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Cengage says authors cannot opt out of Cengage Unlimited

In a recent post on the Cengage blog, Erin Joyner, the company’s senior vice president of product, said that authors cannot opt out of Cengage Unlimited. However, industry experts say Cengage cannot make this sweeping statement.

“The large majority of publishing agreements do not contemplate the Cengage Unlimited model of distribution,” said David Slarskey, a litigator with Slarskey LLC. “Refusing author demands to opt-out tends to undermine the terms of the contract.”

Juli Saitz, senior managing director of Ankura Consulting, agrees: “I don’t see how Cengage can refuse authors to make a blanket statement that they may not opt out without challenges. I know of at least one contract that specifically says that Cengage needs to go back to the author if they want to distribute the Work in a new way.”

In making the statement, Joyner said: “We have ongoing conversations with our authors covering what, when and how we will publish our products. Cengage Unlimited will not change these conversations. If Cengage authors have any questions about Cengage Unlimited or their contracts, their Product Managers will follow up with them.”

TAA President and Cengage author Mike Kennamer said: “It seems that a number of details, such as the author’s ability to opt out of CU, are changing and evolving as they work through the myriad of issues that this model entails. In my view, this further reinforces the complexity of this sales model and causes me to expect that there will be further changes as issues occur.”

TAA member Susan Fawcett, the author of several books with Cengage, including Evergreen: A Guide to Writing With Readings (10e), attended the April 19 Cengage author webinar, but left feeling frustrated: “The webinar today seemed more like a Cengage Unlimited sales session than genuine engagement with authors. Most authors with whom I’ve spoken think CU will cut their royalties from dollars to pennies, but participants’ questions today (140 or so) seemed to be vetted. Only a few ‘softballs’ were read and responded to (Tell me again how you calculate ebooks? I don’t know my Product Manager.) I and others submitted tougher questions that were not read—e.g. Do you foresee that by shifting to the Cengage Unlimited royalty structure (subscription), authors’ ‘sales’ royalties will diminish significantly? If so, do you think this cut in royalties is consistent with your obligations to your authors? We were told that all remaining questions would be answered on the blog—great, I thought–but we afterwards were informed that they would only be answered privately.”

For more on Cengage Unlimited, read this article by Slarskey:

Cengage is Forcing Authors — Rather than Its Shareholders — to Bear the Costs of Its Decline