24 September 2009

Three Changes I'd Like To See To The Author's Fund

Former talkshow host and media consultant Brian Edwards has kicked up a storm with his suggestion that public libraries are just a form of theft. I disagree with him: I think public libraries are great, and I like it when people borrow my books from libraries.

All the same, those borrowings do, potentially, represent foregone income: some of those people might have bought one of my books instead of borrowing a copy from the library. The mechanism that is designed to compensate New Zealand authors for holdings of their books in libraries is called the Author's Fund, recently renamed the Public Lending Right. I have previously blogged about how it works.

Here are three changes I'd liked to see to the Public Lending Right to make it work better for authors. There may well be valid arguments against all these proposals, and if so, please leave a comment and tell me what those arguments are. I'm keen to know.

1. Payment for borrowings.
Currently, the Fund recompenses authors for each copy of a book they have written held in a New Zealand library, with some restrictions, provided at least 50 copies of the book are held in New Zealand libraries. The payment to the author is the same whether the book is never borrowed, or is frequently out on loan. I would like the scheme changed so that there is a basic per-holding fee paid, plus an additional fee per number of times the book is borrowed.

2. Aggregation. Many books, such as poetry collections, do not attain the magic mark of 50 copies held. If you're in the unfortunate position of having written 10 books, each of which has 49 copies held in New Zealand libraries according to the sampling methodology used to determine such things, you don't get paid a cent. This seems inequitable to me. I would prefer that, if payment is to be based solely on holdings, then it is the total holdings of works by an author that is used as the basis for calculation.

3. Count, rather than sample.
In the era of online union catalogues of book holdings across (most) New Zealand libraries, why is a statistical sampling method still being used to determine the holdings of books? Why not simply write a script to count total holdings, and even total borrowings? (A few libraries already report the latter in their online catalogues.)

So there we are. Three modest proposals. They may well be bad proposals - if they are, please tell me why. But even if they are never implemented, it still gives me a good feeling to check a library catalogue and find that one or more of my books is on loan.


Heather Hapeta said...

I agree with a lot of your blog re the Authors Fund - I hope you are a member of the NZSA and pass this onto them too.

The idea about electronic counting is excellent .. as is the one about 10 books each with only 49 copies... However its hard to know how to sort this.
as for books that doent get taken out of libries... i dont think they last long on the shelf!

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Heather. I am a member of NZSA, and will take your advice and pass this on to them.

Poetry collections (well, mine anyway) struggle to break the 50-copy barrier. Libraries will often buy just 1 copy and stick it in their research collection, open stack, or somewhere like that - so it never has a chance to be borrowed, but may be there for a long while!

Helen Lowe said...

I'm with you, Tim. I am totally for libraries and people having the opportunity to read widely through borrowing. But I also agree that in this electronic age with library catalogues online there is absolutely no reason why actual numbers cannot be counted.

Catherine said...

They seem reasonable to me. 50 copies is a large number. For poetry, if all the libraries in the major centres hold a copy, it still wouldn't reach anywhere near 50.
I do believe libraries are good for authors. Given the abysmal selection at the big chains like Paper Plus, I often order books online (I'm a great fan of Fishpond), but I rather like to see the book first. If I borrow a book from the library, and keep borrowing it again, then I'm likely to buy a copy. I guess that works best for non-fiction, but also for poetry which I like to delve into over time. For works of fiction, I'm less likely to buy it once I've read the library copy.