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Self-employed in publishing

A tax on the precariat: what the 2017 budget means for the self-employed in publishing

Outrage abounds in the wake of Philip Hammond’s 2017 Budget announcement on Wednesday. Amongst other controversial moves, National Insurance (NI) payments on the self-employed have been increased by 2%. But what effect will this raise have on the growing number of self-employed and freelance workers in the publishing industry?

The figures

Let’s start by looking at the cold, hard figures. The 2017 Budget has brought in a 2% rise in NI contributions for the UK’s self-employed workers. The self-employed normally pay one of two different kinds of NI: Class 2, if your profits are £5,965+ per year, and Class 4 if they are £8,060+ per year. Class 4 payments are divided into two categories: 9% on profits of £8,060-£43,000, and 2% on profits over £43,000.

The proposed two percent raise will take place on for Class 4 payments, for profits between £8,060 and £43,000 per year. The rates will increase from 9% to 10% in April 2018 and 11% in April 2019, while NI contributions on profits over £43,000 will remain steady at 2%. This hike in NI payments coincides with the abolition of Class 2 rates already due to take place in 2018.

According to the official figures, this means the average self-employed worker will pay 60p more a week in tax, and 2.5 million workers will face an average annual increase of £240. The Treasury has stated that taking into account personal allowance changes due to come in over the next two years, nobody under £16,250 will be worse off. The Government will raise a total of £145m per year from these increases.

Getting into the nitty-gritty: an attitude for concern

These numbers don’t seem drastic, and they are unlikely to cause widespread disruption for the self-employed in publishing, whose overheads are relatively low and who don’t have the same restrictions on their contracts as, for instance, NHS workers, many of whom have been pushed to tipping point by this move.

However, these figures indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the realities of self-employment on the Treasury’s part, which should be cause for concern. Mr Hammond has justified the hike in self-employed NI contributions by saying that the disparity between the rates paid by the employed and the self-employed “undermines the fairness of our tax system”. He has also implied that the reason for the “dramatic increase” in self-employment may be due to these “differences in tax treatment” and shouldn’t be. The Prime Minister’s spokesman later added: “The point of this Budget is to address an unfairness that has existed for some time.”

Yet, these differences in tax treatment are there for good reason. Not for nothing are the self-employed called the “precariat”: they constantly sit in the crucible of financial uncertainty, with fluctuating profits, short-term contracts, short termination periods, and no holiday or sick pay. Moreover, the self-employed have to take care of their own insurance, accounts, travel and expenses. In lean times, they have to work through their savings before they can receive benefits, which is not the case for traditionally employed workers.

Mr Hammond has bandied around some convincing-sounding figures about the discrepancy in taxation, but he added the employers’ average NI contribution of 13.8% to those of their employees to make the difference seem larger than it is. To put these “tax-benefits” into perspective in terms of the costs to the actual workers, employed workers pay a Class 1 contribution of 12%. That’s only 3% more than the self-employed, and after the budget is set to become only be 1% more. The benefits gained through tax breaks to the self-employed do not – and never have – outweighed their extra expenses and loses.

Worse still, the NI contributions changes actually break a key Conservative manifesto promise from the 2015 election, which explicitly stated that “we [the Conservatives] will not raise VAT, National Insurance contributions or Income Tax”. When confronted about this, Hammond has said that “Britain’s circumstances have moved on” in light of the EU Referendum, before paradoxically reassuring self-employed workers that they were not paying the price for Brexit!

Implications like this further annihilate workers’ ability to swallow the Chancellor’s various claims the tax hike is in aid of “fairness”, evening out the pensions scheme, or in aid of “public services”.

An unusual unity

However, the changes have caused a unity amongst politicians, papers and people that has become rare in recent times. This is perhaps in part because they kick the underdog. The changes proposed will only affect only those on lower incomes, while taxation on profits over £43,000 remains frozen.

But it is also because these changes endanger the spirit of entrepreneurism that has been growing in strength throughout the UK in recent, and which many in Whitehall hold close to their hearts. Self-employment has ballooned in recent years, particularly in publishing, and it isn’t going to disappear. As the world becomes increasingly digitized and flexible, freelancing is emerging as the powerhouse of the future. Putting blocks on the expansion of the freelance market, especially for those on lower incomes who are just starting out, will only serve to put the UK behind at a time when it needs to be looking ahead. A far cry from the “strong and stable platform” Hammond has promised the Budget provides moving forward in our negotiations to leave the EU.

Labour, UKIP, and the Lib Dems have united in their condemnation, and Hammond is facing rebellion from the Tory backbenches, too. Meanwhile, the national press has united against the “clobbering” of the self-employed, from The Guardian to The Sun.

To me, this unification is the most interesting aspect of this year’s Budget announcement: at last, we finally all agree on something again. It unites against the average Joe bearing the brunt of the budget again and against the spin of inconsistent messages emanating from all our politicians of late. Though there is legitimate pressure on the government to give immediate and significant support to social care budgets, which have been indiscriminately slashed to the “brink of collapse”, this hardly seems like the optimum solution to that problem.

Get your story straight, Mr Hammond, because frankly, nobody ever went freelance for the tax breaks.

Self-employed in publishing

Observing the audience: how reader analytics are influencing the industry

Reader analytics are garnering huge attention at the moment and there are at least four major talks at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair discussing how and why publishers and authors can collect data on their readers. But with reader analytics taking the spotlight in publishing, the debate over the ethics of data harvesting and its uses has been brought to our doorstep.

Consensual data is happy data

The big issues around data harvesting are not just what information businesses and official organisations are collecting about us, it’s whether or not they’re doing it with our consent. For once, however, publishing is ahead of the curve on getting this one right.

Although big boys like Amazon remain the mysterious bastions of data collection they’ve always been, smaller companies specialising in reader analytics are proving to be honest, open and respectful about harvesting data. For example, Jellybooks use “reading campaigns” for as-yet unreleased books to provide information to publishers, in a similar way that a screen test would for a film studio. Jellybooks gathers data from readers who have volunteered to be monitored and received a free digital copy of the campaign book, which is clearly marked, so that the reader remembers they’re being observed.

What’s more, while Jellybooks have said that “though in principle [non-anonymised] data could be provided to the author or publisher” they do not give it. Despite some rumours, Jellybooks also does not gather data by measuring eye-movement, but by observing how the reader interacts with their app as they read. Jellybooks, and most reader analytics collectors, are more interested in the time of day consumers read, how long they read for, when they highlight or perform searches on text, and the operating system, device or browser being used. These are added to information the reader voluntarily provides, such as gender and age.

When working with companies like Jellybooks, publishers don’t need to feel compromised about using this data: it’s not an invasion, it’s a gift!

Data driven decisions

But why is data such hot property in the first place? Some have wondered – both in horror and hope – that reader analytics might effect the editorial process, but Jellybooks has said that this misunderstands how people read and the kind of data reader analytics can collect: “Readers judge a book as a whole based on storyline, language, characters, plot, etc. and not on individual chapters.” Though the data can be utilised in this way, knowing that “x” number of people dropped off at page 57 is not necessarily helpful to an author or a publisher.

Excitingly, what reader analytics can provide are evidence-based assessments of how a book is likely to perform in the market. Data on completion rates and recommendations gathered during the commissioning stage, for example, can help reduce the risk inherent in signing new books by indicating whether or not a book might be popular.

Later in the publishing process, analytics can also help marketing departments figure out how much budget to assign to their titles, what their audience looks like and how to find them – are they young or old, male or female? Do they binge-read on beach holidays, meaning you should get WHSmith Travel on board, or do they dip in on their on their commute to work, meaning you can grab them with a poster on the tube?

Best of all, this data is available via third-party companies like Jellybooks, meaning that although publishers have to pay fees for their data, they don’t need to make the huge investments in building platforms and software that was previously required. This information is more easily available to publishers than ever before.

Scratching the surface

Reader analytics still clearly has its limits and they may never become a magic wand for book sales, but the truth is that the possibilities for using this data are only just starting to be explored. Moreover, the software for collecting this data are still in its – albeit impressive – infancy. Looking ahead there is talk of Jellybooks developing some kind of “FitBit for books,” which will take retail copies of books into account as well as the pre-sales titles currently available. Others claim that one day soon we will be able to use data to predict the next big bestseller.

There can be no arguing that data harvesting is here to stay. The only, opportunity-filled question remains: how else are we going to use it?


Self-employed in publishing

The next 5 years of publishing: Jasmin Kirkbride interview

On the 8th June we’re launching the third title in the Snapshots series, BookMachine on publishing: the next 5 years, with a free event in four cities. Here Allison Williams interviews one of our speakers from the London event, Jasmin Kirkbride on current publishing trends and predictions.

1) What are current trends and predictions that excite you most about the future of the publishing industry?

I am so in love with crowd funding right now. It’s so brilliant: not only is it basically completely financially stable for the publisher and the author, it also increases the diversity of what’s getting published. By bringing print runs down and securing sales before the book even hits the shelves, it very low-risk in what are still quite uncertain times. But whilst being low-risk, crowdfunding actually also allows for the publication of interesting, diverse, unusual books that traditional publishing models would see as incredibly risky. It allows readers from so many more little niches to get stories that they’ll really love, and uncovers some real hidden gems. Getting this level of connectivity and support is using the internet to its best advantage.

In a similar vein, it’s also intriguing watching how many publishers are picking up really popular books from self-published and not traditionally published authors – whether through Wattpad or Amazon or whatever. I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future. Though I wouldn’t say I’m excited by it, I think it’ll be fun to watch how that plays out in the long run.

2) What is the trend or prediction that scares you most about the future of the publishing industry?

There’s a lot of challenging stuff ahead, but I think virtual reality (VR) could be the next thing that really affects the industry in a scary way. It’s just about to start coming into its own, and I think it’s a much more immediate problem than something like AI.

3) How do you think we can best combat that trend or prediction?

I think this will really affect trade fiction a lot more than any other market, so I’ll focus on that. We need to remember what we do best, what fiction books offer that nothing else can. The beauty of a book is that, if it’s well-written, it can transport the reader into someone else’s shoes absolutely. Whether they’re picking up Fifty Shades or the next Man Booker winner, I really believe that somewhere in their reading experience, amongst other things, people are seeking out that feeling of frisson. That is the thing we will have over VR, but in order to be competitive, we have to keep up our editorial standards, our understanding of what the readership is seeking, and how to communicate with them.

4) What is one thing you’d like to see the publishing industry start doing in the next 5 years?

Look at the environment more. We have a lot of short term issues that we face as an industry and I’m not belittling those, they’re important. Actually, a lot of them – like diversity – have underlying causes and tensions that are really interconnected with environmental concerns. But we need to have a lot more meaningful discussions about our impact on the environment, and start actioning those quickly and effectively. It’s clear from the Paris Agreement that politicians aren’t going to put the pressure on industries enough for us to up our game before cause a complete catastrophe, so we’ve got to learn to put that pressure on ourselves. When the agreement was read out, a number of the African politicians just got up and left, because it was an ecological death sentence for their respective countries. We’re already seeing the first climate refugees. You know, we’ve got to look at our industry’s part in that.

5) Can you give us a sneak peek of the ‘snapshot’ of the industry that you will be sharing with us at the launch?

Keep calm and lobster on.

Grab your free ticket for the launch of Snapshots III here.

Self-employed in publishing

Hope and Confidence: An optimistic future for publishing

Some weeks ago, I was explaining the returns system and how integral it had become to the industry to a friend.

“I get it,” he smiled, “publishing’s built on its broken bits.”

The comment was said without malice, but it gnawed at me. Is publishing really that ‘broken’? I don’t believe it for a minute, but is that naïve idealism, or do we have a real reason to hold out hope for the future?

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Not at Home for the Holidays: The writers behind bars for freedom of expression

On Saturday, Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist, Nasser Amin challenged the law stating the Egyptian authorities are allowed to imprison writers who publish works that are in ‘violation of the public morals’. The statement was made during the court trial of Ahmed Naji, who had an excerpt of his novel The Use of Life, published in Akhbar al-Adab magazine in August 2014. The piece contained explicit sex acts and made reference to the hashish that was used by the main characters. Under the current law, this is enough for the authorities to jail him.

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Self-employed in publishing

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Is it time to divorce the returns system?

Publishing is an unusual industry in many ways, yet perhaps the most bizarre of its kinks is the returns system. Under this system, provided certain criteria are met, booksellers of all kinds are able to return unsold books back to their original publisher. The publisher then has to refund their value and either house the overstock or pulp it.

But has the system become more damaging than it is profitable? And where, when no other industry conducts this practice, did it originate?

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Self-employed in publishing

Is the Colouring-In Book Craze a Finite Market?

In the past year the industry has seen a new craze for adult colouring-in books flourish around the world, crossing markets and continents, as stressed-out grown-ups turn to colouring books for peace of mind.

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Self-employed in publishing

Love Losing Control: 1000 True Fans and Marketing 2.0

There is a theory stating that 1000 True Fans are all a person needs to make a living from their own products. Whether you’re selling books, songs, music or paintings, having 1000 True Fans who are willing to spend about £30 per year on your products will keep you afloat. It may sound unlikely, and according to the anecdotes it’s a pretty hard road, but it is possible.

What’s more, the theory is equally applicable to businesses and companies: for every extra person involved, simply add another 1000 True Fans to the total that you need.

But why does this theory work? And why is it becoming more popular?

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Self-employed in publishing

1000 Fake Reviewers: What does publishing’s underbelly say about us?

Once again the practice of faking bad reviews has made the headlines, but this time Amazon is the good guy. The online book retailer has announced that it will sue 1,114 ‘fake reviewers’ in a lawsuit filed in Seattle, Washington. The reviewers, dubbed “John Does” as Amazon does not yet know their real names, have been selling their services on the internet out-sourcing site fivrr.com, promising five-star reviews for as little as $5 (about £3.24).

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Self-employed in publishing

Refugee libraries in Calais and beyond

There is a common misconception that refugee camps are temporary structures, built to house a population consistently on the move. The truth of the matter is, however, that these structures can remain in place for a long time and develop a life of their own.

Just like any other town, long-term refugee camps require supplies and structures to help their inhabitants learn and develop. The ability to access books and learning materials are crucial to this, and it’s often done through libraries.

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Self-employed in publishing

A 3-step beginner’s guide to building skills in the workplace

In the run up to October’s event, United, We Publish, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions on Unite-focused topics such as training, pay, employment law and flexible working. This is a guest post from Jasmin Kirkbride. Jasmin is a regular blogger for BookMachine and Editorial Assistant at Periscope Books (part of Garnet Publishing). She is also a published author and you can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride.

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Self-employed in publishing

Malleable Models: The real effects of the digital revolution on business

This is a guest post from Jasmin Kirkbride. Jasmin is a regular blogger for BookMachine and Editorial Assistant at Periscope Books (part of Garnet Publishing). She is also a published author and you can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride

World-famous travel and maps bookshop Stanfords has announced that, alongside books, they will now be offering horse-drawn omnibus tours of London to their customers. While this idea fits well with their brand, it definitely breaks the mould of what we have come to expect from a bookshop. And Stanfords aren’t the only ones employing lateral thinking to revamp their brand: it’s a phenomena happening across the board and it’s results are as exciting as they are intriguing.

Why digital forced us to adapt

The last decade has seen a revolution in the way we use technology. It has become unimaginably mobile, instant, easy and relatively cheap. Smartphones were released in 2000 but the iPhone, which really lit the smart-phone fire in line with the roll-out of 3G internet access, was launched as recently as 29 June 2007. The iPad only followed in 1 April 2010. The first mainstream eReaders, the Sony Reader and Kindle, were only released in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

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Self-employed in publishing

WYSIWYG: The growing importance of visual branding

Having a recognizable iconography associated with a brand has always been a crucial marketing techniques to draw in consumers. Yet, in a world where we are bombarded by an increasing number of advertisements every day, standing out and having a consistent visual brand is becoming harder, and more important, than ever before.

The stats: how much do we really see?

Every second, our senses receive over 11 million pieces of information from our skin, eyes, ears, sense of smell and sense of taste. Of these, the average person can handle a maximum of 40-50 pieces in their working memory, which means that we ignore 10,999,950 bits of data every single second we are awake. The job of a visual brand is to be interesting and engaging enough to become part of the 40-50 pieces of information committed to memory, and then draw the consumer towards its products.

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Self-employed in publishing

The Content Graveyard: How Much is Too Much?

This is a guest post from Jasmin Kirkbride. Jasmin is a regular blogger for BookMachine and Editorial Assistant at Periscope Books (part of Garnet Publishing). She is also a published author and you can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride

‘Content is king’ is a familiar adage in publishing circles, but as content marketing begins its apparent decline, that seems unlikely to remain the case.

Content Shock: reaching critical mass

Loosely, content marketing is marketing that involves the creation and sharing of content to acquire and retain customers. For example, a company or organisation might use a blog to answer customer’s question relating to one or more of their products, in order to draw them into a sale. So far, a solid marketing theory.

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