A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Public Lending Rights: Inquiring Minds Want to Know!

I asked Claire Eamer, author of Lizards in the Sky (most recently) and several other books, about her experience with PLR in Canada. Here are her comments. (Thank you, Claire!).

How did you find out about PLR?

Information about PLR is pretty widely distributed through writers’ organizations in Canada – including through informal listservs and meetings and workshops. Most writers will urge newly-published authors to registers, and organizations send out reminders.

How does it work, in your experience?

Once you’re registered the first time, the process is pretty painless. Each February, you get a cheque and a statement of how many of the 7 sample libraries your book was found in. In the same mailing is the registration form for any books published in the past year (or that you have neglected to register in the past). It’s a straightforward form where you provide title, ISBN numbers, number of pages…a few details like that. You attach photocopies of the title page, copyright page, and table of contents, and chuck it in the mail. And you’re done until next February. By the way, I’m right on top of this information because I filled out my registration for Lizards in the Sky two days ago and sent it off.

Do authors and illustrators split the per-book amount, as they typically do with royalties?

You indicate what level of responsibility you have for the book, which is based on the percentage of royalties you collect. For example, my first book was co-authored with a friend, so we each collect 50% of the PLR pay-out. For my other books, I collect 100%. However, I don’t have any picture books where I’m sharing royalties with an artist.

How does what you receive in PLR compare to what you receive in royalties for the same books?

I’ve made far more from PLR for my first book than I did in royalties, mainly because the book is long out of print and the publisher out of business but the book still consistently shows up in all 7 test libraries. No one has written a replacement book, so it’s still a reference that people use.

It’s difficult to compare the PLR payments to royalties because they depend on different things and work on different timeframes (see the example of my first book). I just checked my PLR statement and this year I got $339.22 for each of the recent books. That’s based on $48.46 per hit: i.e., a hit is the book showing up in one of the sample libraries. I got 7 out of 7 hits on each of the books, so I got the maximum pay-out. The older book gets a discounted rate of $29.08 per hit for books registered from 1986-1995.

Basically, you can’t live on PLR because it’s capped at about $5,000, but it’s certainly a nice addition to one’s income.

Do public lending rights make a difference in your ability to afford to work as a writer?

Yes. Every bit of income helps in this business. PLR will never be a major source of income, but it’s a part of the mosaic of income sources I put together.

In your opinion as a writer, are public lending rights a good idea? Why or why not?

Yes. PLR recognizes the value of the writers’ work, no matter how it is distributed. And, as I said above, every little bit of income helps.

In your opinion as a taxpayer, are public lending rights a good idea? Why or why not?

Yes. I regard public libraries as an extremely important public utility, and the books in them are an extremely important public resource. (I practically lived in the Saskatoon Public Library when I was a kid.) The books won’t be available if people don’t write them, so it’s important to recognize and reward – even at a modest level – the work that goes into creating them. However, I don’t want that reward to come through direct fees charges to library users. Free access to libraries is enormously important in building a literate society that is open to all of its members, not just those with sufficient financial resources. Therefore, the financial recognition to creators should be paid from the collective funds which we, as members of the society, contribute through taxes, according to our ability. I would add, as a Canadian, like healthcare!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Public Lending Rights: How Do They Work?

Although the basic idea behind public lending rights (PLR) is the same across countries -- compensation to authors for use of their work in public libraries -- the details vary. According to Public Lending Rights International, three general approaches are used.

The first, found for example in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, is based on copyright. In essence, libraries lease the right to provide authors’ works to the public, somewhat like they lease access to databases. In each country an organization representing writers deals with licensing and fee distribution. These transactions may be with the national or privincial government, or in some cases, directly with libraries. Under this arrangement, an author could choose to withhold use of their work in libraries as part of their copyright privilege.

A second type, used in the United Kingdom, considers PLR as an issue of compensation, rather than copyright. The UK’s 1979 PLR Act determined that government owes writers some remuneration for public use of their works in libraries. The act has nothing to do with licensing. A government agency oversees the program.

The third system is designed to support cultural goals. Scandinavian countries use PLR to encourage writing in their native languages. Authors receive no payment for books written in English, for example.

Denmark was the first country to initiate PLR in 1946. Norway followed in 1947, Sweden in 1954 and the UK in 1979. PLR are part of the European Union framework, as well. Another 13 countries have passed legislation regarding PLR but haven’t yet implemented systems for funding and payment.

PLR programs do not exist in the U.S., South America, Asia or Africa.

Various methods are used to calculate payments but the two most common are per library loan and per copy held by libraries. Statistics are gathered annually from a sampling of libraries to calculate payments. Criteria to qualify for PLR payments also vary by country; some apply only to books and authors, while others include illustrators, photographers, translators, and publishers. In some cases, audio books and music recordings are covered, as well.

Next: Canadian Claire Eamer on PLR in Canada.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What Are Public Lending Rights and Why Should You Care?

Sometimes it’s downright amazing to find out how things are done in other countries. Take public lending rights (PLR) for example. In the United States the concept is virtually unknown, yet this system of reimbursing authors for use of their work exists in 28 countries, including Canada, Australia, Israel, New Zealand and most of Europe.

Writers in the U.S. or other non-PLR countries, just imagine this: Once or twice a year you receive a check in the mail for the use of your books in libraries.

It should take about three seconds to grasp the significance to you as a writer. With 16,671 public libraries, 99,180 school libraries and 3,827 academic libraries in the United States, even a very small amount per book (or per check-out, depending on the system used) could add up. With your royalty checks, your school visits, and your personal book sales, what kind of difference might that make?

As writers know all too well, most of them, even the well-published, do not make a living (or much of one) from their writing. Finding ways to afford to keep writing, or to carve out time and energy to write between family and jobs, is often as challenging as the actual work of writing.

As a writer, I love the idea that the creator of a book is compensated for its repeated use in public institutions, not just its one-time purchase. In a country like the U.S., where the self-employed pay dearly for such basics as healthcare, a system of PLR might make the difference between doing without medical care, going broke as a writer, taking a job at the expense of writing, or being able to keep up the good work.

But wait! When I put on my cardigan (libraries are so often drafty, it seems, and we must keep the heating bill down) and consider PLR as a librarian, my feelings are more muddled. My first thought is panic: Oh my gosh, now you want libraries to do what? Keep track of all that data AND pay people? With budget cuts already threatening and even closing libraries across the country? ARE YOU NUTS?

Sorry, I shouldn’t be shouting in the library.

Once I calm down and begin to think about it, I can see some reasons why libraries might support the idea. One is that libraries are all about facilitating the flow of information and ideas to their citizenry. If writers can’t afford to write, or if only the well-positioned can afford to write, we lose important perspectives as a society -- possibly even the very concepts, visions, and stories we need to solve our numerous problems.

Now throw digital books into the mix. We are in the midst of an on-going effort between publishers, libraries, writers, content developers, and consumers to figure out a working financial model for e-books in the marketplace, including libraries. Does the PLR concept have a role to play in that debate?

I’ll be looking at public lending rights over the next few posts and posting comments from several writers who receive them.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fiddling Around with Poetry

April is National Poetry Month so what better time to talk about Ken Waldman, a.k.a. Alaska’s fiddling poet. Ken is all about two things: making poems and playing his fiddle. Frequently, he puts the two together.

While most of Ken’s poetry books are for adults, he also has a book for kids: D is for Dog Team: Alaska Acrostics from A-Z. Turn the book over and upside down and you’ll find a second title, D is for Denali, between the same covers. The book contains two acrostic poems, each covering the alphabet from A-Z as it traverses Alaska. Some poems, like “P is for Palmer” and “E is for Eek Author’s Festival,” are about places, while others, like “G is for Glacier,” focus on specific aspects of living in Alaska. Ken has seen more of this vast state than most, having travelled just about everywhere for decades, performing, teaching, and writing. His poems reflect that intimacy.

D is for Dog Team comes with a CD that records Ken’s unique blend of music sprinkled with poems, including his two Alaska acrostics. Also for kids is Fiddling Poets on Parade: Alaskan Fiddling Poet Music for kids of all ages. (Follow the links for a sample listen.)

In honor of Poetry Month and Ken’s inspirational dedication to the calling, I offer my own small acrostic.

Ken is Ken,
energetic and eclectic, a rambling
North country guy.

Words flow and meander
as Alaska’s fiddling poet plays. He
lends his poems to
down-home, old-timey
music, the unpretentious kind.
Adds his own
nomadic observations.

 I’m thinking that D is for Dog Team will inspire some Alaska acrostic writing among my students, too. Thanks, Ken!

P.S. Ken is the featured writer this month at 49 Writers. Check out his John Haines poems!