Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘ALCS’

What Is Writing Worth?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th June, 2018

wordcloud writing.pngThere is a massive paradox at the heart of Britain’s creative industries: though these are now worth over £90billion a year (and growing much faster than the economy as a whole), writers’ earnings have been declining sharply. In other words, the packaged goods are booming, but the people who produce core content are not getting properly remunerated, which inevitably means that many are having to search for other ways of earning a living. Let’s take a look at the figures. According to the latest survey of authors’ earnings — carried out by the University of Glasgow, on behalf of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS)*, and launched at the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group summer reception in Parliament yesterday — the average actual earnings for professional writers in the UK last year was £10,437. That’s well below what someone on the minimum wage would earn for a 35-hour week. Worryingly, this sum is down from £12,330 in 2005 and £11,000 in 2013, when similar studies were carried out — and that doesn’t even take inflation into account. For part-time writers the figures are even worse. Now, I have met people who say “writers should write because of their love of writing, not for the money!” But that’s rather like saying, “chefs should cook for their love of cooking, not for the money!”. And just as one should not expect a free meal in a restaurant — or at least, one for which the chef is not being paid — neither should people expect free content when they get a book or other form of creative content. Sadly, one of the adverse effects of new technology and the ability to download content to all sorts of devices has been that consumers do increasingly expect a lot for free. But to do so risks cutting off the supply of the very thing they want. That’s why the work of bodies such as ALCS, the Society of Authors, the Writers’ Guild and others is so important, in campaigning for the respect of copyright and proper payment for creators. Work on copyright awareness is increasingly taking place in schools and other sectors, fortunately. So as this new alarm bell over writers’ impoverishment is rung, does that mean that when a further study is done in a few years time, we’ll see an upturn in the median earnings? Like most authors, I fervently hope so — but I’m not holding my breath.


Posted in Uncategorized, writing | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

25 Years of the National Literary Trust

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd March, 2018

gruffaloLast night I was at the Plaisterers’ Hall in the City for a fundraising dinner celebrating the 25th anniversary of the National Literary Trust. This is an independent charity working with schools and communities to give disadvantaged children the literacy skills to succeed in life. It’s a shaming part that in some of the poorest parts of Britain hundreds of thousands of primary school children are unable to read or write, which severely handicaps their chances in later life. Parents and the home learning environment have the greatest effect on how a child develops language and literacy skills. So much of the work done by the Trust focuses there. The charity’s Patron is the Duchess of Cornwall, who gave a short unscripted speech last night, and was joined by three dozen successful writers, including Tony Bradman, Chair of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose table I sat. My own engagement with the National Literary Trust has been through the Ruth Rendell Award for the promotion of literacy, as I have been one of the judges choosing the winner in the first two years of the award’s existence. As one might expect from the location, there were a lot of financial high-flyers at the dinner last night and with the help of an auction including pictures of the Gruffalo drawn on the spot by Axel Sheffler, £175,000 was raised.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Literature in Britain Today

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th March, 2017

j-k-rowlingrsl-logoLiterature 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: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why I’m Re-standing for the ALCS Board

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th December, 2016

alcs-new-logoTo 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.writing

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Writers in Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th December, 2016

simon-rendell-and-valerie-amosYesterday the House of Commons terrace hosted the Winter Reception of the All Party Writers Group, sponsored by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit. These events seem to grow each year, which is a good reflection of a growing awareness in both the Commons and the Lords about the challenges facing writers today. The creative industries contribute at least £70 billion a year to the UK economy and writers are a vital part of that production, yet writers’ incomes have in general fallen drastically in recent years. The J. K. Rowlings of this world are the exception, as the average professional writer these days earns only about £12,000 a year, which is barely enough to subsist on. Moreover, tough challenges are coming down the line, not least Brexit and the advance of the digital age. This means a lot of uncertainty lies ahead, which is why it is so important that writers have allies in Parliament to intervene as appropriate when relevant legislation is being discussed, from the digital economy bill to EU copyright directives. In recent months a new body, UKWriters, on whose steering group I sit, has been coordinating some of the lobbying work and priority-setting by writers’ organisations, including ALCS and the Society of Authors.

andy-mcnabSeveral of the MPs and peers present at yesterday’s receptions are authors themselves (and therefore beneficiaries of secondary royalties from ALCS, as well as Public Lending Right (PLR). It was good to see, among others, Tim Clement-Jones, Valerie Amos and Richard Balfe. However, the peer most in people’s minds was the late Ruth Rendell, in whose name an award was created, to recognise the work of someone who has promoted literacy brilliantly. I was honoured to be the ALCS representative on the judging panel and delighted that the first winner was Andy McNab whose back-story as a writer and brave exploits in “unsafe spaces” for literature (such as factories and prisons) richly merited the accolade. He was alas unable to be present to accept the award from Ruth Rendell’s son, the psychiatric social worker, Simon, as he was yomping somewhere far-flung. But Simon had come over from Colorado, where he lives, and Andy McNab was represented by a witty and impressive recorded message redolent of the sort of originality and quirkiness that makes him so special.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th November, 2016

alcs-new-logoDespite 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.

alcs-agmAt 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: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Writers’ Guild Awards

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th January, 2016

Russell T DaviesThe 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: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Writers’ Guild Awards

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th January, 2015

The Writers GuildSandi ToksvigLast 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What Writers Really Earn

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th July, 2014

ALCS brochureThe 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: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why I’m Standing for the ALCS Board

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd January, 2014

alcs-logoThis 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: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »