APA welcome ALIA's paid pilot scheme for 'Online Storytime 2021'

A photograph of a woman and child reading a book. White text in a blue circle reads 'Host a virtual storytime through your public library'.

In 2021 ALIA will pilot a scheme where publishers can permit the use of their Australian picture book titles in 'Online Storytime 2021' in return for a small annual payment from public library branches.  

The pilot follows the popularity of Online Storytime in Australian public libraries during COVID, where Australian children embraced the online reading of picture books by their local librarians with many hundreds uploaded since April 2020. 

Australian publishers are now able to opt-in new or backlist titles for the 2021 Online Storytime pilot by signing up specific titles via the ALIA website or through [email protected]. Publishers can supply URLs for a picture book’s web-page so that uploaded storytime videos can include links in order to facilitate sales of the book.

The one-year trial, which is welcomed by the APA, will be managed by ALIA and distribute an estimated $40,000 to $60,000 (in total) to Australian publishers in 2021  based on an estimated 300 to 400 public library branches by taking up an annual  $165 (inc GST) subscription.

ALIA will take a $25 management fee, and the remaining $125 will be aggregated and later paid out to the publishers--and through the publishers to the authors and illustrators. Participating library branches will be able to make short videos of picture book readings to post on social media accounts--such as library branch facebook groups or administered Youtube channels. The videos will be able to stay up on the sites for six months.   

The scheme is a pilot and needs 200 books to go ahead. It will be reviewed by ALIA and the APA during 2021 to see how well it serves the needs of publishers, libraries, and the community ahead of more permanent arrangements for 2022.

Lee Walker, APA President, welcomed the experiment:

‘Publishers can only expect a growth in these kinds of options as libraries expand their digital connections to the community. While this scheme will not work for all publishers, the APA welcomes this pilot in the hope of finding a new way to bring benefits to all involved: writers, illustrators, publishers, libraries, and the community.’

A banner image. 'Online Storytime is written in marker font,  two stylised drawings of children's faces are nestled close to the text. The background is made up of different coloured squares of varying opacity. In the corner is the ALIA logo.

Growth of Storytime and the emergence of Online Storytime during COVID

Storytime, featuring a mixture of picture book reading, crafts and music, has become a fixture of Australian public library programming in recent years. In non-COVID years, Australia’s 1500 public libraries branches run around 120,000 physical storytimes, attracting over 3 million children and caregivers. Librarians consider storytime as a fun way of encouraging families with young children to read together at home. 

During the COVID-19 lockdown when public libraries were closed, the APA, ASA and ALIA agreed that libraries could livestream and record children’s Storytimes to fill the gap left by the absence of physical reading programs. The agreement allowed libraries to remain connected with families during the pandemic, and it extended storytime to reach families where both parents work or where transport options are limited. Rural and remote residents on properties long distances from libraries have had access to children’s storytime sessions for the first time. 

It is estimated that during COVID over 1500 online storytimes have been recorded. Storytime sessions are usually more than simply reading a story. They generally encourage audience participation and are often accompanied by a related craft activity. They are delivered by local library teams and are not meant to compete with high production offerings from outlets such as Story Box Library.

Supporting Booksales

ALIA believes storytime supports sales of children’s picture books and that Online Storytime will also provide a boost to publishers.

ALIA CEO, Sue McKerracher said: 

‘Our members report that many families who are keen book borrowers are also book buyers, and this makes library storytime a marketing opportunity for publishers. When children love a book, they really love a book: we’ve all felt the heat of toddler pester power. This is most evident with the annual National Simultaneous Storytime which reaches more than 1 million participants. We run free reading sessions in libraries; we provide a free pdf of the book to other reading partners; we post recordings of readings by famous people, including the author, online – free to view. With all this free stuff, why would anyone buy the book? But Scholastic reports that the featured book then sells in huge numbers as children want their own copy.’ 

For further information on the APA’s involvement in this pilot, contact Stuart Glover, APA Government Relations Manager at [email protected].