John Whittingdale MP: If we don't protect authors' earnings, we risk losing the writers of tomorrow

Posted On: 
11th June 2019

Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale MP who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Writers’ Group investigates a reduction in authors' earnings and how best to ensure a vibrant book trade, online and in print.

Science fiction titles on display at the Waterstones book shop in Trafalgar Square, London.
Credit: 
PA

Authors’ earnings have dropped by over 40% since 2005 according to research by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society. Throughout our history writers have contributed to our culture and our standing in the world. Whether we talk about James Bond, Bilbo Baggins or Bridget Jones our writers’ creations have changed how we look at the world, and how the world looks at us. As the drivers of creative industries that DCMS value at over £100 billion, it is important we make it possible for writers to continue their contribution in all its creativity and diversity. It is important to remember that the creative economy employs 1 in 11 working people in the UK. 

The All Party Parliamentary Writers’ Group which I chair has hosted an inquiry over the last year to try and identify not only the causes of the slump in earnings, but steps that could be taken to alleviate the drop. We have heard from a variety of witnesses and one of the challenges that has been raised numerous times is the fact that while the creative industries have well established communication channels with Government to raise their policy concerns, creators and their organisations do not. The establishment of a Creators Council should be very high up on the list on the to do list at DCMS, it would create an open dialogue and would inevitably lead to better policy making process.

Creators and consumers benefit from a healthy book market, the market must have variety of choice where booksellers can compete and tailor their offering whether it is a supermarket or a local independent business. Clearly online booksellers have a part to play in this, but if an online monopoly replaces brick and mortar sellers we risk losing cultural outlets on our highstreets and having an uncompetitive book market that devalues authors. For that reason the government as part of its wider review of high streets must review opportunities to create a less unfair relationship between high-street and online booksellers.

Taxation of books is also a key area that the Government can take some simple but important steps immediately to support authors and their industry. Previously a minimum level of VAT on ebooks was set by the EU, but this obligation was lifted last year, so we should now remove VAT on ebooks just as we have with printed books. It is a ridiculous situation that as a country we would be taxing one form of reading over another, when more and more people are reading on digital devices.

It is now indisputable, that authors earnings have fallen but what is not yet decided is how we all react. The All Party Parliamentary Writers’ Group will continue to campaign on these issues whoever the Prime Minister may be, because if we do not take action to protect authors earnings soon, we risk losing the writers of tomorrow.

John Whittingdale is the Conservative MP for Maldon