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.
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.