Philip Pullman has resigned as patron of the Oxford literary festival, complaining that organisers ‘expecting authors to work for free’ conflicts with his role as president of society that campaigns for author wages.
The award-winning author of the His Dark Materials trilogy made the announcement on Twitter on Wednesday, saying that “because of the Oxford Literary Festival’s attitude to paying speakers (they don’t) I can’t remain as a patron any longer. I’ve resigned”.
The 20 year old festival is set to feature writers including Jacqueline Wilson, Richard Dawkins and Susie Dent this April.
Pullman said that his position as patron of the festival “sat rather awkwardly” with his role as president of the Society of Authors, which has been campaigning for authors to receive fair payment at literary festivals. “Over the years”, he said, he had been urging the Oxford festival to pay its speakers, and it had not done so, “so I thought it was time I resigned as a patron of the OLF”.
“The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing?” Pullman told the Guardian.
“The ‘publicity’ argument doesn’t work. Well-known authors don’t need it, and the less well-known will never sell enough books to cover the costs of being away from the work that does pay (and not very well at that). Expecting authors to work (because it is work) for nothing is iniquitous, it always has been, and I’ve had enough of it.”
In December, the Society of Authors wrote to the Oxford festival about payments to authors, saying that it was “concerned to hear reports that Oxford does not pay fees to authors”.
“We understand the constraints you face but other festivals do manage to pay authors in these circumstances,” wrote chief executive Nicola Solomon to the festival, pointing to a study carried out by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society last year that found the average earnings of a professional full-time author were only £11,000 per year.
“Authors earn their living as freelances,” wrote Solomon. “An event involves time and preparation and authors deserve to be paid just as much as every other professional who contributes to the event, particularly if people are paying to see them.
Solomon told the Guardian that she has yet to receive a reply to her letter.