Except for a small literary elite, Canadian writers are starving. More Canadians are being published than ever before, but very few are earning enough to keep themselves fed. Dozens of first-time authors appear daily because of the relative ease and small expense of self-publishing, but few even recover their costs.
Publishers Weekly reports the number of self-published titles in the U.S. jumped from 133,036 in 2010 to 211,269 in 2011. There are no provable figures for Canada.
Traditional book publishers continue to struggle meanwhile, with authors suffering smaller advances, smaller royalties and smaller promotional efforts. For most writers it is impossible to earn even a basic living writing books.
One place where it is easier is Norway. In that country of five million people the Arts Council of Norway buys 1,000 copies of every new book published and distributes them to libraries. The authors receive royalties on those copies. More than one-half of the Norwegian population aged nine to 79 uses a public library and the Norwegian literacy rate is said to be about 100 per cent.
Also helpful: books are not subject to Value Added Taxes and there generally is no charge for anyone to attend a public university. Norway, like some other European countries also bans deep discounting of books.
In Canada, books are subject to taxes, deep discounting is rampant and the Supreme Court has allowed educators to photocopy books without compensating the authors.
Hundreds of thousands of words could be written on how a combination of neglect and bad policy is killing the Canadian writer.
However, one fact taken from 2011 Statistics Canada data clearly illustrates the problem: There now are 4.1 public relations professionals for every journalist in Canada. So, the number of people being paid to tell you what their companies want you to hear is rising against a declining number of people who try to get you the unvarnished facts.
More and more people who set out to be writers are becoming public relations professionals because being a journalist or an independent writer has become a hard way to keep food on the table.