(This will redound to our detriment in the long term.)
As you might have noticed, the British public unintentionally elected a rather weird pantomime horse coalition government nearly two years ago. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Conservatives vowed to reduce the national deficit — the ratio of tax income to expenditure — in order to reduce the government's level of borrowing. There's more than one way to do this: you can raise tax levels, cut expenditure, or cut tax and increase expenditure selectively to encourage economic growth (and thus increase tax receipts in the long term). The government decided to rely overwhelmingly on just one lever, however: spending cuts.
When the budget is cut, hard choices are made. Do you cut healthcare spending, or essential provision for the severely disabled (and those unable to work because there are no jobs to go round)? Or do you cut fripperies, such as the maintenance budget for public parks or libraries?
As in several other countries, here in the UK we have a thing called the Public Lending Right. PLR is a small pot of cash distributed annually to authors who have registered books that are loaned out via British libraries. This is compensation for sales lost to library loans. It's not a huge pot, and the disbursement is relatively small: it was 6.29 pence (£0.0629) per loan prior to February 2010, and there was a ceiling on payouts — both Terry Pratchett and J. J. Rowling stood to take home no more than £6600 each. To put it in perspective, the royalty an author receives for the sale of a £7.99 paperback is on the order of 60p, or the equivalent of ten loans under the scheme.
Since the Coalition were elected, PLR payments have been cut, modestly: to 6.25p in February 2011, and 6.05p in February 2012. Not too onerous for a round of public belt-tightening ... but it's only a cut of 5% or so over two years, right?
Which is why I am extremely worried to report that my payment has fallen from £1,956.21p in February 2011 to £1,371.39p in February 2012.
I registered two additional titles in 2011, thus increasing my number of titles eligible for loans by around 10%. And my publishers' sales figures don't show my sales to the public falling significantly. (The picture is muddied by the recession and the implosion of Borders in the USA, but I haven't suddenly fallen into the memory hole.)
After taking into account the fact that payments are made at 96.8% of the level in 2012 as in 2011, this corresponds to a drop in library loans of 27.6% in one year — probably more, taking into account the new titles.
I'm not worried because of a cut to my income: rather, I'm worried about the big picture. Libraries are substantially but not exclusively used by children, the unemployed, and pensioners: mostly people without the discretionary spending power to shrug and go to a bookshop instead.
And note the first group I mentioned. I'm not a children/young adult author, but if the drop in my PLR loans reflects library closures, then we have just slammed the door in the face of a new generation of readers. I got my start reading fiction from my local library; the voracious reading habits of a bookish child aren't easily supported from a family budget under strain from elsewhere during a time of cuts. I hate to think what the long term outcome of this short-term policy is going to be, but I don't believe any good will come of it.