Fears over the future of the Public Lending Right scheme appear to have been exaggerated in the aftermath of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review. Compared to university fees, housing benefit and community work for claimants, the modest but effective PLR scheme has got off pretty lightly.
The amount paid to authors for each book lent by a public library will drop fractionally from 6.29p to 6.25p for the annual payout in February 2011. The change will be barely noticeable, although there are likely to be further cuts in future years as the public spending curbs continue to roll out.
The Writers’ Guild believes that if the rate per loan falls below 6p the current cap on payouts of £6,600 should also be lowered. The cap exists to avoid a handful of hugely popular authors from scooping the pool of the PLR fund.
Meanwhile there is silence from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on the future administration of the scheme. The PLR admin team was included in the recent bonfire of quangos despite being one of the most efficient and highly-admired public services there is. However, the Guild has been assured that no change will affect the scheme until after the February 2012 payout at the earliest.
It has been suggested that the task of running the scheme could come under Arts Council England or the British Library. Writers’ organisations do not think these ideas have any chance of saving money and are lobbying hard for the existing team based in Stockton-on-Tees not to be broken up, whatever organisation has its brass plate on the entrance.
The Digital Economy Act, passed in the dying days of the Labour Government, contained provisions to extend PLR to ebooks and audiobooks. As this would require substantial additional funding, the incoming coalition has placed this on the back burner, where it will remain for several years – in the Guild’s view, regrettable but sensible.
There is a shadow over PLR, which is the threat of closure to many public libraries across the country as local councils struggle to cut their budgets. Unlike social services or refuse collection, libraries are not a statutory part of local authority services, so closures are relatively easy for councils to get away with. You will find a grim rollcall of libraries under threat at http://uklibrarywatch.pbworks.com/w/page/31643455/England
If you are the author of any books that are lent out by public libraries (not reference books that remain on the premises) then you should ensure your titles are registered so that you receive PLR payments – you can do this online.
For more information about PLR see www.plr.uk.com