Philip Pullman Resigns from Oxford Literary Festival Over Lack of Author Payment

by Melissa Ragsdale

Philip Pullman, author of the widely loved His Dark Materials series, announced this week that he will be resigning as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival, due to the Festival’s practice of not paying its authors.

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.

— Philip Pullman (@PhilipPullman) January 13, 2016

Pullman said that he has long advocated fair payment to authors participating in the festival, to no avail. He told the Guardian: “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?”

One of the largest literary festivals, The Oxford Literary Festival features over 500 speakers and 250 events each year. This year’s festival (set for April 2–10) will include authors Jacqueline Wilson, A.C. Grayling, and Joan Bakewell, among other prominent voices. The festival is funded by large sponsors as well as revenue from ticket sales, with tickets costing between £6 and £25.

Festival director Sally Dunmore responded that the organization were sad to see Pullman go, but stood by the Festival’s stance on author payment. She categorized the Festival as a charity: “If we were to change our policy, we could not put on a festival as large and diverse as Oxford’s which supports and promotes the work of both bestselling authors and of those at the outset of their writing careers or with a smaller following.”

This move comes just a week after Pullman and The Society of Authors (of which Pullman is president) released an open letter to The Publisher’s Association and the Independent Publishers’ Guild, demanding that authors receive more equitable pay for their work. The letter warned that authors were becoming an “endangered species,” citing that annual income for a writer had fallen to£11,000 ($15854.85), well below the £16,850 ($24,286.75) that the Joshua Browntree Foundation has deemed “necessary for a socially acceptable living standard.”

Among other solutions, the letter requests that authors be paid 50% of e-book sales, as opposed to the current 25%, and proposes best practices to ensure fair treatment of authors in contracts, including clear and transparent royalty statements and adherence to the C.R.E.A.T.O.R. guidelines.

Pullman told the Guardian that in advocating for writers, he’s only seeking a more equitable system: “We don’t want these great powers to disappear altogether: the things they do are often things that need doing. Books are physical objects that need to be manufactured and transported and sold, or digital entities that need to be formatted and made available online. Sometimes there are things we wish they would do a little more of: editorial standards are not what they were. All those things are necessary and should be rewarded — but rewarded fairly. So is our work, and so should we.”

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