This post was inspired by a couple of snarky responses to my previous piece on Wil Wheaton’s assertion that creatives deserved to be compensated for their work. Those comments stated that people who want to make real actual money should be engineers, doctors, lawyers, or manufacturers, and that creative arts are what people in advanced economies can afford to do, without compensation, in their spare time. I want to prove how wrong such attitudes are. How ridiculously, disproportionately, madly wrong. Not least because they have real negative consequences. Those kinds of prejudices and expectations are exploited by publishers and other rights-grabbers to facilitate their treatment of authors and creatives, while all along they grow fat off that creativity. Funny, that. You’d think there might be some real money in it, eh?
(And I’d stand by my title. Unless you’re already a millionaire, or even a billionaire, a great many writers and creatives probably are making much more than you ever will. And if my TeleRead readership numbers millionaire or billionaire creatives, or even non-creatives involved in the business of creativity, I welcome and salute you. You prove my point.)
Starting with actual author incomes is almost the lazy, easy way, but I’ll do it anyway. I’ve flogged the James Patterson dead horse almost as much as he flogs his tired co-written bestsellers, but the guy still makes around $90 million p.a. Serious wads. He pales, though, in comparison to J.K. Rowling’s $1 billion net worth. And if you want cultural cred – of a kind – how about Paulo Coelho’s $500 million net worth? He makes #4 on the Celebrity Net Worth list of the Top 50 Authors. For graphic artists, by the way, Jim Davis makes #2 with $800 million – almost enough to buy forgiveness for inflicting Garfield on the world.
Indeed, the entire Celebrity Net Worth list of the Top 50 Authors (“We always heard the toughest thing for an author was getting paid but seems like these writers figured it out”) makes for illuminating, if masochistic, reading for those into serious dollar envy. Unless you’re on there already. And even if you are, chances are there’s plenty more up above you.
And while we’re still on individual creatives, how about film directors? George Lucas: $7.3 billion. Steven Spielberg: $3 billion. Musicians? Andrew Lloyd Webber: $1.2 billion. Paul McCartney: $800 million. And interestingly, Hollywood’s richest producers have net worth that shadows or trails that of top authors – meaning, I guess, that Harvey Weinstein goes to bed at night dreaming of being Paulo Coelho.
Turning aside to the industries that depend on the fruits of all this creativity, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts claim, at January 2015 values endorsed by the Motion Picture Association of America, that creative industries add $698 billion to the U.S. economy, or 4 percent of GDP. The 2013 UNESCO/UNDP United Nations Creative Economy Report quoted global trade of creative goods and services at $624 billion in 2011 numbers – which won’t have gone south since then. And despite certain snarky comments that creatives are dumb with figures, it’s one benefit of being a writer with experience in financial journalism that I can understand that $698 billion is A Lot of Money.
And incidentally, The Richest’s list of the 10 Richest Lawyers in the World (versus businesspeople who happen to have a law degree) only cites one who earns more than $100 million – making lawyers very small beer compared to writers. And a paltry $15 million is enough to get you on the Richest Lifestyle’s January 2015 list of the top ten richest doctors. Better hope some wealthy author sends some business your way, guys.
Writers and creatives, remember: If your creative field is worth enough to make others billionaires, it’s worth you being paid for. If your work is worth someone else using to grow fat off, it’s worth them paying you for it. It’s worth something. If your hobby is their business, make it your business. You owe it to yourself, and to the creative vocation.
And next time someone tells you your creativity is just a hobby and not worth anything, tell them you’ll take their opinion seriously if they agree to pay you a sum equal to James Patterson’s annual income. Respect.
(Disclaimer: TeleRead accepts no responsibility for lives wasted by talentless wannabes as a result of reading this article. You may have no ability and nothing to give to the world. But that’s purely a matter of your individual talent – not the economics of creativity.)