Lots of debate this week as to whether authors should be paid for their appearances at literary festivals.
It’s come about because acclaimed author Philip Pullman took the principled decision to step down from his role as Patron of the Oxford Literature Festival over its failure to pay authors for appearances. Here’s the full story on that in the Bookseller
My view, for what it’s worth, is a big cheer for Pullman and a big pantomime boo for the Oxford festival. I can’t make the basic point better than Pullman did himself. The Oxford festival isn’t some new event, it’s well established. And it pays everybody else involved in the thing. It pays for the marquees it uses, the electricity, the catering, the drinks receptions. It pays salaries to administrators, and publicists and to the people who design and print the programmes.
Why, in the name of all that is holy, should the authors, the people who the ticket buyers are paying to see, be the only people in the whole damn thing who don’t get properly remunerated for the work they do?
This has gone on for years of course, not just at Oxford but in lots of places, and that I suppose, is why this incredible situation seems acceptable to the people who perpetrate it. It is custom and practice – authors often work for nothing when they provide information and entertainment at festivals to people who then pay the organisers of the festival for the privilege of seeing them.
Things have come to a head because the rest of the business model for authors is under a lot of pressure. People expect to pay less for books these days and there are a lot more books to choose from – I’ll write more about that in a separate post. But what it means is that, to earn anything like a fair income for what they do, writers have to look at exploiting other opportunities and this includes getting paid fairly for public appearances.
I was discussing this on social media this week and someone offered the opinion that, if punters were paying to get into a festival event then the writer should be paid an appearance fee, but if it was free they should not be.
But I would point out that costs of many free events are covered by corporate sponsorship and the festival brings in money that way rather than through ticket sales. So the author should still be paid.
I would go further. I would say the author should still be paid at a free event with no sponsorship. Because the event is part of the festival and the festival as a whole makes money. It’s one of the attractions on the bill and should be treated as such.
Let’s not forget, none of these festivals would exist at all without the authors.
Now, I confess, I have sometimes appeared free at festivals before now, ‘for the exposure’ as the organisers like to pitch it, in the hope of selling a few books. And I say it is up to the individual author if they want to do this. But I don’t honestly think they should be put in the position of having to. Nor should they be asked to ‘donate’ their fee back to the festival to cover its costs.
Paying the authors should be the first item on the expenses bill for any festival or other literary event. If you can’t do that then you shouldn’t be running the festival at all.
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