Executive Director’s Message: Developing sustainable textbook business models

Textbooks have a very different challenge from journals in converting to online businesses. First, readers have not embraced longer works online quite as enthusiastically as they adopted shorter journal articles. Print continues to have strong appeal as a reading format.

Another critical barrier to developing sustainable online textbook business models is working out the complexities of author royalties.

We have entered a new phase of experimentation with textbook business models. One major textbook publisher recently introduced a digital platform providing student access to all eligible textbooks in the publisher’s portfolio for a flat rental fee per semester. This is but one version of a broader strategy called “inclusive access” (see Joe Esposito’s excellent post on this in SSP’s Scholarly Kitchen blog from March of last year). Inclusive access plans enable institutions to negotiate for campus-wide access to titles for a student fee that can be a fraction of the current average cost of textbooks each semester.

There are serious concerns among authors – especially of works already published – about how these new plans will impact royalties. Are authors paid a small share of every student fee collected?…every time their work gets used?…or only when the work is adopted for a particular course? It is unknown how online royalties accounting can be audited, or whether author royalties for online access can remain at least comparable to print royalties.

Even so, experimentation with business models is necessary. Textbook publishing must adapt to both the threats and opportunities presented by the digital environment.

The business case for aggregated fees rests on expanding market share and increasing the percentage of students who purchase access digitally. Inclusive access and other strategies have already reduced student average spending per semester and per book in recent years, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the number of students who are getting by without purchasing a textbook, or only buying used books is still apparently very high today (see http://bit.ly/2ivJwlY).

Non-sales and used copy sales do not contribute anything to author or publisher royalties. Changing that dynamic might stabilize author royalties even if the royalty ‘per unit’ is lower. But there are risks for authors in the new arrangements, and the rollout of publisher business model experiments has so far been shrouded in secrecy. Publishers who want to act as partners with authors will take steps to inform them and address their questions before experimental models are presented to the market. And authors, as key stakeholders, should remain open minded to new models, but express their concerns and ideas pro-actively with their publishers whenever possible.

~ Michael Spinella, TAA Executive Director

Executive Director’s Message: Stand strong in support of education, science, pursuit of knowledge

With the new administration in Washington, I anticipate that the scholarly community will face challenges unlike any it has seen before. The community’s skill at communicating scholarly findings and values, and marshalling public support for them, will be tested.

To cast a light on the immediate and long-term disruptions we are facing, I will focus on just one current policy controversy. As I am writing this message, only a few scant weeks into this administration, universities around the country have joined amicus briefs, issued cautionary advice to their communities, and taken other public stands against the President’s Executive Order banning most travel from 7 predominantly Muslim countries. And things are moving unnervingly fast. The ban has been temporarily halted by courts, but the ever-present threat that it will eventually prevail in court, or be reissued in revised form, creates a dampening effect on scholarly exchanges, while instilling fear and uncertainty among visiting scholars. [Read more…]

Paul Aiken, former Authors Guild executive, dies at 56

Paul Aiken, a lawyer, and the leader of our sister organization the Authors Guild for nearly 20 years, died on Friday, January 29, 2016, after a struggle with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Over the years, many TAA members may have encountered Paul in a professional capacity. He was a tireless advocate for authors and creators of content. His influence and impact extended well beyond his own organization, and benefited all of us. [Read more…]

Executive Director’s Message: Of Monkeys and Machines

Michael Spinella, Executive Director of TAA

Michael Spinella, TAA’s Executive Director

Of Monkeys and Machines
The ‘Infinite Monkey Theorem’ is the notion that if a monkey were to type random letters on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, it would eventually create the works of Shakespeare. Presumably, along the way, the fellow would have also composed more mundane pieces, like sports stories, and, umm, textbooks. Maybe, you say, but how long must we wait, and how much random nonsense must we wade through to find the good stuff? [Read more…]

Executive Director’s Message

Michael Spinella

Michael Spinella, TAA Executive Director

Did you hear it? The clarifying question…the laughter of recognition…the applause of approbation at seeing a colleague’s excellent work recognized…the intent murmur of mentoring…the conviviality of networking…the sound, metaphorically that is, of synapses firing! All these sounds and more characterized the 27th Annual TAA Textbook and Academic Authoring Conference held in Baltimore last June. I hope you had a chance to join us and that you got as much out of the conference as I did. But in case you couldn’t make it, I hope you’ll check out some of the sessions that were recorded and are now available on the TAA website. Visit TAAonline.net/podcast-library to check them out. [Read more…]