When a library buys a print book, it can lend it to as many people it likes. The only restriction is the physical strength of the book – lending ends automatically when the pages fall out. To compensate for any resulting loss in sales, the UK government puts aside a chunk of money each year which is divided up amongst the authors whose print books have been borrowed.
This is called Public Lending Right (PLR) and the system works like this:
- Authors register their books with the Public Lending Right office.
- The PLR office collects data on loans from a selection of libraries around the country.
- The PLR office extrapolates from that data to work out an estimate of how many times each book has been borrowed in the whole country.
- They calculate how much they can afford to pay per loan and pay that to every author in the scheme. To stop the most successful authors taking nearly all the money, no one can be paid more than a set maximum. (£6,600 in 2014). There’s also a minimum threshold of £1.
PLR is a great system for authors. It works extremely well and provides a welcome income boost. It’s also very gratifying to see how many times your books have been borrowed, especially those that are long out of print. So make sure you register each edition of your book that’s available in the UK.
The UK isn’t the only country with a PLR system. The Irish system works in a very similar way and is administered by the UK PLR people so you can opt to join that when you register your books in the UK. Other countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, pay out their PLR money to UK authors through the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS).