online poet demographics – results of a completely unscientific & amateur survey

Warm thanks to all who took the time to complete this very amateur survey and to those who helped spread the word about it. I had hoped for about 75 responses, and was blown away by the level of interest and the 339 responses received over the 24 hours or so that the survey was open. (Clearly, this is an area of keen interest to the US online poetry community. In an ideal world, wouldn’t some poetry-loving entity with, ahem, lots of money and know-how conduct such surveys properly and scientifically, on behalf of US Poetry writ large?)

As with the last completely unscientific survey of this kind I did, I had only to post the survey to immediately begin second-guessing the questions. Why didn’t I think of framing that question in this way, rather than that? Why didn’t I add multiple choice options – especially for the income question – instead of plain yes/no? Others were also helpful in pointing out myriad framing and other flaws in the survey, I might add. But this is what we have, until someone with actual expertise takes on these questions.

So what have we got? No big surprises. This graphic summarizes the results by percentage (click on it to see a larger version). Various caveats and comments, the actual survey questions, and detailed breakdown of the results follow my general observations on the results below.

poet demographics

Income from poetry sales: The ‘poetry sales income’ question (#1) was sad, but no-one will be surprised by that. I deliberately put the income threshold very low (0.5% of an annual income of $50,000 is only $250, for example), but still only 15% of respondents said they earned more than that from poetry sales in a year, while 85% said they earned less. Again, not surprising, based on this other amateur survey. Even if we very generously estimate that most people with books out manage to sell 100-300 copies a year, how much actual profit is there on those sales, and how much of that profit then becomes actual author income?

Day job/livelihood expenses: I found the general ‘where do you get your livelihood’ question (#3) interesting. I had long been convinced that most online poets in fact derive their livelihood from non-poetry related sources and the survey results seem to bear that out, with 70% of respondents falling in this bracket, and only 30% claiming a poetry-related livelihood. (As noted in the caveats below, there were 4 to 6 ‘yes and no’ responses to this question, which I didn’t include in final numbers because I didn’t know how to.)

Does your poetry publication record affect your earning ability? This question was by far the most interesting for me, as someone who is constantly bemoaning what I see as the suffocating grip the print paradigm has on the growth, reach and vitality of poetry (as Dave Bonta puts it ‘the scarcity mentality of print publishing [vs] the abundance mentality of the web’). Print publishing is super-important for academics seeking tenure, and it makes sense that a segment of the market should cater to this very specific need. But the survey results indicate that only 25% of poets actually fall into this category. Do the remaining 75% of the poet population really need to be yoked to this paradigm?

Caveats that would probably make more sense if I knew the first thing about statistics and polling:

- The results shown above and below include responses from 333 respondents. The number of responses for each separate question don’t add up to 333, however, because in a few cases respondents skipped a question.
– The percentages in the graphic above are rounded up to the nearest 0.5 percentage point.
– Interestingly, the relative percentages for the different categories stayed pretty stable from the very beginning of the survey through to its closing. So ‘yes’ responses for question 1 consistently hovered around 15-16%, for question 2 around 24-25% and, question 3 around 69-70% throughout the survey.
– Overall, there were more than 333 responses (more like 339) but I excluded the handful where the respondent had checked both ‘yes’ and  ‘no’ responses for the same question (mostly for question 3, with one or two such responses for question 2). So sorry, those folks!  No doubt polling/statistics experts would know exactly how to incorporate such responses so they make sense in the overall survey, but this was amateur hour and I basically had no idea.

Actual survey questions, each with simple yes/no response options:

1. Poetry sales represent 0.5% or more of my annual income.
2. My poetry publication record affects my ability to earn a living.
3. I earn my living in a field unrelated to poetry.

Responses received:

Question Yes No Total responses
  1. Poetry sales are 0.5% or more of income
51 281 332
  1. Poetry publication record affects earning ability
83 248 331
  1. Main income is from a non-poetry field
231 97 328

online poet demographics survey booming – closes today

After being shared by Ron Silliman last night, the online poet demographics survey got a participation boost and we now have 242 poet respondents. More than enough for this unscientific effort, probably, but if you haven’t responded yet, go for it – I plan to close the survey at 6pm EST today (Aug 30), and will follow up with a results report. Thanks for participating!

Why don’t we change the poetry book economy?

“Nobody except the handful of mega-poets sells many poetry books, regardless of how much effort they put into marketing/promoting (see one unscientific survey). In my view, our mistake as a poetry community is buying into the traditional commercial paradigm, within which poetry sits very uneasily. We lock our poems up in hard copies which are then only available for sale – how do we expect that to nurture and grow our product? Why don’t we change that paradigm – we are a small enough community that we probably could. How about running things on the lines of a gift economy? And based on multi-format publishing, not just print? My two cents.”

Just added my mad-haired-prophet-in-the-wilderness two cents to this interesting and much-commented-on FB thread on poetry book sales.

Wow, Poetry Storehouse!

I am blown away by what Poetry Storehouse contributors have pulled together during the three weeks or so since our last ‘new additions’ update. In addition to featuring poems from six new poets in this update, the Storehouse has collected 23 new video remixes, two new still image remixes, and 27 new audio recordings by seven volunteer readers in that time. And that doesn’t count the waves made by Storehouse remixes elsewhere on the web. Read the details in today’s ‘new additions’ update. There was so much material for this update, that for the first time the update post needed a user-friendly clickable table of contents up top.

I made a quick analysis of the diverse group of artists responsible for all this amazing collaborative work – that is, those specifically named in this update for having contributed in some capacity. There are 40 names in total – 23 poets, 11 video remixers and 6 volunteer readers. And some of those contribute to the Storehouse in double roles or more, as indicated below. How’s that for an amazing artistic community?

I am truly humbled and amazed at all the creative energy that is constantly changing hands and forms at the Poetry Storehouse and offer warmest thanks to our contributors, viewers and listeners for making it all possible.

Names in today’s update:

POETS
Maureen Tolman Flannery
Jim Murdoch
Gail Goepfert
Anton Yakovlev
Tom Roby
Alexis Rhone Fancher
Sally Bliumis-Dunn
James Reiss
Claudia Serea
Derek JG Williams
Janice Soderling
Eric Burke
David Coldwell
Anne Higgins
Kristine Ong Muslim
Amy MacLennan
Jessie Carty
Ivy Alvarez
Uma Gowrishankar
Kathleen Kirk
Janeen Rastall
Cynthia Atkins
Cheryl Snelling
Mary Lou Buschi

VIDEO REMIXERS
Lori Ersolmaz
Marie Craven (also featured reader)
Othniel Smith
Marc Neys
Jutta Pryor
Nigel Wells
Charles Musser (also previously featured poet)
Dustin Luke Nelson (also featured poet)
Bill Yarrow (also featured reader & previously featured poet)
Nic Sebastian (also featured poet & reader)

READERS
Amy Miller
Peg Duthie (also previously featured poet)
Ron Runeborg
Jenene Ravesloot (also previously featured poet)
James Brush (also previously featured poet)
DM (middle-schooler)

LINKS
Storehouse poets
Storehouse remixers
Storehouse readers
Video & still image remixes based on Poetry Storehouse poems
Storehouse poems selected for showcasing by ‘Moving Poems’
Interviews with Poetry Storehouse poets & remixers
New Additions archive

Storehouse video remix adventure

17 Days is a video series curated by Adriane Little, Associate Professor of Art at Western Michigan University. In the series, 17 consecutive days are paired with 17 different video artists. One artist’s video per day plays continuously and simultaneously for 24 hours in an exhibition hall on two 50” plasma screens, first at Alfred State College, then at Western Michigan University. So far, the 17 Day series has run six times.

Adriane Little asked if she might feature ‘Family Therapy’ (a Nic Sebastian video remix of a Poetry Storehouse poem by Cynthia Atkins) during Day 6 of the series’ seventh run, Vol. 7. We said yes, of course.

Click here to view the planned Vol. 7 videos, 1 thru 17 in ascending order – an awesome and frankly somewhat intimidating video art line-up.

Click here to view the Day 6 entry for ‘Family Therapy.’


Super excited by this opportunity! Warm thanks to Cynthia Atkins for being such a terrific collaboration partner, and here’s to many more such adventures for Storehouse remixes.

thanks for reading other people’s poems!

We have added a new page to acknowledge our volunteer readers at The Poetry Storehouse. This is to gratefully acknowledge those who volunteer to provide audio for poems other than their own.

Every recording up there increases a poem’s chance of being remixed. More than one reading for a single poem is even better, in that it gives the remixer more material to choose from, since different voices and reading styles resonate differently with each remixer. And even where audio is not used in a remix, it plays a valuable role in adding depth to a remixer’s engagement with a piece.

If you would like to volunteer to read at The Poetry Storehouse, leave a comment below, email nic_sebastian at hotmail dot com, or just go ahead and pick a poem, make your recording and send it to Nic. Tips on getting started with audio recording here.

flavors of frabjous

I spend so much time working with other people’s poems that I’m always in a state of low-grade guilt over my own poems, which will very occasionally erupt in a spasm of submitting. Some happy results to report – there are Nic poems forthcoming in Blue Fifth Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Frostwriting</a>, and a chapbook manuscript of mine has made the first cut at the fabulous Hyacinth Girl Press. Woot!