Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book festivals are worth far more than fees

Philip Pullman is opposed to literary festivals that do not pay their speakers. Photograph: Sarah Lee.
With a 2014 survey reporting that the median income for authors is now just £11,000, these are undoubtedly lean times, and it’s understandable that emotions are running high. But, according to recent figures, the earnings gap has also widened dramatically between the top 1% and the rest – which translates, in festival terms, into the sort of writers who audiences will queue up to hear, and those for whom they won’t.

In more than a decade of chairing festival events, I’ve fronted many in which the audience barely outnumbered the panellists. They usually feature novelists who desperately need the sort of exposure a festival can bring. These sessions are the outside bets of the festival circuit: not only do they attract small audiences, but they are usually bunched into themed panel events so as to offset the risk. They are effectively being subsidised by more famous authors speaking to bigger audiences in bigger tents.


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