The Authors Guild’s Member Survey Findings Are Advocacy, Not Data

The Authors Guild just recently released the “key findings” from its 2015 Member Survey, in an infographic-y ten-page report.

The thrust of the document is that times are bad for writers: income is down, fewer authors are supporting themselves on writing alone, and marketing duties are becoming more time-consuming. Their policy take away? “[C]opyright law and policy need to be tailored to put authors’ concerns at the forefront.”

Though doubtless the report accurately reports on the underlying survey, these aren’t results that should inform or drive any kind of policy—without transparency in methodology or data, the figures presented are a black box. How many were surveyed? How many responded? What’s being left out? Since many of the report’s conclusions were drawn in comparison to a 2009 report, we’ll need the same information from the prior survey.

Now, this information is out there somewhere (I just haven’t been able to track it down). Perhaps the reason things are being released in dribbles is that, taken in context and with the full results, the picture isn’t nearly as damning as the one the “key findings” tries to paint. Here’s Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader, full report in hand:

Remember, 89% of the survey group were older than 50 years of age. Half of that 89% was over 65 (629 out of 1,406), with the next largest concentration in the 55 to 64 bracket (425 out of 1,406).

This means that the age groups which were disproportionately over-represented in the survey were also the one that earned the least. . . .

And while we’re on the topic of disproportionate representation throwing off the results, a quarter of the survey group had a JD, MD, or PhD. Around 11% had an MFA, and another 25% had a graduate degree. (Do you suppose that may have biased the results just a little?)

There are all sorts of small details that change the entire picture, but perhaps the most interesting detail . . . was the fact that the 11% of respondents who don’t remember the time of the dinosaurs are earning a heck of a lot of money. Furthermore, the data shows that the younger age groups are earning far more in 2014 than they were in 2009, while the older age groups tended to earn less.

Context, as it turns out, is everything.

Full disclosure: I serve as the Executive Director of the Authors Alliance, another group that does author advocacy (albeit, expressly in the public interest).