Monday, May 26, 2008

An Alternative to Blowing Up Your Local Library

When I checked the online catalog of the Palo Alto Library soon after publication of Dot Dead, I saw that 80 or so people had reserved it. Here's what I said to myself about that: "Go without a few lattes, you pennypinchers, and buy the damn thing – it’s only $13.95."

I lost the argument with my wife, so, I did abandon any notion of blowing up the local branch. Still, as supportive as I am of reading, it does strike me as unfair to authors that libraries buy one copy of their book and let dozens read it. In addition to the unfairness, it’s no way to support writers.

Legislators in 40 other countries have figured out the answer – something called Public Lending Rights. In the UK each time a book is checked out of the library, the author receives a little more than a dime (no, doesn’t apply to Americans). You’d think that might bankrupt Her Majesty’s Treasury? No, the PLR are not designed to make sure that J.K. Rowling gets even richer. Authors are limited to payments of 6,600 pounds per year. Not a lot, but that $13,000 (at current exchange rates) could really make a difference to authors just starting out. And on top of that it’s fair to authors.

Now the U.S. runs a huge deficit and adding billions to it would make little sense. No fear. Guess how much our cousins across the Atlantic spend on their program? In 2006 the entire shebang cost 7.6M pounds. What would we spend here? $50M? $75M?

So let’s get this straight. Libraries buy. The national government pays writers a small sum each time a book is checked out. Writers make a little extra money from people reading their books. (Writers making money? Call the police!) A literary terrorist is discouraged from throwing a Molotov cocktail through an open window of their local lending library. A great idea? I think so. And not that expensive either, especially considering the benefits.

Why not write your senators and representatives about it? I’m going to. And crazy as it seems, I think I’ll bring it up with the boards of the author organizations I belong to: MWA, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.


G.M. Malliet said...

Bringing it up with author organizations is a terrific idea (let them write Congress - they might actually get a response).

It's an idea that would benefit not only writers, but those who really can't afford to buy.

Mark Combes said...

Hey, far be it from he to suggest that writers make less money, but if we do this to libraries,what do we do with used book stores? That's selling your book again and you don't get any proceeds from that? Also, libraries buy lots of books that otherwise wouldn't be purchased by the chains. As fledgling writers, our big breaks come from the libraries supporting us. Careful of that feeding hand....

Also,that's why digital makes some sense. Like with music, you encrypyt the work so it can't be shared ad infinitum.

G.M. Malliet said...

Did I get this wrong? I thought the idea was to subsidize libraries so they could buy more copies of each book, AND give writers a few pennies for each rental. Keith mentioned a wait list for his book. If the gov't would pitch in, maybe the library could buy TWO copies.

There's no hope for the 2nd-hand bookstores, tho. Guess writers have to live with that.

Mark Combes said...


I'm just standing at the top of the slippery slope is all. Where do you draw the line at subsidizing a writer's income? I'm all for protecting intellectual property - the whole Napster thing drove me bonkers - but at some point, the marketplace needs to address the issue - not the government. The music industry figured it out. The publishing industry needs to figure it out as well.

Keith Raffel said...

I don't want subsidies for writers. I want writers to be paid when someone reads their works. The PLR is operating now and working well in other countries. Why not here?

Mark Combes said...


I'm in a contrarian mood today - so where does the money come from that the government pays the authors? My tax dollars. Your tax dollars. And the tax dollars of people who hate reading mysteries. No free lunch. Not sure I want to foist my writing on folk's (albeit a miniscule amount)pocket books in that way.

But like I was saying, I'm being a contrarian today. Your argument is a fine one and if as a society we have our elected officials make it law, then cool. We certainly spend our tax dollars in worse ways.

Jessica Lourey said...

Keith and I had a bit of this discussion in San Fran last week, and although I am in favor of writers making a living, I am equally in favor of libraries staying afloat. Like most writers, I love libraries and spent much time in them growing up and now. They're like a magic store where everything is free, and I fear that any added expense to them would be their demise. I don't know how it is in the rest of the U.S., but libraries in Minnesota are being closed and/or underfunded right and left. I've given away 20 copies of August Moon to different libraries because I support their mission, which includes neither the taking or giving of money except what is needed for them to keep afloat to make sure that anyone, no matter their income, gender or race, gets to read what they want.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Keith and I have had this discussion before via e-mail. I'm not bothered at all by people borrowing my book from libraries. I grew up using libraries. I love libraries and understand that not everyone can afford to buy every book they'd like to read.

Libraries buy a lot of my books and often readers write and tell me that they "discovered" me at their local library, then went on to buy my other books from book stores. I received such a letter this past Monday.

Also, I'm convinced if the Gov'ment has anything to do with authors being paid for library book usage, both the libraries and the authors will get screwed. It's just the way it is when Gov'ment gets involved.

Terri Thayer said...

Ironic isn't it that the only place I get paid to be on a panel with other mystery writers is at the library.