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Guest Post: Should Writers be Paid for their eBooks Lent by Libraries?

Editor’s Note: The following post concerns a topic which might be unfamiliar to US readers: Public Lending Rights. This is a program where libraries pay authors and publishers each time one of their books are borrowed by a patron. The US is one of the few English-speaking countries which does not have PLR, but it is common in Europe and in Great Britain’s former colonies.

When libraries lend books to the public, authors and publishers receive remuneration from the Government under the Lending Rights schemes, but this is not the case when libraries lend e-books. Is this fair?

This year, the government has distributed almost A$22 million under these Public Lending Rights and Educational Lending Rights Schemes. For each book in public library collections, creators receive $2.11 and publishers receive $0.52.

The amount that each claimant receives is often not very significant, with the majority of authors receiving between $100-500 annually. Still, a previous study has revealed that this remuneration constitutes the second most important source of income for creators from their creative work.

E-books, however, are not covered by these Lending Rights schemes. This may not be a big issue at the moment, since only 3.5% of library holdings are e-books and most publishers still release books both in print and e-book formats.

But e-book lending is increasing and, according to the Australian Library and Information Association, e-books are likely to reach 20% of library holdings by 2020. Also, most, if not all, self-published titles are done so in digital format only. Such self-published titles, if lent by libraries, would not qualify for any remuneration.

For this reason, authors and publishers have been lobbying the Government to extend the Lending Rights Schemes to e-books. Although the Book Industry Collaborative Council made such proposal already in a report of 2013, nothing has happened of yet.

One of the main reasons why e-books are not covered is that e-book lending is quite different from print book lending. In case of print books, authors and publishers are arguably losing on customers and revenues when libraries loan their books for free.

At present, in the case of e-books, many publishers chose not to sell these books to libraries. Also, publishers assume that libraries will lend e-books to many readers so they often charge libraries three or more times the price that consumers are paying for the same e-books.

While publishers charge libraries high prices for e-books, writers complain that these amounts do not reach them. Publishing contracts often don’t specify whether and how much authors receive for e-books sales or for e-lending.

How other countries deal with this question

This year, a Public Lending Rights scheme was extended to e-books in Canada, with no payments for e-books yet. A few weeks ago, the Court of Justice of the European Union has confirmed that European Lending Rights scheme applies at least to certain e-lending models.

Should Australia follow the trend? Australia’s publishing industry, like the industry worldwide, has been in a decline for a number of years. Despite this, it is still our second largest creative industry and it is of no question that Australian literature is greatly important for local culture and identity.

Government support for this industry, however, has been declining over years. In addition, the Productivity Commission has recommended that the government eliminate the restrictions on parallel imports of books. If the government acts on this, it will likely reduce the income of Australian publishers and authors.

The Commission has suggested that the government replace parallel import restrictions with some other cultural support measures. However, in the current neo-liberal climate, with constant pressure to decrease public expenditure, it is unlikely that government will create additional schemes to support local writing.

One option could be the extension of Lending Rights schemes to e-books. However, extension alone would do little if the current funds under the schemes were merely re-distributed from books to e-books. For effects to be felt, there would need to be increased funding under the schemes.

reposted under a CC license from The Conversation

images by Darien LibraryemmamcclearyJemimus

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Joseph Sanchez December 21, 2016 um 12:02 pm

As an American librarian, this argument flies in the face of everything I believe and generally support. We tend to be First Sale absolutists over here, and the vast majority of us won’t even consider the merits of a lending rights scheme. Most American librarians seem to support first sale for econtent rather than anything close to lending rights.
However, I have taught and studied digital economics over the years and I have become receptive to this argument (cue collective outrage from my peers). My main concern is the instability affecting creators of all art mediums: fine arts, writers, videographers, and musicians. While the A-list artist are still doing fine, it seems pretty clear that the artistic "middle class" has been severely challenged and in the music industry has shrunk significantly as revenue streams have fallen off.
This is due, I think, to the fact that a digital analogue is treated as a commodity rather than a unique item with intrinsic value. Ebooks are valued more for their content than the sum of their parts. Which means that librarians' arguments that ebook borrowers remain ebook buyers (this is an old argument in our profession that has good support for print books) is tenuous at best.
My real problem is the lack of solid data. I wouldn’t mind paying artist per lend especially if we cap it at certain percentages of the book read, as we know that many borrowers never actually read the book they borrow. This would be especially attractive to me if artists would eliminate the arbitrary one book/ one lend model and allow me to stream unlimited copies to unlimited users with a max cap for the bestsellers. It seems plausible where we could develop an arrangement where the artist makes more money and libraries pay less, as significant amounts of our catalogs are never really touched. But the data and research is not available to guide the way, and I think both parties are suspicious of getting taken advantage of by the other.
Also, I run into very few librarians (in the States) who are even open to Rita’s argument. This is unfortunate, as it seems a better solution is at least plausible. I think you should be looking less to government solutions and attempt to develop a beta test with large library systems in regions large enough for the test to be viable.

Anthony December 22, 2016 um 11:30 am

I think it needs to be built into the pricing for libraries. I have no problem with the 26 checkouts models in some ways as at least it is reflective of use. I also like the 26 checkout model when the price is right. But a better way to do it would be have a flat base price for the ebook and then a small micro transactions per checkout (or pages read, which factors in that not all checkouts are actually read) so perhaps the paper back cost of the book and .5-.10c per checkout? I would then added to this the ability to have multiple checkouts and not the one copy one user model.

We have the technology to know how many times a book is checked out, we could even tell how many pages were read (in the case of someone wildly checking out 'all the books' but never reading them).

As much as I love paying the one price to 'own' an ebook and not have limited checkouts or time, it’s not taking advantage of the technology. I have also stated before my least favourite ebook model is the limited by time, you’re basically renting the title, and taking a gamble on the title. That’s fine if it’s a bestseller/blockbuster title which guarantees holds/usage but not for lesser known titles.

Michael December 22, 2016 um 1:55 pm

While most U.S. librarians may have begun as First Sale absolutists, for digital content at least many have changed their minds. The 26 circ lease model, much decried at the time (I’ve been told some people in publishing even lost jobs over it), has in fact proven to be perhaps our best digital content model–far better than outright ownership given that we must often get multiple copies to satisfy demand for popular titles under a one-user circ model. Anthony is right that putting a time limit on this model can create issues, but it is still solid compared to most alternatives.

Libraries also have a tradition of supporting authors. If we could work out a model under which authors got paid a fair price per use, I doubt many librarians would object.

Let’s identify the real problem source of the issue in the U.S.: not authors, not libraries, but publishers. That is from whom we are (through vendors) typically leasing content. The prices for best sellers are exorbitant; as pointed out in the guest post, it is by no means certain that the extra money is going to the authors. The current use models are not beneficial and do not allow libraries to take advantage of e-book full possibilities.

Perhaps authors and librarians could find common cause, advocating for a pay-per-use or subscription model that allowed authors to be fairly paid per download while freeing librarians to circ e-book content without restrictions. Some publishers are already using such a model with library vendors and don’t seem to be losing their shirts. This model is working in libraries for audiobook, music, and video content. Why not e-books? The ALA’s Digital Content Working Group has approached the Big 5 to explore such models, but, with one or two mall experiments excepted, mostly been stalled or ignored. We could perhaps start with backlists and, one established as effective, expand. Perhaps publishers could offer a variety of use models, depending on the title, its likely popularity, and potential staying power.

Authors, we like you to get paid. Many libraries are working to forge beneficial relationships with local writers to get them noticed and earn some sales. Why not join us? Push for more open models. Let’s saw through the mind-forged manacles. We have nothing to lose but limited circs and inequitable distribution of revenue.

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