ALIA Blog Article

Digital Lending Rights announced - what next? 

In a very welcome announcement for the library sector, and for authors and publishers across the country, the Australian Government today announced a $12.9 million extension to lending rights to cover ebooks and audio books in the scheme. 

ALIA, along with the Australian Society of Authors and others, have been strongly advocating for a funding extension, which would align the schemes  with modern library usage and support the Australian book industry. Below is a quick explainer about the changes. 


What are lending rights?  

Lending rights are payments made by the Australian government to eligible Australian authors and publishers when their books are held in public or educational (school, TAFE or university) libraries.  The payments recognise the public benefit when multiple people borrow and use these books, and in turn supports the creation, publication and dissemination of Australian literature.

In 2021-2022 more than 17,5000 payments were made to creators and publishers.

What is and isn’t covered by lending rights?

Lending rights until now have covered physical books by an eligible Australian creator who has registered with the scheme within five years of publication, and whose book fits certain criteria, including a catalogue record in a national bibliographic database.

The extension announced on 28 January 2023 will mean books in non-physical format, such as ebooks or audiobooks will be covered by the scheme, having been previously excluded.

Non-book library content, such as journal articles or DVDs, is not covered.

Why did ALIA advocate for the inclusion of ebooks and audiobooks?

Libraries have invested over many years in providing access for their community in multiple formats. For example, ebooks and audio books can be more accessible for people with vision impairments or who do not live in close proximity to a library. They are also simply preferred by many people – particularly those who listen whilst exercising or commuting. 

The use of ebooks and audio books has steadily grown in Australian libraries, and when COVID shut down physical access to many collections, the borrowing of ebooks and audio books skyrocketed, between March to May 2020 NSW public libraries processed over 800,000 eloans, which was a 300% increase on the same period in 2019.

Libraries pay for the use of audiobooks and ebooks, and a portion of that payment generally goes to the author according to the publishing contracts and licencing arrangements. However unlike physcial books, there is not an additional payment for lending rights. Providing additional government funding to support the inclusion of ebooks and audio books into the scheme will ensure that creators and publishers received the same level of reward no matter in which format people are enjoying the book.

What impact will this have on libraries?

Apart from the happiness of authors and patrons, the day-to-day impact on libraries will be minimal.

Libraries support the administration of the lending rights scheme through the library survey.  In 2021-2022, 27 public library networks (representing 47% of public library book stock) participated in the survey. 

The exact mechanisms to survey and calculate ebooks and audio books will be determined before the scheme goes into effect, and ALIA looks forward to working with libraries and the Office for the Arts on an efficient and robust process.

Final words

As author Stephen Orr wrote in the Public Lending Right Committee’s Annual Report 2021-2022

God bless P, L and R (Public Lending Rights). A coal miner’s pension, for the time down the pit. The one time writers get to eat out, guilt free, knowing each bite’s a well-turned sentence. Oh, and god bless the librarians and readers. This year, I think, a curry.

Stephen Orr Author

Read more:

Joint supplementary submission from ALIA and the ASA to the cultural inquiry

Australian Society of Authors – Digital Lending Rights

Office for the Arts Lending Right Schemes

ALIA submission to the National Cultural Policy

Books Create Australia submission to the National Cultural Policy