How Poland got PLR (SUCCESS STORY)

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2018 is the 3rd year PLR money is being paid out in Poland. The money (around 4 milion PLN in total) comes from the national lottery or other state-sanctioned gambling which feeds a special cultural fund. PLR money goes to authors (75% of the whole sum) and publishers (25%). Only authors of books written in Polish are remunerated, and they include writers, translators, and illustrators and photographers (in case of comics, picture books, albums etc). So the translator gets the money but not the foreign writer whose book has been translated. Translators receive 30% of what an original author would receive for the same number of book loans. It is an opt-in system, which means that it’s up to the author to sign in and enter all their books into an online system (where each ISBN is considered a different books, so you need to keep track of different editions if you want to make sure all of them are counted). Afterwards, if you’ve added any titles in a given year… you need to print it all out, sign it and send it by regular mail! (Because they need your signature.)

There is a lot of criticism concerning how the book loans are counted. Since there is no one digital library system in Poland, not all libraries feed their loans data to the PLR system. Quite on the contrary, the ministry of culture has drawn up a list of “representative libraries” (updated once in the 3 years, I think), which consists of some… 65 libraries or so. It’s not exactly clear how they were chosen and by whom, but they are supposed to be diverse enough to represent all of the readers: they’re from all around the country (but some regions are not represented at all), from some large cities, some small towns and the countryside. Obviously it’s a flawed system, but probably more so in the case of original authors – whose writing might be strongly connected to their region – rather than translators, whose translations are probably loaned more or less equally on average. Also, as a principle only public libraries are included in the system. No school or university libraries there.

What happens then is they take that “representative” data and use it to divide the money among authors. So there is no per-book-loan rate; rather, it depends on the number of authors participating and their relative share of the pie. The downside being, as PLR becomes better known and more people sign in, they individual payouts go down. The money was best the first time around, when less people knew about it. The overall sum available goes up every year (they currently have the sums planned until 2024), but its not fast enough to make up for the growing number of authors in the system, which was over a 1000 the first time around, and some 2000 afterwards, I think. There is also a top and bottom cap. The bottom cap is around 20 PLN (so if the calculations say you should get less than that, you get nothing, in order to avoid costs of processing it), and the top cap is around 20.000 PLN (so if you’ve translated “50 Shades of Grey” or you’re that one super-popular Polish crime writer who has been churning out about 6 books a year, you get no more that 20k even if the calculations say you should get more – so that there is still money left for everyone else).

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