Sunday, April 12, 2015

On Royalties for Library Books: A Fantasy

I browse the website for The Guardian quite a bit and am struck by how many articles there are on reading trends in the U.K. These sorts of stories about reading pop up occasionally in the United States. The news is usually gloomy. No one reads literary fiction or poetry. No one reads for pleasure. There are too many other ways people can be entertained and informed. Why bother reading a book?

What’s interesting is that many of the Guardian stories are based on what people borrow from the library, not what they buy. The latest of these stories appeared in January. There are no real surprises in the names of the people whose books are checked out most often: James Patterson, Dan Brown, Lee Childs, Harlen Coben. Mark Billingham, a writer probably better known in Britain than in the States, was also on the list. So we have the usual suspects or the usual creators of suspects. (Years ago I visited a book shop in Edinburgh and said to the bookseller, “Your bestseller list doesn’t look any different than the one in the States.” “How depressing,” she replied)

The good news for writers in the United Kingdom (and Canada and Scandinavia) is that royalties are paid when a writer’s books are checked out of the library. It’s known in the UK as the Public Lending Right. The most recent figures I could find indicated that a writer got about 8 cents per checkout and there was an annual cap of about $!0,000. Imagine the boost this gives writers. A perfectly wonderful, out-of-print book could continue to make money for its author.

I have been to many mystery conferences where enthusiastic, literate people come up to a mystery writer and say, “I just love your books; I always check them out of the library.” It’s always great to have readers and writers inevitably respond positively to people to love their work. But I’m guessing most of us would rather hear: “I just love your books. I buy them immediately in hard cover. And I give copies for my 50 closest friends, too.”

Of course, these programs in the UK and elsewhere are government sponsored. Alas, we know how people feel about government sponsored programs in this country (unless it’s Social Security or Medicare. Believe it or not some people are unaware that Medicare is a government program). But I digress.

And all is not skittles and beer in the UK. Libraries there are suffering from budget cuts. Some communities have established alternative libraries where it turns out the royalty arrangement does not apply.

It’s a shame that in the United States, people (or at least many people who pursue politics) think of books, plays, art and music as “frills.” I think a lot of the folks making policy in cities, towns, state capitals and Washington D.C. would find that their lives and their minds improved if they decked themselves out in more frills.

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson

****My information about Public Lending Right came from The Guardian, Wikipedia and the blog, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

1 comment:

  1. Many people can no longer afford the commercial prices for books. Society's prices have increased - most incomes have not. Many readers get books now from second-hand places online like Abe Books, Better World Books, etc. tjstraw