Should writers get funded?
My social media feeds have lately been full of writers posting their despair at ever being able to make a living from their art. It’s not exactly a new complaint. In fact, these posts come hot on the heels of a couple of articles that also made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter: “The more you write, the less you make” and “When Iggy Pop can’t live off his art, what chance do the rest have?” Both articles mention a Writers’ Union of Canada estimate that most Canadian writers make around $12,000 a year off their work. That actually seems generous to me. I’ve made more than that a few years off my writing, but most years I make less. I don’t think I’m unusual that way when it comes to Canadian writers.
Many of the latest complaints stem from the recent Access Copyright payments in Canada, which dropped significantly this year. Access Copyright is a non-profit organization that represents Canadian artists and collects income for them from licensing deals with universities and other institutions. In their words, “We license the copying of this repertoire to educational institutions, businesses, governments and others. The proceeds gathered when content is copied, remixed and shared are passed along to the copyright-holders.”
Many of those educational institutions have recently decided to stop paying royalties to creators for various reasons covered over at the Access Copyright site (the bottom line is they’re re-interpreting the policy of “fair dealing”). As a result, Access Copyright payments dropped 22.9% this year, meaning this year’s base payment for creators is $112.75. That doesn’t cover the postage costs of most writers in a given year. I don’t see that number going up anytime soon. In fact, I suspect it will continue to drop.
I can’t help but notice that this is taking place while I’m getting an increasing number of alerts about people trying to find pirated versions of my books online.
This all raises the questions of whether or not creators should continue to benefit from the traditional models of artist support, such as Access Copyright, Canada Council grants, etc. Should creators be supported at all by the government and agencies like Access Copyright? Or should they be totally dependent on the marketplace (hard to do, given the ease of piracy) and more direct forms of fan support, such as Patreon?
I don’t have an answer to these questions. All I know is that money equals writing time, which means the more money I’m getting for my writing, the more I can write. A few years back, I went down to four days a week at my day job as an editor at The Province newspaper so I could have more time to write. That extra time was what allowed me to write my Cross books. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that was a good use of time. Since then, I’ve had two children and my financial demands have increased by a staggering amount (see the complaints of all parents everywhere). At the same time, I’m making less from my writing because of drops in funding and changes in the publishing industry overall. So I’m now considering going back to full-time at work or picking up more freelance work to pay the bills — which means less time to write. It’s a frustrating situation given the success I’ve had and the number of books I’ve written — finishing number 5 now. I’ve got more ideas for books I want to write than I have time for, and that time is increasingly under pressure.
Should creators get paid for their work? I guess it depends on what value society puts on their work. We live in the “free” culture, after all, as those Google alerts constantly remind me. But no one should be surprised then when writers, artists, musicians, etc. create less and less because they simply can’t afford to make their art — or they go as mainstream as possible in order to have just a chance at making a living. Time is money. But is money is also time — time that can be used to create.