Monday musings on Australian literature: Digital Lending Right

Australia implemented a Public Lending Right (PLR) in 1975. It’s a Federal Government program which makes payments to eligible creators and publishers, in recognition of income they lose (in other words, don’t get!) through loans and other free uses of their books in public lending libraries. PLR schemes operate many countries around the world, including New Zealand, Canada, Israel and many in Europe. (There is a complementary ELR, which does the same for books held in educational institutions).

Fist full of money
(Courtesy: OCAL from

To be eligible for Australia’s PLR (or ELR) payment, creators:

  • can be an author, editor, illustrator, translator or compiler;
  • must be an Australian citizen or a permanent resident;
  • must be entitled to receive royalties from their books; and
  • must be living.

What this list doesn’t say is that eligible books had to be printed, which was logical in 1975. However, the scheme has not kept up with technology – not with audiobooks (which have been around for a long time now) and certainly not with eBooks.

For most authors the payments are very small. Author Annabel Smith (whose Whiskey and Charlie I’ve reviewed) explained it in detail in her excellent How Authors Earn Money blog series. However, it has long been a thorn in their side that their digital and audio works have been excluded. That has now been rectified – at last – and the joy I’ve seen around the various sites, Twitter, Instagram, and so on, has made clear just how important it is, both practically and philosophically.

The ASA (Australian Society of Authors) has been lobbying for this extension for a long time, but stepped it up in recent years, arguing that

The outbreak of COVID-19 made the case for digital lending rights even more compelling. When libraries closed, patrons increasingly borrowed in ebook and e-audio format, and will possibly continue to do so into the future. We believe the increased investment in digital resources and new borrowing patterns may have a long term effect on the way patrons interact with libraries.

Mateship with Birds (Courtesy: Pan MacMillan)

Author Carrie Tiffany, whose Mateship with birds I’ve reviewed, was, apparently, a Digital Rights Lending Ambassador. The ASA quoted her on Instagram:

I am relieved and grateful that the injustice writers face around digital lending rights will finally be addressed. My thanks to the ASA, and to all of the writers who made submissions on this issue.

Writers are listeners. By putting our ear to the world we connect people and inspire compassion. At last the Australian Government has listened to us. Let’s hope this conversation will continue.

Markus Zusah, The book thief

Many authors weighed in, but I’ll just share one other writer quoted by the ASA, Marcus Zusak, whose The book thief I’ve also posted on:

The announcement of Digital Lending Rights is a great win for Australia’s writers. It’s not just the financial rewards, but the affirmation that our work still matters. Australian stories still matter.

We have to be a country that loves its own stories, and this is another step in supporting the people who write them.

“Have to be”? I would like to think we “are”.

“You are required”

This DLR announcement was just one small part of the new National Cultural Policy announced today (available online). It is titled “Revive” (which conveys something about the current state of our Arts industries), and is structured around “five interconnected pillars”:

  • First Nations First: Recognising and respecting the crucial place of First Nations stories at the centre of Australia’s arts and culture.
  • A Place for Every Story: Reflecting the breadth of our stories and the contribution of all Australians as the creators of culture.
  • Centrality of the Artist: Supporting the artist as worker and celebrating artists as creators.
  • Strong Cultural Infrastructure: Providing support across the spectrum of institutions which sustain our arts, culture and heritage.
  • Engaging the Audience: Making sure our stories connect with people at home and abroad.

The policy contains many initiatives across the arts sectors – literature, music, the screen and performing arts, and so on – including a recognition of minimum rates of pay for arts workers, but I’m not going to list them all here, nor critique them. After all, no policy will please everyone.

Announcing the policy today, Arts Minister Tony Burke said to the arts community, “you are required”. Yes they certainly are … I hope these are not just words, but Burke does have some cred in supporting the arts. Let’s hope this policy provides the kickstart our artists and arts companies need.

Meanwhile, those of us concerned about the “collecting and exhibiting institutions” – like the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Gallery of Australia, and the National Museum of Australia – are pleased to see them included in the policy, under Pillar 4. The critical issue facing them – a real and serious reduction in their core funding – is not resolved here, but the policy states that:

There is an ongoing issue with respect to long-term neglect of core funding for the collecting institutions, for both capital and operations. Updated government policy on core funding and sustainability of the institutions does not form part of cultural policy but future funding for Australia’s collecting institutions is being assessed as part of the Budget process.

We wait with hope … but for now, I applaud this win for our literary creators. It augurs well for a revival of government interest in arts and culture.

10 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Digital Lending Right

  1. I haven’t caught up with all the detail yet, and it is excellent news about the extension of the PLR/ELR … but I do have a concern that the support for ‘contemporary music’ might exclude opera and classical music. Or jazz, for that matter…

    • Yes, there has been some discussion about that, Lisa. The devil, as they say, is in the detail – we’ll have to see how this new Creative Australia and its various elements play out. Did you watch Q &A and hear William Barton at the end? It was worth it just for that.

      • Uh no. Q&A and I parted company a long time ago.
        In fact, it’s The Spouse who turns on the TV for the ABC news. I wouldn’t watch anything much on the ABC if it were up to me…

        • I suspected you’d say that! We haven’t watched much Q&A for some time but I was interested it checking it out tonight – I usually only have half an eye on the TV when it’s on (and work on cataloguing photos, editing Trove, reading blog posts). Am not good at just sitting and watching TV. But it means I’m there when something great like William Barton happens. His performance really was something.

        • Actually, Sue, I had to Google Barton to find out who he is…
          I think I’m very lucky to have my own soundproof library so that I can’t even hear the TV at the other end of the house. The only thing I can do while watching TV is the ironing…
          (And that gets done as little as possible. If only I could get over my preference for freshly pressed pillow-cases…)

        • Oh, you’ve missed something then, Lisa. He is amazing. We first saw / heard him in a Musica Viva concert years ago, 2005, I just checked. Here is a link

          I’m with you on ironing … as little as possible, not even for pillowcases. Don’t understand that really as the first time you sleep on it the pressing is done for. Is it really worth it? Anyhow, I now have a soft silk Ecosa pillowcase. My ironing board is up permanently though … great height for wrapping presents, sorting Friends’ membership papers et al. Who needs a standing desk when you have an ironing board. Haha.

  2. I absolutely switched my reading habits thanks to COVID-19. Part of it was I couldn’t go to the library during the lockdown. In the past, I’d always gotten the physical copy of a book from the library because they have it, so why not. Now, I’m grateful that I don’t have to return books, even though my library now no longer has late fees.

    Relating to stories of a country being important: I’m currently reading Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee, and in the novel, the narrator’s father, a man from Korea, notes that he and his classmates learned Korean poems by memory and were taught it was important to do so because they are the vessels of, and preservers of, their culture. When I was growing up and through college, we were required to memorize poems here and there because “They’re just so important!” For example, Chaucer. By memorizing an excerpt from Chaucer, I am not carrying forth any kind of identity that relates to me. I wonder how I would feel and be different if poetry — American poetry that was relevant to contemporary life when I was in high school — was explained as a cultural vessel.

    • Thanks Melanie … re the library, I guess we miss the community aspect of going there but we save time and energy in not making those trips. I don’t like the location of my local library so almost never go there but I do borrow e-audiobooks occasionally.

      I love that reason for memorising poetry, as long as it didn’t become nationalistic. Learning stories and songs and then transmitting them down the generations is how Indigenous cultures have preserved culture isn’t it? Re the reasons we were given, I think, it was that memorising is good for the brain … and then they chose “important” works as you say for that. Never Chaucer though. I think that by the time we got to reading Chaucer memorising was not a thing being requested of us. I can’t recollect memorising things in class once we got to middle high school years. That was more those K-6 years here.

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