Friday, 15 October 2010
People Love Reading or Please Listen - Reconsider
There is so much wrong with this decision that it is hard to know where to begin. I could start by saying that the PLR Office is not a Quango in any meaningful sense. It's not like The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) for example, which decides which drugs to fund or The Audit Commission with investigative powers.
PLR does what it says on the tin: it establishes by the use of rolling samples of borrowings from Public Lending Libraries, how many loans have been made of which titles and recompenses living British authors of those books at a few pence per loan (currently around 6p). No-one says "well that author or that book is more deserving of payment than this.": it's a straightforward computational job.
If you have registered your titles, they qualify, assuming you are eligible in the first place: i.e. you are alive, British and have your name on the title page.
But although the principles are simple, the proportions and percentages have to be agreed among all contributors listed on the title page, the samples have to be carefully taken and the extrapolation done. Amazingly the outstanding current Registrar, Jim Parker, does this with a staff of nine, covering something like 133 million titles
There are surprising results among the most borrowed: J. K. Rowling at 96; Philip Pullman at 221; Bill Bryson at 246. You'd expect them all to be higher, except that their fans probably prefer to buy their books.
Can you imagine that this scheme will be more efficiently or cheaply run by any other body? (currently the rumour is that this function might be taken on by the Arts Council). Any additional costs to set up the running of it differently will come out of the pot of money allocated to writers. Nor could it possibly be "more transparent and accountable". The Registrar is accountable to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (DCOMS), currently Jeremy Hunt. The loans are listed as transparently as they can be on every printout made by every registered writer.
This sum of money, received every February is a lifeline for writers at a time of recession when we hear of books cancelled, advances slashed. For many writers PLR is their sole or substantial portion of their income. Writers like the late great Brigid Brophy and other members of the Writers' Action group, fought for a decade to get this payment on the statute books; she would be turning in her grave to see what is happening to it now.
Yes I know the PLR itself has not been abolished - only the Office. But does anyone really believe it will survive after the four years the current agreement has left to run? Please write to your MP, Jeremy Hunt the Secretary of State and Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, urging them to retain the Registrar and the PLR Office.
In hard times, people need to be able to borrow books for free and writers need some compensation every time they do so. 4,000 of us signed the petition; we need the support of all readers. Dust down your old placards and banners or PLR aged 26 will die aged 30.