Budget for Public Lending Right scheme, which pays just over six pence per loan, is already being reduced by 3% this year
Minor romantic novelists might not be the first group to come to mind when you consider deprived victims of the current public spending cuts. But they and a host of the UK’s lesser known authors are up in arms at the prospect of a drop in their already limited incomes through cuts in the money paid out on library loans.
Authors receive just over six pence per loan, up to a cap of £6,600, through the Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme, something many describe as a “lifeline”. Along with all bodies funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the scheme’s budget is being reduced this year by 3%, to £7.45m, and authors are desperately concerned that further reductions will be forthcoming in the autumn, when the government’s next spending review is published.
Jim Parker, PLR registrar, said the organisation would be able “to absorb some but not all” of the 3% cut, and was concerned about the impact this could have on authors. “It will be very difficult to sustain last year’s rate per loan because of the cut in funding,” he said.
“An awful lot of writers are clinging on by their fingernails anyway,” said romance novelist Jenny Haddon, treasurer of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Many romance writers “earn more from PLR than from outright sales, particularly because these days books other than bestsellers don’t stay on the shelves very long,” she said. It’s the same, added the bestselling crime novelist Peter James, for crime writers: “It does help struggling authors, authors who are not that commercial – for many it is a lifeline, it’s quite a large chunk of money.”
Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors, said that PLR was “particularly important to the genre of writers who sell to libraries but don’t sell in huge numbers in bookshops – saga writers, crime writers, romance novelists”.
“We are hugely concerned. It’s a tiny amount in the great scheme of things but it’s the only public support given to writers. Now is a particularly difficult time for writers and it’s only going to get worse. Publishers are focusing their concentration on fewer bestsellers, there’s a squeeze on mid-list authors, and the budget is not going to help,” said Le Fanu, who – together with a cadre of the society’s biggest names – will be writing to culture minister Ed Vaizey to make the case for the PLR.
“I absolutely back it to the hilt and would walk through the streets for it,” said bestselling women’s fiction author Elizabeth Buchan. “It’s absolutely right and proper that all authors are accorded this money.”
“It means a great deal. It’s never been lavishly funded and it desperately needs to stay,” agreed Penelope Lively, the only author to have won both the Carnegie medal and the Booker prize. “Authors need it. It’s a very important extra for a frequently underfunded activity, and more than that it’s a return on your work that should be made.”
Some children’s authors, too, depend heavily on PLR, said Le Fanu.
“Children’s writers are not highly paid,” agreed Ian Whybrow, one of the most borrowed authors from libraries with over 100 books to his name. “I make a living and I sell thousands of books, but I don’t make a great big living, simply because of the way books are sold [so] the PLR amount is significant to me.”
A 2007 survey by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society found that the average income for an author in the UK was £16,531, and that the top 10% of authors earn more than 50% of total income, while the bottom 50% earn less than 10% of total income.
“PLR is very important to people who are having hiccups in their career, and pretty important for newly published authors as well,” said Haddon. “The division between bestsellers and everyone else is huge. Publishers seem to me to be looking for the next big thing, and if you don’t produce huge sales in your first couple of books you’re gone. There’s never going to be a Dick Francis, who took seven books to get off the launch pad, because your publisher won’t stand by you that long. The point about PLR is that actually it will help to feed the author while they’re trying to find another voice, or genre, or pen name, because that’s what they have to do.”
The DCMS said it would not speculate about future spending decisions.
“This week we had a tough but fair budget. All areas have to bear their share of spending cuts,” said a spokesperson.