Thank You, Public Lending Right!

Cold and very wintry just now. Central heating is needed for freezing authors!

Cold and very wintry just now. Central heating is needed for freezing authors!

It’s at this time of year that authors all sit back and stare in horror at their bank accounts.

Christmas is past. Long past. The summer is a long way away. The heating has to be funded, food bought, children’s dance lessons, hockey lessons, rugby lessons all have to be paid for, as well as the clothes to go with them. And the last shot of income was back in September or October. The next income? Perhaps April. Authors get paid every six months for the sales their books achieved in the half year before that – so the income in April will be based on book sales from July to December the year before. And right now all the festivities have to be paid for, as well as the tax bill.

There is one bright light in all this. The Public Lending Right.

PLR was first introduced in Denmark in 1946. The other Scandinavian nations followed, and even England (after a lot of effort by British authors) agreed to have a PLR law that was eventually brought in in 1979. So what is it?

Well, PLR was designed as a way to reimburse authors for the sales they were losing because of Libraries lending books. It was considered that the access to knowledge and recreation was good, generally, for everyone. Thus people should be allowed to read the latest fiction and non-fiction in their public libraries. However it was accepted that authors who went to the effort of putting together those works should get compensation for the number of people reading their books. It was decided that there should be a fund, and that the fund should pay a reasonable amount for every book loan made. That money would be measured and paid direct to the authors.

At first, before mass computers, this wasn’t so easy. Libraries had to measure how many books were loaned. They had to note which version of the book, by Standard Book Number (SBN – later International SBN or ISBN), by author, by title, by edition (hardback or paperback). That data had to be collated and then the money paid to the authors. Authors had to register, naturally. However this was far too complex for every library to be involved, so a sample of libraries was nominated, and the data from those libraries extrapolated to cover the whole of the UK. Later, as computers became more prevalent, systems were designed, until now all libraries have their systems that can produce relevant totals for the workers beavering away at PLR headquarters.

At first it was books only. More recently, there have been moves to include other formats. Audio books and electronic books, for example – but there is a catch. With e-books, authors can register, and any books that are downloaded in a library with accrue PLR. Which is great except books downloaded at home are not eligible. Why? Because if it’s downloaded over the internet, it’s legally viewed as publicly available, so the download doesn’t earn money. That sort of sounds fair, but then when it is realised that there is not a single library in the country that has the facility to download books in the library itself, it makes a nonsense of the idea. Politicians made that law, naturally.

The scheme itself pays (currently) from a fund that permits £0.0767 per loan – which is not far short of what an author would earn for a book sold through Amazon, to put it into perspective (after discounts, agent fees, but before paying income tax about 11 pence). So that the richest authors who already earn megabucks don’t suck up all the money, it is capped at £6,600 per annum per author. Many of the very top authors refuse to accept their payment on the basis that their money stays in the fund, and more authors on lower incomes can therefore be paid a little for their efforts.

There are some exclusions. As I understand it, libraries which are run entirely by volunteers are not part of the scheme. This is becoming a problem, because since the disaster of 2008, many local authorities are cutting back library services drastically. To keep libraries running, many are being taken over by non-profit groups run entirely by volunteers. These do not participate in PLR. Many libraries are being closed, so that local folk don’t have access to books, and even those that are continuing are suffering from slashed budgets so that they cannot afford to buy new books.

Even so, libraries are a vital part of the publishing and reading world. They provide access to reading that would not otherwise be available – and every February they help keep many authors from bankruptcy.

I can remember with perfect clarity how grateful I was in my first year as an author, when I earned a few hundred pounds to supplement my very meagre annual income of £3,000! Now, thanks to 90,000 loans, I can survive until the next royalty cheque.

So thank you, PLR. You are a lifesaver.

Look at that lovely row of Jecks titles!

Look at that lovely row of Jecks titles!

6 Responses to “Thank You, Public Lending Right!”
  1. Yes, indeed! This income is especially important for those folks writing “Middle Grade” fiction whose 9 to 14 year old readership mostly don’t buy books, but do borrow a lot from the library service.


    • I think there are authors who do really well in sales and don’t get much in PLR, and others who do moderately well, but are more dependent on PLR. Certainly it’s been a life-saver for us. And we can afford the central heating this week!


  2. Austin Hackney says:

    Reblogged this on Austin Hackney and commented:
    The historical crime writer Michael Jecks shares his thoughts (and his thanks) on the Public Lending Right. If you’re a writer, this doesn’t happen automatically, you have to claim it – so make sure you do. And it’s heartwarming to read of those very successful authors who choose not to so that there’s more money in the pot for the mid-listers and the up-and-coming new writers.


  3. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from Michael :)


  4. I had never heard the details before. It’s a hassle to loan ebooks in Dutch libraries, so my wife does’t and I don’t even have a library pass or subscription. I am afraid that what you say about cuts and libraries becoming volunteer run will come te be true for The Netherlands too, in the future. In my hometown of Rotterdam the municipality stopped having libraries as a municipal organization and made them in to a separate foundation which is funded by subsidies. I believe they have done this to be able to stop the subsidy in the future. The personnel is in service to the foundation now and no longer civil servants. With a lot of writers, even of international fame, in my circle of acquaintances I am proud to say I bought all my books and ebooks so the authors makes his/her little itty bit of profit (except for the majority of well over 600 books by Anne McCaffrey which I bought second hand; but that’s another story). Maybe it’s time for a revolution in the author/publishing world. How about you all get to be self published and we come up with a non-profit application? We’ll call it iWords or iRead smile-emoticon I know lots of people want or prefer real books but lets face it. That isn’t, won’t be and can’t be the future…


  5. Tonya Mathis says:

    OMG. .076, that’s all? I don’t even know how much that is in $. But that can’t be much. Had I known this years ago when I first started buying your books, I would have figured a way to buy them straight from you so you could have gotten the full amount for all of your efforts. And it would have been well worth it. all though shipping and handling might be a killer.


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