Does relative scarcity translate into value? Not always, as self employed writers can tell you. Dozens of the books are published every year on the subject of selling articles and manuscripts. If we include books on writing effectively, promoting your work, or preparing screenplays, the number of how-to guides published each year may be in the hundreds. But the employment statistics for writers tell a different story.
The 2007 census numbers estimate that just over 44,000 people nationwide are professional writers or authors, and that includes people who make their primary living in other professions. There are more technical writers, at 47,000, then mainstream writers, and tellingly, there are more editors at 105,000 than writers of both ilks combined. That suggests that a lot of editors are either composing their own copy from press releases, wire services and other sources, or employing large numbers of part-time stringers who aren't counted in the writer totals. Of course, as nobody sent me the survey I have my doubts about the accuracy:-)
So, I decided to try the REAL statistics guys, and after a while of digging around the IRS website, found the spreadsheet for Schedule C reporting for 2005 (the last tax year available) by business type. Note that this isn't the 711510 code for independent writers, artists, etc., it's 511110 code for Publishing Industries (except internet). Just under 92,000 business tax returns for sole proprietorships were filed as publishing businesses, which excludes giant corporations, LLC's, etc. The total net income of publishing businesses reporting a profit for 2005 was $942 million. Around a quarter of filers, 21,000 in all, reported a loss. The average sales of the profitable group was $27,000. The average sales of the unprofitable group was $14,000.
Looking at the profitable publishers only, the average net income for the entire publishing group was just $13,348 per business! It's also interesting to note that the $942 million in net income was on about $2.47 billion in sales, so margins are pretty good for publishers who have sales. The reported payroll for profitable sole proprietors filing as publishers was $200 million in 2005, meaning if every business had a single employee, the average salary would be about $2,800 a year, but of course, most self publishers and not a few micro-presses have no employees, so the average is higher. Not surprisingly, the average payroll at the unprofitable publishers was much higher at around $4,700.
So the average self publishing author who reports income as a publishing business is earning less than $10,000/year in net profit. In some cases, those publishers are simply smarter than me about generating more expenses so they have less net income. But on the whole, I suspect the equation looks more like
limited sales = limited gross income = limited net profit
But on the whole, the tax numbers offer a more encouraging picture than the labor statistics numbers, even though all sole proprietorships filing as publishers aren't self employed authors or writers. In fact, many self publishers probably file as 711510 code writers, but that's what makes statistics fun.