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Making money from more than royalties: Pamela Freeman tells you everything you need to know about PLR and ELR

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Most people are aware of the idea of royalties, where writers get paid a percentage of the sale of their books.

But there are other ways to earn money, and it’s important for authors to know about them! In this post, bestselling author Pamela Freeman explains how authors can make money from Public Lending Right (PLR) and Educational Lending Right (ELR) schemes in Australia.

Know your PLR and ELR
An important source of funding for Australian authors is Public Lending Right and Educational Lending Right. And the reason they are important is because they are reliable!

PLR and ELR are paid by the Federal Government to Australian creators and publishers. The payment is to recompense them for the loss of sales they suffer due to their books being available for free in libraries.

Unlike royalties, which are based on sales, PLR and ELR are based on how many of your books are available to be borrowed.

PLR and ELR are mostly similar, except that PLR is for public (e.g. council) libraries, and ELR is for all educational libraries (excluding preschools).

‘Australian creators’ means authors, editors, illustrators, translators and compilers who are either Australian citizens (no matter where they live) or permanent residents.

The history of PLR and ELR goes back to Europe in the mid-20th century when Scandinavian authors insisted on receiving compensation for their publicly available intellectual property. Campaigning in the UK in the late 1970s, English author Maureen Duffy claimed that authors were entitled to fair pay under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that “everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration.”

The idea has slowly taken hold – although the only countries outside of Europe to have schemes in place are Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Israel.

How PLR and ELR work in Australia
Each year, the Lending Rights team surveys libraries across Australia, and literally counts how many copies of each book are in those libraries. These are taken to be representative of how many copies each book has in libraries in general. The libraries surveyed are changed each year, to even out any local biases.

You get a payment if one of your books is estimated to have more than 50 copies in libraries generally. For example, if you had 5 copies in 100 surveyed libraries, but there are ten times that many libraries in Australia overall, Lending Rights would estimate that you have 50 copies out there in the wider system.

The payments are based on a certain funding limit – the funding is divided between all the creators and publishers who have more than 50 copies of any one book.

In addition, how much you get per book depends on how many of your books are in the system. The more copies of a book you have in libraries, the less you get for that book. This is to make sure that very successful authors don’t get an outsized portion of the funding amount.

What should authors do to participate in the scheme?
Each time you publish a book, you, as the creator, put in a ‘title claim’ with Lending Rights Online.

If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will probably prompt you to do this – because they don’t get any payments unless you register for them! But, even so, it’s a good idea to set up your Lending Rights account and put your book in as soon as it’s published to make sure you don’t miss any cut-off dates.

If your book is only published digitally, I’m afraid that there are no ELR or PLR payments for you – at the moment, the payments are only for hardcopy books, although the Australian Society of Authors is lobbying to change this.

For many writers, ELR and PLR are welcome, regular additions to their annual income. This is particularly true for children’s writers, since there are far more school libraries than council libraries. Many children’s writers can write full time through a combination of royalties, PLR/ELR, and school workshops.

So, when you are talking to your readers (and your families and friends), remind them to ask their local libraries to bring in a copy of your book – because those purchases might end up giving you payments year after year. It often happens that, eventually, your Lending Rights payments are worth more than your advance on that book!

For detailed and up to date information about the PLR and ELR schemes in Australia, always check with the relevant government department. At the time of publication of this post, the schemes are managed by the Office for the Arts under the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. For information in other countries, please refer to your national author’s association – or ask your local librarian!

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