Royalties from Library Book Borrowing

I still can’t measure the depth of my agog that in the UK and Canada, authors are paid royalties each time their book is borrowed. In the UK, it’s called the Public Lending Right, and authors receive 5.9 pence per borrow, or, about .08 cents US. The maximum an author can earn is £6600, or just under $10,000.00 US. The program is designed to “compensate… authors for the potential loss of sales from their works being available in public libraries,” according to Wikipedia. Not only is it a source of some revenue, but it’s also a confirmation to authors that their book is being borrowed and, one would presume, read.

I’m seriously crapping myself sideways over this idea. I’m just floored. Where does this money come from? According to the PLR website:

PLR is funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and in 2007-08 received £7.63 million pounds in grant-in-aid, of which £6.66 million was distributed to authors. Funding for 2008-09 has been set at £7.4 million.

Holy crapping damn! I’m not sure how things are in your world, but here in the NJ/NY area, the news is flooded with reports of Governors Corzine and Paterson cutting budgets with twenty-five foot long hedge trimmers, which is all good and wonderful when you speak of fiscal awareness in broad terms, but when programs you use and need are cut entirely, well, things are going to be set on fire before either state’s budget passes.  So I don’t think that it’s even remotely possible even on the Planet What the Fuck that royalty payments might be created for US authors whose books are borrowed from US libraries, especially considering the fight to fund those libraries in the first place. But still: WOW. Double WOW.

Do you think such a model would be possible in the US? (Was that the sound of a librarian somewhere in America hitting her head on the returns cart as she fell over laughing?) Do you enjoy such a payment each year from your country’s public library system?



General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    robinb says:

    No, I don’t think it will happen in libraries here.  And, honestly, the whole thing makes me feel kind of icky on the inside.  Of course, I’m not an author missing out on royalties so…..  But, why does it only apply to PUBLIC libraries and not all libraries?  If I borrow your book from the public library, you get a payment, but if I borrow it 50 times from a uni library you get nada?

  2. 2

    UK writer here!

    Public Lending Right has been going for donkey’s years here, and to some UK writers I think it may represent a significant part of their income.

    I don’t get much myself though, because I don’t think UK libraries generally stock many erotic titles, and my loan figures are tiny compared to writers in genres like sagas, general women’s fiction, thrillers, horror, children’s books etc etc.

    The most I’ve ever had is about £100 to £120 per year, and mostly much, much less.

  3. 3
    robinb says:

    I do LOVES the idea of Dept. for Culture, Media and Sport, however.  How do we get one of those???  (Or would that be NEA and NEH?)

  4. 4
    FD says:

    Yes,  this is one of the perks of living in a country with high taxes.  Libraries are free for all regardless of income, no joining fees, no lending fees, no subscription.  I hear a lot of comparisons re taxes but for my part I think we get good benefits back. 

    I can’t quite believe that you don’t have a similar system?  For real?  This makes me admire even more the good sense of those US authors who like their books to be carried in the libraries because of increased reader exposure,  if they aren’t even getting PLR royalties. Wow.  Gotta be strong minded and long headed.

  5. 5
    JoanneL says:

    I’ve no clue how the bookkeeping is done but if you hand the financial responsibilities for collection of fees over to the New York Yankees you can be sure that every cent will be gotten and delivered to the authors. They (NYY) will rip your throat out and put it on the pitcher’s mound if you mess with their trademarks without giving them royalty fees.

    Department for Culture, Media and Sport …. I love that.

  6. 6
    SandyW says:

    I live in a small town, in a rural area in the middle of the United States. Our local public library operates on a little over $30,000 a year. That’s the entire budget: new books, magazine subscriptions, internet access, staff wages, toilet paper for the restroom, and everything in between. Total items loaned in the last fiscal year: about 16,500. Now I am assuming that magazines and older books might not count. But still, even if the money is collected someplace else and does not come straight out of the library’s budget, the record keeping would be overwhelming. That’s individual statistics for each book, by title. In a one-room library that can’t afford an automated circulation system. The only reason they have public access computers is through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    I’m sure this is a great thing for writers, considering how little most of them make. But, no, I really can’t see it working here.

  7. 7
    nkkingston says:

    RobinB: Most uni libraries here don’t stock a lot of fiction, apart from that required for courses (and they don’t even stock most of those, as I found out to my great annoyance). It’s assumed that if you want to read for pleasure you’ll find your local library. Of course, it’s still a little galling if you’re a non-fiction author, but if you’re stocked in a uni library you’re probably an academic, so your main income doesn’t come from people purchasing/reading your book.

    Plus, if you’re an academic you probably teach a few classes, which means you can always set your own books, knowing perfectly well there’s only two copies in the library and most of your students will end up buying them!

  8. 8
    Virginia Hendricks says:

    I don’t think it would be a fair system.  How would it be supplemented?  By raising taxes?  That wouldn’t seem fair to me either.  That tax money could be used for better programs, like education or to help kids who are in foster care or in an abusive situation, etc.  And, then, if the authors get paid, then shouldn’t the people who volunteer at the library get paid?  And….it could go downhill from there.  The author gets the initial royalties from the book being purchased.  Its not like the books are being *given* to the libraries by the publishers.  The author should be honored that their book is even at the library (you’d be amazed how many books I can’t find at my library…and yes, I can request them, but I usually don’t)

    I respect the fact that is your livelihood, but, consider it a “charitable work”.

  9. 9
    ev says:

    The free library lending system is just that (supposedly)- free. If you pay an author royalties everytime someone borrows their book, what is to stop them from requesting royalties when someone lends something from their own home library to a friend. In this country, I can see that snowball growing huge, since we seem to be so lawsuit happy. And some idiot would do that.

    We have 2 small local libraries closing as funding didn’t pass this past November. Which is too bad because one is located in a small school and the other at the other end of the city from the main library. This will make it difficult enough for the people who use it to look for jobs, study, read and just generally use the library on a daily basis. Kid’s reading programs????

    Libraries are the first thing to go when we do budget cuts especially here in NY. I would rather someone be able to borrow the book and read it for free than no one able to buy it at all. And we have a very decent selection of titles with over 30 libraries in the lending system.

    does anyone really go into being an author with the expectation that they will make the money JK Rowling did?

  10. 10
    Jody W. says:

    Interesting. I wonder how much library patronage and libraries there are in the US compared to Canada or the UK? It reminds me of the recent movement by Novelists Inc and others for used booksales to include royalty payments.

  11. 11
    Nora Roberts says:

    Of course, we’d love it if we got paid each time a book was borrowed. Really, realistically, why wouldn’t we? But again, realistically it feels too complicated and too fraught to work here. We’re lots bigger than GB. More libraries, more books. And we don’t have that cool Dept of Culture.

    I’d like that Dept regardless of royalties because wow.

    Libraries have to buy the books, so we get paid. If we’re lucky and lots of people borrow the book, the library has to buy it again—and we get paid. That works just fine for me.

    Libraries provide an incredible service, and most do so on a pretty limited budget—and the librarian likely has enough headaches she’s likely being underpaid for already without adding another.

    However—the one comment re if authors got paid when the book is borrowed, shouldn’t library volunteers be paid. Key word would be ‘volunteer’. Writers aren’t volunteers.

  12. 12
    Betsy says:

    As a starving author, I kind of went “hot damn!” when i read that…

  13. 13

    It’s very interesting to see the cultural diffrences at work here.  Authors campaigned long and hard in the UK for the right to some recompense from library borrowings.  I guess it operates in the same kind of way that a recording artiste gets paid each time their song is played on the radio.  I have been a published author since 1990 and have always received PLR and in that time have seen other countries come on board re this payment to authors.  Germany has long had a PLR system. So have Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Denmark has had such a system since the 1940’s.  New Zealand has one, Australia has one,  Israel has one.  In all, around 30 countries have a PLR system in place, so it’s nothing new or unique!  Where you might be boggling at the notion of having such a system,  other countries might be boggling that the USA doesn’t!

  14. 14
    UK author says:

    It seems to me that most of the negative comments about PLR are from US authors (or possibly readers) who don’t understand the UK system.  PLR does NOT come out of individual libraries’ budgets.  And libraries here are nationalised.  We have very, very few private libraries, and, as has already been said, university libraries do not carry fiction, except, perhaps, texts which may be studied on degree courses.  There is no fuss about the collection or payment of this money, and there are many publishing companies in the UK that exist purely to publish library editions.  That said, those authors who are published by these companies only earn money when their books are borrowed.  I, for one, am extremely glad that my PLR payment arrives in February, and is frequently as much if not more than my royalty payments.  I write for a living, not for the honour.

  15. 15
    Louise Alen says:

    Another UK novelist here – PLR was a hard battle fought over many years to recognise the impact on book sales of our very large free public library system.  It does not come from individual library budgets (which come from local taxes, not central government who pay the PLR) and the costs of data collection are low because it simply taps into the computer issuing systems of a sample of library authorities – there is a range of different types of authorities every year. Authors have to register each book and illustrators can also benefit. It also produces very interesting and useful statistics on library borrowing – including highlighting just how popular romance is.

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    Authors have to register each book and illustrators can also benefit. It also produces very interesting and useful statistics on library borrowing – including highlighting just how popular romance is.

    I like the part about illustrators getting PLR verrrrrry much. Boo yah, in fact.

    I have been a published author since 1990 and have always received PLR and in that time have seen other countries come on board re this payment to authors.  Germany has long had a PLR system. So have Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Denmark has had such a system since the 1940’s.  New Zealand has one, Australia has one, Israel has one.

    If you are published as a UK author, and your book is in libraries in those countries, do you receive a PLR for the borrowing of that book? i.e. if your book is in the library in Sweden, and someone borrows it, do you get a PLR from Sweden if you’re in England? Or is it solely for the library borrowing of a book in the country of which you are a citizen?

    I write for a living, not for the honour.


  17. 17
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~ I write for a living, not for the honour. ~

    You bet.

    I can’t believe I had no real idea how usual in other countries this system is now. Nor that it didn’t, in some way, infringe on the individual library’s budget.

  18. 18

    I really need to register. Until recently I didn’t have many books in print, but now I need to sort it out.
    We have an imprint that produces books almost specifically for libraries – reasonably priced, hardback only – and I know a lot of authors who get most of their income from PLR. Really, £7million is nothing when compared to other costs and although it would be higher in the US, it would still be a relatively small amount.
    With bar codes being used and electronic scanning systems every time a book is taken out, it’s a doddle to tot them up at the end of the year. In fact, libraries probably do that anyway. It helps to keep writers writing, after all.

  19. 19

    UK library borrowings are all computerised but only a SAMPLE of libraries are used to calculate the PLR due to authors.  As I write Scottish regional sagas it makes a big difference to my PLR when my region is included in the sample.  It has not been included for more than ten years.  There is probably a moral here – expand – but then I enjoy writing my country sagas.

  20. 20
    Lil' Deviant says:

    *waves hand in air*

    I don’t understand.  Sorry. 

    Do I pay a fee when I check out my book at the library?  Do I pay a fee just to have a library card?  Where does the money come from?

  21. 21
    robinb says:

    I can’t speak to the taxing issue (ha!) because I don’t know how that would work here.  And I certainly can’t hate on authors wanting to get more royalties because if I were an author, I’d probably be right there collecting my check with a grateful smile.  I’m mostly thinking of this from the library angle. 

    Fiction vs. Non-Fic:  I’m not sure I was even thinking about Non-Fic when I first asked the question about public vs. other libraries.  But, now that it has been brought up, I don’t know how I feel about the uni libraries don’t have fiction, answer.  I understand what you mean when you say that non fic authors generally don’t make their living from writing the way that fic authors do.  I get that.  But, I still don’t get why the difference.  Why not just make it all libraries?

    The other thing is that libraries circulate more than just books.  And, believe me, if authors had this kind of a sweet deal set up, it wouldn’t be long before movie studios would want something similar for dvd circs and musicians would want something similar for cd circs.  I know the individual libraries don’t have it taken from their budget, but the money has to come from SOMEWHERE. 

    And it rubs my “First Sale Doctrine” the wrong way.  I love the First Sale Doctrine like I love cookies.  This doesn’t seem to square with that, although there might be a way to make them compatible.

    All of that said, again, I can’t hate on authors lobbying to get paid for their work.  Good for you!  As a librarian, I’m just wanting to make sure our interests are covered too.

  22. 22
    JaneyD says:

    The solution is simple:

    Vote out moron politicians who cut library funds.

    Write letters to those thinking of cutting library funds letting them know such cuts are not to be tolerated.

    I write too and would love to have even the pittance of a library royalty to augment my tiny income. A couple hundred extra bucks a year would help.

    As it is, libraries stock my books and I get a bit from those sales for which I’m grateful.

    This issue here is less about whether authors should get a library royalty and more about what the F—do those political SOBs think they’re doing cutting funds to the most important public resources in any given town.

    I needed the library growing up since we couldn’t afford to buy books. There were times when we scraped by on crackers and catsup soup. If there hadn’t been a library to escape into, then I’d not be a writer/editor today.

    Doing it again now, I’d still need the library because it’s a cinch my poor 21st century parents would not be able to afford a home computer and Internet access.

  23. 23
    Jan Jones says:

    Speaking as a UK author with very low sales, I ADORE the PLR system. I get paid maybe 10p when one of my original books sells. I get paid 5p when one of my books (including Large Print copies for which I get no royalty payment) is borrowed from the library. In these no-cash-to-spare-on-books days, it is lovely that the govt is paying me for giving free pleasure to someone who can’t afford to buy.

  24. 24
    Jessica says:

    As good as this idea might sound to writers, in reality, for many libraries, it is not so great.  In the UK it has really limited library acquisitions, particularly of new, popular, in demand titles.  Compared to US public library collections, UK collections are small, old, out of date, and generally lacking in the popular and in demand titles that fill the shelves of US libraries.  And some UK libraries only buy hardcovers (not good for romance authors) – in fact in the UK hardcovers are sold primarily to libraries and most consumers only see trade paperback editions. 

    While I can’t seem to find it right now, I read once that in the US the number of copies that get bought by libraries (the single biggest book market in the US, btw) is much higher than in the UK and there are no limits of how many copies US libraries can by that in the end, authors end up making about the same amount of money, regardless of which country they are in.

  25. 25

    f you are published as a UK author, and your book is in libraries in those countries, do you receive a PLR for the borrowing of that book? i.e. if your book is in the library in Sweden, and someone borrows it, do you get a PLR from Sweden if you’re in England? Or is it solely for the library borrowing of a book in the country of which you are a citizen?

    Yes, I receive PLR in the countries that have a reciprocal PLR agreement with the UK.  There is a body one can belong to called ALCS – Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society that will pick up and collate foreign PLR for non resident authors. 
    As Lynne says, the funding for PLR is a spit in the ocean and for some authors who write for the library market it’s an absolute lifeline.  The amount is capped too at a maximum sum of £6,600 at the moment no matter how popular an author is.  Once set up it is also easy to manage and as Louise said, a useful statistical indicator of who is borrowing what.
    This year Ireland has just signed up to a very similar scheme to the UK, so that’s another country on board.

  26. 26
    K J says:

    The idea of a PLR system makes a lot of sense when you do think about radio stations…and even bars and restaurants…have to pay fees in order to play music/have a band play music.

    I’m not sure where the money would come from in this day and age of trillion-dollar deficits and runaway borrowing from China. Perhaps the solution could be more 19th Century in nature. Have some of the super-wealthy fund such payments through an arts foundation. Used to be rich people donated land to the public, which have now become some of our greatest parks, or created museums, such as the Smithsonian still running today off its own budget, but free to all who wish to visit.

    Just a question for either some UK person or an author who might know the answer…is PLR paid only to UK dwellers?  Must you be a citizen of the country in order to benefit? Or are all authors’ works subject to this type of payment? If not, why not?  Would an American author with a book in a UK library only have to register somewhere in order to take advantage?

    Curious to know…

  27. 27

    I’m a professional writer.  I want to get paid for my work. It’s how I make a living.  If there was a system in place in the US to make this fair and equitable, and not a penalty on local libraries, I’d support it.

    I believe I’ve mentioned before that our public library is funded not out of general revenues, but out of a separate tax district.  We’re hurting like everyone else is in these tough times, but we’re much more cushioned than we would be if our county government had to decide between funding libraries and funding fire protection.

    To quote the late, great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,
    “I like paying taxes, with them I buy civilization.”

  28. 28
    Rachel says:

    All this and our healthcare is free (at the point of use; I guess we all pay for it via general taxation—and our taxes are still lower than in a lot of European countries). I love the UK!

  29. 29
    Silver James says:

    When I look at the populations of the countries involved, and the number of libraries, I understand that it is a viable system for Europe, former British Commonwealth countries and other smaller countries. I’m not a librarian and I don’t have time to research the statistics, but maybe someone else will…

    1) How many libraries in the US?
    2) How does that break down per capita to population?
    3) How many books are circulated?
    4) How does this compare to other countries?

    Where 7.4 million in Great Britain might be doable, I’m guessing that figure could go to 7.4 BILLION in the US. With our infrastructure in sad disrepair and states and municipalities (who FUND our library system) scrabbling for money, I don’t see this happening here. As an author, yeah. I think it would be great. But as a realist? I just think the cost is too great, especially since libraries are already losing funding and closing. Finally, why aren’t people like George Soros jumping in to save libraries or create a foundation to put the PLR in place? They have enough money to put comedians in Congress (like we need more of those). At least the Gates Foundation is tackling literacy.

  30. 30
    snarkhunter says:

    Silver James, I see your point, except if Commonwealth nations do this, that includes Canada and Australia—two of the biggest (geographically speaking) countries in the world. Now, obviously, on a population level, they’re not as unwieldy as the US. But many of the arguments about fixing our crumbling infrastructure seem to deal with our geographical size as well as our population size. And, honestly, if places like Australia and Canada, which have some seriously remote cities and populations, can manage this, why can’t we? Our greater population should compensate for the geographic size of the nation, but obviously that doesn’t work.

    (The answer is that Americans refuse to pay more taxes, and taxes pay for the infrastructure. Since we want our cake—‘small’ gov’t—and we want to eat it—the gov’t pays for roads and schools—we can’t have nice things.)

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