Richard Osman among authors missing royalties amid ongoing cyber-attack on British Library | British Library

Richard Osman among authors missing royalties amid ongoing cyber-attack on British Library | British Library

Richard Osman’s cosy crime books The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice, followed by, appropriately enough, Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library were the most borrowed library books in the UK this time last year.

In February 2023, those authors would have been paid thousands of pounds each from Public Lending Right (PLR) payments – money earned by writers, illustrators and translators each time a book is borrowed. But not this year.

Ongoing fallout from a massive cyber-attack means that PLR payments will not be paid as expected while the British Library, which manages the service, fights to restore its crippled systems.

Every time an author’s book is borrowed from a library, they get about 13p, capped at £6,600 a year. To authors like Osman and JK Rowling, whose first Harry Potter book was also on last year’s top read list, this might be a drop in the ocean, but for many authors whose books are library favourites it is a different matter.

Damian Barr, author of Maggie & Me and You Will Be Safe Here, said the scheme is vital for writers. “As advances are squeezed and publisher profits shared unequally, this payment can make a big difference.”

Author Damian Barr. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

The amount is not as big as a royalty, says Barr, but often publishers have constructed deals which mean an author doesn’t get royalties for years, if ever, even when their book is selling well. “I am amazed that PLR has survived successive Tory governments. It’s a small budget but makes a big difference, especially as the payment arrives in winter. Libraries and librarians are vital community assets and help writers build a readership.”

Average author earnings are about £7,000 a year, according to the most recent report commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), so the PLR payment can be a major financial boost.

Last year, PLR funding, which is paid out by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), saw nearly £6.2m distributed among 21,034 registered authors.

“PLR is a welcome annual windfall for authors,” said Joanne Harris, bestselling author and chair of the Society of Authors. “But more importantly it is a tangible piece of validation, especially for older authors whose sales may not be as high as they once were.”

The British Library was hit by a cyber-attack at the end of October. At the time, its chief executive, Sir Roly Keating, said that access to even basic communication tools such as email was initially lost. “We took immediate action to isolate and protect our network but significant damage was already done.

“Having breached our systems, the attackers had destroyed their route of entry and much else besides, encrypting or deleting parts of our IT estate.”

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Barbara Hayes, chief executive of the ALCS and also chair of the PLR international steering committee, said it was time that PLR funding in the UK was increased. It temporarily went up to about 30p to compensate for libraries being closed during Covid lockdowns, but the government said last year it was reducing this by about 55%.

“It would be a significant help if the PLR pot is proportionally increased in line with those of our European counterparts to better compensate writers for the loans of their books from libraries,” she said.

“It is over a decade since any increase has taken place, and it would behove DCMS to give this funding proper consideration in a cost of living crisis.

“Authors deliver the educational and entertainment creativity we all enjoy, and our libraries do a superb job of encouraging knowledge growth, which ultimately feeds in to our economy.”

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