February is the month when the Public Lending Right computers eventually produce the sums they have been mulling over since June. The result is that 17,594 registered authors share between them the sum of £3,072,000. This should give the authors an average of £174.61p each, to compensate them for the free gift of their work to the nation, but in point of fact over 75 per cent of them – 13,254 out of 17,594 – earn less than £100 a year.
My purpose in producing all these figures – many readers will already have decided to skip the rest of the piece – is certainly not to urge that the money should be shared out more equally, or according to some insane yardstick of ‘literary merit’ as determined by a Committee composed of Mr Seymour-Smith, Professor Miller, Lady Rachel Billington and an Australian. No, my purpose is to ask whether the whole apparatus is not an entire waste of time, whether authors would not be better off nursing a grudge over the State’s expropriation of their labour rather than accepting these derisory sums in settlement.
By any normal reckoning, £100 is better than the proverbial slap in the belly with a wet fish, but nobody is yet threatening authors with this form of assault. The question is really whether £100 and 75 per cent of registered authors earn less than that is better than nothing.