Full results of TAA’s 2020 Textbook Contracts & Royalties Survey now available

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In a recent survey conducted by the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA), 27% of respondents reported that their 2019 royalties were 25% or more lower than in recent years. Only 8% reported that their royalties were 25% or more higher than in recent years.

One survey respondent, who writes in the Business discipline for Cengage and has been authoring textbooks since 1985, said: “Cengage Unlimited has had a significant impact on our royalties. We were told that CU would capture more sales (at a lower price point). It has not happened; we are selling (marginally) fewer units, but at a much lower price point.” The highest royalty rate this respondent had negotiated for both their print and digital textbooks was 20% and the lowest was 15%. They also reported their 2019 royalties were between 10% and 25% lower than recent years.

The majority of respondents (47%) signed their first textbook contracts between 2000 and 2019, and represented authors from 36 publishers, the highest number from Pearson (19%) and Cengage (14%). Forty-three percent write in the Natural and Applied Sciences (43%), are tenured (28%), and have taught in the subject area they write about for more than 20 years (59%).

The survey, last conducted in spring 2015, was promoted via email to TAA members, prospects, and expired members; via a survey pop-up on the TAA website and blog; and through the association’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) from February 17 to March 16, 2020, and received 105 responses.

TAA’s online 2020 Textbook Contracts & Royalties Survey was aimed at published textbook authors with the goal of providing a look into the range of royalties and contract options offered for print and digital textbooks.

Key findings from the survey include:

Highest Royalty Rates Negotiated

15% (38% of respondents)
Lower than 15% (35% of respondents)
Higher than 15% (27% of respondents)

In TAA’s 2015 survey, the majority of respondents reported 15% and 18% as the highest royalty rates reported, but in the 2020 survey it was 15% and 10%.

Lowest Royalty Rates Negotiated
Higher than 10% (45% of respondents)
10% (29% of respondents)
Lower than 10% (26% of respondents)

In TAA’s 2015 survey, the majority of respondents reported 10% and then 11% as the lowest royalty rates reported, but in the 2020 survey it was 10% and then 15%.

Sixty-three (63%) percent of respondents reported the same royalty rates for digital and print, and 31% reported lower royalty rates for digital versions. Only 7% reported higher royalty rates for digital versions. These percentages were nearly identical to rates reported in TAA’s 2015 survey (those who reported higher royalty rates for digital versions had only increased by 1% in the 2020 survey).

Ninety percent (90%) of respondents reported that their textbooks were sold in digital versions. This represents a 17% increase over what was reported by respondents in TAA’s 2015 survey.

The majority of respondents (50%) reported that they do not receive royalties on ancillary sales. Sixteen percent (16%) said they receive royalties on most ancillary sales. These findings are only slightly higher than those from TAA’s 2015 survey.

Sixty-two percent (62%) of respondents reported that their digital books were sold in the publisher’s proprietary format such as Cengage’s MindTap or Pearson’s eTexts. This represents a 9% increase over what was reported by respondents in TAA’s 2015 survey. In the 2020 survey, PDF (28%) and Kindle (26%) formats were the next highest reported digital versions, which were similar to what was reported in 2015. Only 16% reported that their textbooks were sold through Cengage Unlimited.

View the full survey results, which will be publicly available through April 30, 2020.

About Kim Pawlak

Kim Pawlak is Director of Publishing & Operations for the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA). She has been writing about the textbook and academic authoring and publishing industry for 20 years.