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Public Lending Right

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The Society of Authors has a petition to ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport not to cut the Public Lending Right (which gives writers sixpence every time one of their books is taken out of a library) in next month’s Spending Review. ‘Any and all writers who feel strongly about this subject’ should sign it, they say. Is it too much to hope that a few readers might care about PLR too? Anyway, the ‘Statement by Authors’ is as follows and writers can sign it here:

The Public Lending Right scheme, under which authors receive 6p when a book is borrowed from a public library, is funded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport. Over the last three years, while public spending has been buoyant, PLR’s allocation has fallen by 3%: over 10% in real terms.

While accepting that DCMS has been instructed to reduce its budget, we ask the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, to recognise that the £7.5m spent on PLR gives effect to a legal right and is not a subsidy. It provides working writers with a modest income when their books are read by library users free of charge. PLR is particularly important to authors whose books are sold mainly to libraries and to those whose books are no longer in print but are still being used.

Press coverage tends to focus on a few successful authors, yet most struggle to make ends meet. PLR provides a significant and much-valued part of authors’ incomes. The £6,600 upper limit ensures that the fund helps those most in need.

The admirably efficient PLR Office has already cut its running costs very substantially. Any reduction in PLR will have an immediate and detrimental effect on the ‘front line’ payments to authors.


  1. Ray says:

    Why not ditch the Public Lending Right altogether, and put the money towards new acquisitions? Authors would benefit from increased sales. Library users would benefit from an increased selection. The PLR Office itself could be closed, saving more money.

    • Thomas Jones says:

      Why not do both? (And, yes, I know there’s no money in the public purse.)

      • Ray says:

        For whatever amount of money is available to libraries, why not spend all of that money on acquisitions rather than dividing it between acquisitions and PLR?

        • A.J.P. Crown says:

          Because a lot of poor writers are probably quite glad of the extra money, that’s why not.

          • Ray says:

            But acquisitions = buying books
            And when you buy books, some of the money goes to poor writers.
            So they could be glad of the extra royalty money instead of the extra PLR money.

          • A.J.P. Crown says:

            You’re covering more poor writers by splitting it. If you only give the library more acquisition money they’re going to spend some of it on American writers and rich writers and reference material & so on. Also you’re getting rid of the payment for public lending concept, which isn’t a bad one.

            • Ray says:

              But they already spend lots of PLR money on rich writers. Sure, it’s capped at £6,600 per writer, but a large proportion of their budget must be going to writers who have high incomes from sales already.
              And the PLR money benefits only writers. Acquisitions also benefit readers.
              (I disagree on the merits of the payment for public lending concept. That’s pretty much what we’re arguing about)

              • In a recent ALCS survey of 25 000 writers, the median ( ‘typical’) earnings were £4000, and earnings are reducing, overall.

                Quoted from ‘What Words are Worth’ (2007)*:
                ‘The top 10% of authors earn more than 50% of total income, while the bottom 50% earn less than 10% of total income. This may be compared with, for example, employees in the skilled metal and electrical trades – one of the more equal professions. Here the bottom 50% earn nearly 40% of total income.’

                In reality, only 10% of authors reap any real benefits. Authors typically receive payment in advance of royalties, and royalties paid are small. Added to this, many books have a short print run, and are principally distributed to libraries, and once they’ve sold out, reprints are rare, so there is no realistic chance of these authors ever ‘earning out’ their modest advances, and thereafter becoming eligible for royalty payments. Which leaves the 90% of authors who don’t reap the benefits stuck in a poverty trap. Many of these authors do, however, gain a strong and loyal readership among library readers, and a mid-list fiction writer with 7 or 8 books in library circulation may quite easily achieve loans totalling around 100 000 per annum.

                Controversy rages on the internet regarding music and film downloads, and the music and film industries have made several successful legal attempts to safeguard their property rights. Novelists may not have the glitz and glamour of film stars, directors and musicians, but they do have a right to be paid for their work, and just as musicians are paid for each download of their music on, say, iTunes, authors should be paid for loans of their work. Some might say that there’s a difference between books and music, that internet downloads are new territory. Well, libraries are now allowing downloads of audiobooks and even ebooks. Surely the written word has as much value as the ephemera of pop music? Surely writers should expect to be paid something?

                No writer ever got rich on their PLR payments, but many have relied on their PLR cheque (which arrives in February, the darkest month of winter), as part of their earnings.

                The Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library award is given to “the author of crime fiction whose work is currently giving the greatest enjoyment to library users”; authors are nominated by UK libraries and Readers’ Groups and judged by a panel of librarians.

                The judging panel this year said that, ‘The overall standard remains high.’ And yet… ‘It appears to be harder for new authors to come through.’ Which supports AJP Crown’s view that should PLR be cut, the additional allocation for acquisitions would almost inevitably be spent on big names who really don’t need library sales to make their fortunes. Oh, and who’s to say any savings made would go to acquisitions anyway?

                Margaret Murphy
                Ex-Officio Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association

                *For the full report, see http://www.alcs.co.uk/Documents/Downloads/whatarewordsworth.aspx

  2. Phil says:

    Is six pence sixpence? You certainly can’t have a sixpence, even if the loss of that possibility is compensated by greater ease in halving the sum. (We can’t halve a penny now, on the other hand, and we could then.)

    Twopence, threepence, sixpence, tenpence – to my eye all the contracted forms are denominated in d rather than p. 6p isn’t SIXp’nce but a more deliberate Six Pence, a slight hiatus between the words left over from when using the ambiguous word ‘pence’ required a moment of reflection from both speaker and listener (hence, I suppose, the widespread resort to ‘pee’). Jonathan Miller remarked something similar about the word ‘condom’, when the government’s anti-AIDS campaign brought it to prominence – because it had hardly ever actually been spoken aloud, it hadn’t acquired the standard trochaic stress pattern (CON-d’m) but was pronounced rather awkwardly as Con Dom.

    Does Thomas Jones think of the sum of 6p as ‘sixpence’? Does everyone born since 1971? Does no one below the age of N have the remotest idea what I’m talking about, and if not how low is N? I’m morbidly curious.

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