There are several varieties of maples, and what I suspect is a Siberian elm, overhanging my small Toronto garden and they are currently dropping thousands of seed pods. As I sweep up pounds of whirligigs and confetti from the ground, the writer in me – or perhaps it is the parsimonious Presbyterian – wonders if I cannot turn this unlooked-for bounty into a metaphor for our culture.
It was a hard winter for some plants – the ivy, usually so hardy, has half died away. I’ve often heard that trees put out more seeds or cones when under stress, as though to ensure the survival of the next generation even as they are dying. How do you explain to consumers flooded with stuff that even as the digital miracle produces more images, more text and more music than they could ever possibly appreciate in a whole lifetime of looking and listening, our culture is actually suffering real distress?
Writers have long worried about the impact of e-books, online retailing, self-publishing and industry mergers on their livelihoods. I’ve speculated that internationally, we are heading toward a literary culture divided between self-published wannabes and mega-bestsellers, with less and less room for the mid-list.
That poses a particularly acute problem for Canada because this is already a smaller market and one that tends to produce literary novels rather than genre fiction. Increasingly the anecdotes have poured in about that respected Canadian novelist turning to teaching; this one trying her hand at screenwriting.
Now the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is confirming what we’ve all suspected. It sent out a survey to its members (who have all published at least one book commercially) and almost half responded: Over all, the writers’ incomes from writing have dropped 27 per cent since the last time they were surveyed, in 1998.
Their average annual income from writing is now less than $13,000 and half report they are working harder than before to make the money. American and British surveys have reported similar drops.
Read more: Despite an explosion of e-publishing, Writers’ Union survey finds incomes have dropped - The Globe and Mail