ALCS (the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society) is celebrating its 30th year. ALCS has distributed more than £140 million to a wide range of writers in that time. Much of the money comes from fees for photocopying (through CLA licences), particularly in the education sector, and from retransmission of television and radio programmes.
ALCS is a writers’ organisation run by writers for writers. Anyone who has had a book published, or written a script that has been broadcast, or has written articles that have appeared in journals that have ISSN numbers should join. You may be surprised by how much income can flow in from this source. There are two distributions a year: read some statistics on the latest distribution here.
As a Director of ALCS, nominated by the Society of Authors, I was asked to contribute to a book 30 Years of ALCS. Other contributors include Maureen Duffy, Stephen Fry, Shirley Hughes, Alan Plater, Jilly Cooper, Will Self, Joanna Trollope, Nicholas Allan, Joan Smith, Wendy Cope and Maggie Gee.
Below are my responses to the two questions they asked each of the contributors.
1. As a writer, what is the most important thing that has happened to you in the past 30 years?
Getting my first book contract was the most important event for me. The terms were skewed in favour of the publisher and the advance was tiny. But it gave me credibility and the confidence to go on to write the book. It was far more significant to me than getting my PhD, more significant even than getting my first lectureship (not, however, anything like as important as meeting my wife or the birth of my children). It meant I was a proper writer. Sadly, even though the terms in new contracts have improved, the advances have grown a bit, and there has been a steady flow of income from the ALCS, no subsequent book contract has given me anything like the frisson of the first one.
2. What changes do you foresee for writers in your field in the years to come?
The advent of a viable e-book reader will transform everything. Once downloadable e-books catch on in the way that mp3s have caught on, we will need to write in a different way, perhaps building in hyperlinks, perhaps audio and video content too. It could be the end of linear non-fiction designed to read page by page and the beginning of a new era for writers. This could happen soon: perhaps in the next three years.
Another related development could be a large-scale trend towards self-publishing. It is already easy to self-publish content on the Internet. Unless publishers up their game and pay writers better, we might just get by without them.