How PLR works and why it’s important

Up and down the UK today authors are for once feeling happy. We’re getting our annual statements from Public Lending Right. It’s a little-understood process, so much that a few authors, narrators and artists have yet to register for it. If you fall into that category… do so now. Creative incomes are falling through the floor at the moment which makes PLR a welcome source of money.

Earned money too, let it be said, so let me demonstrate that through my own figures. Here are my top thirteen titles from the current round of payments which apply to UK library loans from July 2016 to June 2017 (so they exclude my latest Vos title, Sleep Baby Sleep). 

From this you can see that the various editions of these books were borrowed more than 60,000 times during that period (so much for the argument no one goes to libraries any more). As sole author I get 100 per cent of the loan rate of 8.20p per borrowed book. This year I also got some income from audio books too (rightly shared with my wonderful narrator Saul Reichlin).

To make the system fair so that incredibly popular authors don’t steal all the pot (which is currently frozen at £6.6 million) the maximum payout for any author is capped at £6,600. I’m lucky I’m in that category but most writers aren’t so it’s important they’re protected by a cap that diverts cash to those with fewer borrowings.

This is how the payments broke down in 2015-2016.

Payment band No of payments made
£5,000 – £6,600 305
£2,500 – £4,999.99 356
£1,000 – £2,499.99 792
£500 – £999.99 863
£100 – £499.99 3,232
£1 – £99.99 16,654
Total Recipients 22,202

It’s a very equitable system and it does reward authors for having their books enjoyed by the reading public. If you look at my numbers for last year’s current book, Little Sister, they show combined borrowings of more than 20,000 and, for the previous year’s titles in the Vos series more than 13,000 and nearly 10,000. Taking in all my books I had borrowings of nearly 90,000. That’s a hefty readership which, without PLR, would only earn me the meagre income of individual book sales to libraries. It’s also a nice rejoinder if someone somewhere tells you, ‘No one wants to read books set in Amsterdam.’

Author incomes are continuing to fall through a variety of factors. Later this month the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society will be carrying out a new survey into author earnings. As ALCS say…

The last survey – What Are Words Worth Now – in 2014 found that the median income of professional authors had fallen from £15,450 in 2005 to £11,000 in 2013. In addition, the number of authors earning a living solely from their writing had dropped from 40% in 2005, to 11.5% by 2013.

Such data is vital in enabling ALCS to continue to make the case for fair terms for authors in copyright law, licences and contracts. So we urge all members to please complete this latest survey so that we can continue to protect and promote your rights effectively.

In the present climate, with an administration that seems to regard public expenditure as a needless frippery, none of us can take PLR for granted. If you’re eligible sign up for it and ALCS — and fill in that survey when it appears.