There is a piece today in the Bookseller.com about the monetary decline in advances paid to authors by UK publishers for literary fiction. The article reports that some advances have actually dropped as low as £500, with £1,000 to £2,000 being the common marker. According to one quoted publisher, we are a long way from the days when anything less than £10,000 was considered ‘unacceptable’. Clearly the Bookseller.com was predominantly speaking to mainstream and mid-sized publishing houses. I think the above decline has long been the case with smaller independent publishers and presses, and not just in the UK, but on both sides of the Atlantic pond.
I have long argued, here and here, the need for a serious look at the whole issue of paid advances to authors and its long-term sustainability in the publishing industry. While I do not see advances entirely disappearing – we may have to look at a model of publishing which pays advances only to mid-selling and bestselling authors, where an advance on royalties is exactly that, an advance earned out by the sales of a book. So often, book sales never achieve the heady heights that allow an advance to an author to be earned out fully. Of course, authors not receiving an advance must be compensated by far greater royalty shares.