Educational Lending Right

Lending Rights – An illustrator's perspective

I am fortunate that my career got going shortly after the inception of PLR in 1975. Around about that time, there was a surge of growth in Australian publishing. This has continued ever since, though some would argue that the market has plateaued in recent times. Public libraries, and the wonderful Lending Rights schemes, have played a vital role in nurturing the Australian talent that has sustained this growth.

The three and a half decades since the introduction of PLR have been marked by an increasing appetite for home-grown stories and Australian voices. Authors and illustrators are eager to create these stories, many to a standard that is equivalent to the best in the world. Publishing opportunities have blossomed. But the disciplines of the commercial market have kept pace.

Publishing in Australia is driven by competition. Publishers, authors and illustrators strive to connect with their audiences. Some do so better than others, but it is impossible to predict which books will earn significant income through royalty payments. PLR and ELR payments, while reflecting this same spirit of competition, enable authors and illustrators to receive a stable regular income. The PLR and ELR score reflects the success a book has had in reaching its audience through people borrowing it from school and community libraries. It feels as if it is recompense from an appreciative community of readers. Lending Rights allow the creators to feel embedded in our country's culture.

Illustration by Craig Smith, from Bob the Builder and the Elves by Emily Rodda

Illustration by Craig Smith, from Bob the Builder and the Elves by Emily Rodda

Craig Smith - Illustrator

Craig Smith - Illustrator

The annual lists of the highest scoring books and claimants are fascinating snapshots of Australian publishing—and it is great to have some of my titles on them—but they mask the real practical effect of PLR and ELR. In my experience, Lending Rights payments provide one point of stability in an arena that is largely unpredictable. This is the stability that allows creators to have a life, earn an income, raise a family, borrow money…Apart from sales to the general public via trade booksellers, the core market for children's books is schools and libraries. This market holds the key to a book's profitability. Discerning librarians purchase books that have strong literary or innovative qualities, but which may not always be commercially successful. Some very good and ambitious projects fail to find their audience. Commonly a book project will not earn out its advance (usually between $2000 and $4000, for many months' work). Another common scenario is for a book to sell in small quantities for a few years, resulting in a dribble of income.

Often PLR and ELR is the only form of income from a creator's midlist and backlist titles when trade sales have ceased. It is true that the majority of authors and illustrators cannot earn a living solely from their published work. It is said that to have ‘made it' is when your income is akin to a librarian's. Of course, a number of authors and illustrators are able to earn a reasonable, sometimes outstanding living.

Finally, at an ELR ‘appreciation' gathering of authors and illustrators a few years ago in Melbourne, the

former Minister, Senator Rod Kemp, said it was unusual to be in a room full of such universally happy, appreciative and grateful people. This is how the scheme is viewed. Thank you, DCITA staff and contributing librarians, for all your hard work in administering PLR and ELR.

Craig Smith

Originally published in Australian Government. Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Lending Rights Unit 2007, Annual Report 2006-07 , Forrest, ACT.