditional publishing route as I did with my previous 14 books, I was really encouraged by what the three had to say about monetising self-published works through intelligent use of social media and other Internet possibilities. One of the reasons I am restanding for the ALCS Board (one can only have two consecutive terms) is because I want to help steer the company through the challenges not only of the digital age but also the choppy waters of Brexit, however that may pan out. I have hugely enjoyed being part of ALCS’s participation in lobbying work, recently through UKWriters; writers’ rights need to be protected as well as their work being properly remunerated.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Adam Singer, ALCS, CLA, Joanna Penn, PLS, Rebecca Fenton, Royal Society, Tom Chatfield, Tony Bradman | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th January, 2016
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)was taken over last night by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain for their annual awards ceremony, when the people who write the scripts of programmes people watch on TV or films or plays or even video games get a chance to step into the limelight. The ALCS, one whose Board I sit, was one of the sponsors. This year’s compere was the raunchy Scottish comedian Susan Calman who got the evening off to a jolly start by informing us how lucky we are to be able to work in our pyjamas. With three nominations in each of 12 categories, from radio drama to first screenplay, there were far too many winners (and losers) to mention in a short blog item, but a few were definitely highlights. Deborah Frances-White (best radio comedy) was funny but touching about the challenges of facing up to one’s adoption, while Timberlake Wertenbaker (best play) added some welcome gravitas. But to my mind the star of the show came right at the end — not an easy slot, when the audience has been sitting in the theatre for over two hours and there is a drinks reception with canapés waiting outside — was Russell T Davies, who was recognised for his Outstanding Contribution to Writing. He gave a bravura performance of self-deprecation mixed with slapstick. As he is immensely tall and Susan Calman distinctly short, they made an amusingly odd couple in the laureates’ line-up.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALCS, Deborah Frances-White, RIBA, Russell T Davies, Susan Calman, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Writers' Guild Awards | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th January, 2015
Last night I was at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for the Writers’ Guild Awards, of which ALCS (on whose Board I sit) is a sponsor. The setting was suitably glitzy and the host, Sandi Toksvig, in scintillating, cheeky form. Among the presenters, nominees and audience were such luminaries as Howard Brenton, Christopher Hampton and Steve Coogan. But many of the winners were unjustifiably less well-known names, as with both radio and TV, as well as in the cinema, it is often the actors and maybe the director who gets most of the credit, not the poor bloody writers. The whole point of the Writers’ Guild is to stand up for writers and the annual awards are a good way of highlighting talent and hard work. Among the winners last night were Marcus Brigstocke (Best Radio Comedy: The Brig Society), Rebecca Wojciechowski (Best Long-running TV series: Holby City), Nathan Filer (Best First Novel: The Shock of the Fall) and Sally Wainwright (Best Long Form TV Drama: Happy Valley). There was also a moving tribute to William (Bill) Ash, master storyteller and trade unionist, who died last May. Part of the point of such award events is for people in the industry — many of whom, including me, fit the caricature of the solitary writer in dressing gown and slippers working for hours on end at the computer at home — but the Awards also help promote the work of the winners as well as raise the profile of the craft itself.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALCS, Bill Ash, Christopher Hampton, Howard Brenton, Marcus Brigstocke, Nathan Filer, Rebecca Wojciechowski, RIBA, Sally Wainwright, Sandi Toksvig, Steve Coogan, The Writers' Guild, Writers' Guild Awards | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th July, 2014
The wealth generated by the UK’s creative industries is on the up; according to the government’s Department for Cuoluture, Media and Sport they are now worth £71.4 billion a year. Yet writers are seeing their incomes falling, to the extent that far fewer are able to make a living from their output. For some that has meant living at below the poverty line, or depending on a partner or other family members for support. For others, the only survival mechanism has been to have some other job as well as writing. According to figures released this summer by the Authors’ Liensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), in 2005 40% of authors earned their income solely from writing, but by 2013 this had dropped to only 11.5%. “If unchecked, this rapid decline in the number of full’time writers could have serious implications for the breadth and quality of content that drives the economic success of our creative industries in the UK,” the ALCS warns in a pamhlet launched recently at the House of Commons. Research carried out for ALCS by Queen Mary University, London, discovered that the typical income of writers has dropped by 29% in real terms since 2005, that median income now being about £11,000 per annum. It’s worth remembering that according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation single people in the UK need to earn at least £16,850 before tax to achieve a Minimum Income Standard. The one bright spot in an otherwise depressing picture is that digital use earnings are rising, but one of the reasons I stood (successfully) for the ALCS Board in January was because the digitalisation of content has given rise to new challenges to ensuring that authors do get some appropriate payment for their work. As the ALCS pamphlet says, “For writers to continue making their irreplaceable contribution to the UK economy, they need to receive fair remunertion for their work. This means ensuring clear, fair contracts with equitable terms and a copyright regime that supports creators and their ability to earn a living from their creations.”
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALCS, DCMS, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Queen Mary University of London, writers | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd January, 2014
This month I’m up for election, not for a political post for once, but to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Authors’ Lending and Collecting Society, ALCS. People who are not writers or journalists, or indeed academics, might not recognise those initials, or indeed confuse them with others, such as the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors, ALDC, or ALDE — the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe. But for ALCS members, the organisation is hugely useful, professionally collecting royalties and other copyright fees or other sums accruing from their published output and disbursing them, not only from the UK from some other countries as well, such as the Netherlands. Every March I receive such a payment of several hundred pounds, which may not sound much, but remember that most writers who do not have another full-time salaried job usually live on a pittance. Only a few become J K Rowling. But it is not just as a gesture of gratitude to the hard-working staff of ALCS over the years that I am standing for the Board of Directors. There are several radical developments in the world of publishing, dissemination, reproduction and copyright which require a keen awareness of political moves, both in Britain and at the EU level. I first got involved in writers’ issues through the Writers Action Group, lovingly nurtured by Maureen Duffy and Brigid Brophy; I can still picture their single-spaced typewritten newsletters. Thanks to them, and others like them, we got Public Lending Right (PLR) in this country, which is levied on an estimated total of the times your books are borowed from public libraries, or at least those in the schemes selected list. PLR has essentially been frozen, however, as well as being very modest for the vast majority of writers, which means that it is going down (and the PLR operation is moving from being a stand-alone organisation to being subsumed into the British Library). The ALCS, however, continues to grow and pay out more to more authors each year, thanks to the careful husbandry of its professional staff based at Writers House in London. If I am elected to the Board, I hope my years of experience in related fields, as well as excellent contacts in both Houses of Parliament, as well as in Brussels (where I was based for seven years) may be of some assistance. Unlike most companies, the Board of Directors of ALCS is elected by its membership, an example some other organisations might usefully follow.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALCS, ALDC, ALDE, Brigid Brophy, Maureen Duffy, PLR, Writers Action Group, Writers House | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th November, 2010
Baroness Rendell, peer of the realm and peerless writer of mystery/murder stories was the guest speaker at the AGM of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) at the Clothmakers’ Hall on the edge of the City this evening. Though the organisation now has over 80,000 members — allegedly making it the biggest writers’ association in the world — fortunately only a few hundred turn up to the annual meetings, these days held in alternate years in London and the provinces. ALCS now distributes well over £20 million in royalties to authors each year — from photocopying and other rights — which doesn’t go all that far, but I can tell you, as someone who earns most of his bread and butter from his ‘pen’, it helps. After the administrative and financial reports, there is always a guest speaker, but Ruth Rendell broke with precedent by talking entirely off the cuff — a rather charming ramble along the past 47 years of her publishing life, through to her love of the London Underground. No dead bodies or unseemly messes were left at the end, disappointingly, but as ever on these occasions, the canopés were rather fine.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALCS, Clothmakers Hall, Ruth Rendell | Leave a Comment »