Authors receive an average payment of just under €32 per year for having their books borrowed from public libraries in Ireland.
New figures published by the Local Government Management Agency, which oversees the payment scheme in the Republic, shows a total of €200,317 was paid out to writers, illustrators and translators in return for the lending rights of their books by libraries in 2020.
The Public Lending Remuneration Scheme, which is currently capped at €200,000 per annum, paid a rate of 4.39 cents per title borrowed in 2020 – up from 4.12 cents the previous year.
Only 6,271 authors out of almost 28,000 registered with the PLR scheme got a share of last year’s fund which is provided by the Department of Rural and Community Development.
Payments to individual authors are capped at €1,000 with a minimum sum of €2.
In contrast, authors can receive a maximum annual payment of £6,600 – approximately €7,718 at current rates and almost eight times the Irish limit – under the PLR scheme in the UK.
Under EU legislation, all 27 member states are obliged to have a scheme to remunerate authors for the lending out of their works by libraries.
The Irish Writers Union claim the rate of around 4 cents per borrowing in the Republic is “too low.”
“It is approaching a level where the scheme in Ireland will be considered derisory and therefore in violation of the EU directive,” the IWU said.
It also criticised the lack of advisory input from writers’ organisations into the design and operation of the scheme.
However, it acknowledged that the Irish PLR scheme is a relatively fair system that does not reward best-selling authors too heavily.
Eight writers received the maximum sum of €1,000 last year, while only 33 received in excess of €500.
The most common payout was between €10 and €50.
Funding for the PLR scheme was reduced from €300,000 in 2015, while its annual budget peaked in 2009 at €350,000.
The LGMA said payments to authors last year were based on almost 4.8 million eligible loans – down from 5.1 million in 2019.
Almost 90% of all payments were to British authors with Irish writers only receiving just over €21,700.
Authors from 24 different countries including Greece, Iceland, Bulgaria and Sweden qualified for a payment last year.
No details are provided on payments to individual authors.
The authors of children’s fiction are the main beneficiaries as children’s books are consistently the most borrowed titles from Irish libraries.
Among the most popular authors were J K Rowling, David Walliams and Marita Conlon-McKenna, while leading writers of borrowed adult fiction included Cathy Kelly, Liz Nugent and Graham Norton.
Well-known US authors whose works are heavily borrowed by Irish readers including Lee Child, John Grisham and Jeff Kinney are not entitled to payments as they are limited to writers who are citizens or residents of countries in the EU as well as Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
The most recently available figures show €166.4m was spent on operating public libraries in 2019 together with €9.5m spent on purchasing new stock.
In the same year, over 17 million visits to libraries were recorded with over 15.4 million items including books, CDs and videos being borrowed.
It is estimated there are around 614,000 active members of public libraries - approximately 13% of the total population.