Will aggregated textbook products shift more risk to authors?

In a post on October 20, I described decisions made by the Southern District of New York in a lawsuit between authors and Cengage. The authors had alleged breach of contract as well as bad faith dealings by Cengage in regard to their products Cengage Unlimited and MindTap. Read about it here.

This is more of a thought piece—generated in part by an aspect of the authors’ allegations—about what would constitute good faith in a publisher’s interactions with authors. I ask this not as a legal matter, about which I am not qualified to opine, but as an ethical one.

The authors’ allegations stem from an uncontested aspect of both the MindTap and Cengage Unlimited royalty allocation models. In both products, Cengage counts a portion of each sale as non-royalty-bearing income. In the case of MindTap, that non-royalty-bearing portion is called ‘ancillary materials’ encompassing “tests, studies guides, exercises”. For Cengage Unlimited, this portion is called ‘courseware’ but apparently includes the same ancillary materials as MindTap. [Read more…]

Authors’ suit against Cengage hits snags

In October 2019, six authors, intending to form a class action together with other Cengage authors, filed a lawsuit against Cengage alleging that Cengage’s royalty accounting for proceeds from distribution of their products through the MindTap and Cengage Unlimited business models breached the publisher’s royalty arrangements with authors. In addition to the breach of contract claim, the authors alleged that Cengage acted in bad faith towards authors regarding the two products. Before a trial could get underway, Cengage responded by asking for all counts to be dismissed, and that the attempt to form a class action be denied. [Read more…]

Cengage and McGraw-Hill call it quits

pen left sitting on documentOn Monday, May 4, McGraw-Hill and Cengage separately made public the termination of their merger agreement that was announced just a year ago on May 1, 2019.

Both releases state that the decision to terminate was mutually reached, and both noted that the two publishers will part ways without financial liability to one another. McGraw-Hill CEO Simon Allen cited as the main reason for the termination that “…required divestitures would have made the merger uneconomical.” The Cengage announcement reflects that rationale and further asserts that the termination came about “due to a prolonged regulatory review process and the inability to agree to a divestitures package with the U.S. Department of Justice.” [Read more…]

Mervin (Mike) L. Keedy Obituary

In March, 2020, we received notice from Nathan Keedy that TAA’s founding member, Mike Keedy, had passed away, just shy of his 100th birthday. Nathan provided his father’s obituary, which we share below, with an expanded section related to Mike’s TAA activities.

Mervin (Mike) L. Keedy Obituary

Mike KeedyDr. Mervin (Mike) Keedy died peacefully at home with his family on March 14. As a math professor it is fitting that he died on pi day, 3.14. Dr. Keedy was born (the oldest of 3 sons) on August 2, 1920 on a farm in western Nebraska of parents: Albert L. Keedy, Jr. and Iva Barney Keedy. [Read more…]

An important and positive change to TAA’s not-for-profit classification

Michael Spinella, TAA Executive Director

Michael Spinella, TAA Executive Director

How much do you know—or care to know—about the wide variety of not-for-profit organizations that are recognized by the US government in the IRS tax code? Perhaps not much, and that’s fine, of course. I hope you know and see it as appropriate that TAA is a non-profit. Indeed we are, but recently have undergone a classification change. I hope you’ll indulge me in this brief column while I explain the importance of that change.

In December 2019, the IRS officially agreed to reclassify TAA from a 501(c)6 organization to a 501(c)3. The odd alpha-numeric classification system is of no interest, but you might like to know that our former classification is more often applied to entities that are akin to labor unions. That’s not crazy, because TAA does advocate for the interests and needs of authors, as a labor union might. But we’re not quite analogous to a labor union. For example, when TAA advocates a position, we take into consideration, and intend to benefit, the entire community of authors – even those who aren’t currently TAA members. [Read more…]

TAA Council Awards Restructured for 2020

TAA LogoCouncil Awards are established by TAA’s governing body and administered by the Council of Fellows and Awards Committee (referred to as the ‘Awards Committee’ for short). Beginning in 2019, the Awards Committee undertook an effort to rethink most of the awards, to develop clearer distinctions among them, and to rewrite the criteria used for determining winners. Council Awards are intended to recognize individual achievements in writing or in service to TAA or fellow authors. Unlike the Textbook Award program, they do not aim to judge the quality of a single work, but rather to recognize the accomplishments of authors and industry professionals, in different stages and aspects of their careers. [Read more…]

Pearson’s move to ‘digital first’: Perspective from a key Pearson executive (Part II)

On July 24th, I had the opportunity to interview Paul Corey of Pearson by phone for about an hour regarding the recent announcement that Pearson will move to a digital first strategy for its textbook business. Paul is the Senior VP of Global Content Strategy for Pearson, and thus plays a key role in developing and implementing plans like the digital first strategy. Paul also has primary responsibility for Pearson’s relationships with authors, so I was especially appreciative of the chance to hear his thoughts on how the new direction might affect authors.*

To begin the second part of our dialogue I asked Paul whether Pearson’s intention is to continue selling “one textbook to one student for a particular course, whether in digital form or print or some combination…or do you expect to see more aggregate sales where a single student gets access to a large body of content.” [Read more…]

Pearson’s move to ‘digital first’: Perspective from a key Pearson executive (Part I)

On July 24th, I had the opportunity to interview Paul Corey of Pearson by phone for about an hour regarding the recent announcement that Pearson will move to a digital first strategy for its textbook business. Paul is the Senior VP of Global Content Strategy for Pearson, and thus plays a key role in developing and implementing plans like the digital first strategy. Paul also has primary responsibility for Pearson’s relationships with authors, so I was especially appreciative of the chance to hear his thoughts on how the new direction might affect authors.*

I started the conversation by asking Paul about the principal reason for Pearson to shift its focus to a digital-first strategy. He responded with three specific rationales for the move, not necessarily in order of importance: [Read more…]

McGraw-Hill and Cengage intend to merge

McGraw-Hill and Cengage intend to mergeAn announcement jointly made by Cengage CEO Michael Hansen and McGraw-Hill CEO Nana Banerjee is sure to raise questions among authors of both organizations. The two entities are planning a merger in 2020 that will, according to the company’s public release, “accelerate innovation and accessibility” and provide “seamless integration across our range of learning sciences, adaptive solutions, and learning tools.” [Read more…]

Member Alert Update: TAA joins coalition opposing ‘Controlled Digital Lending’

ebook in libraryTAA has joined nearly 40 national and international organizations in an appeal to librarians and readers to discontinue a practice called “Controlled Digital Lending (CDL)”, an initiative started by the Internet Archive that supports libraries in making unauthorized digital copies of print books to distribute to readers online.

The joint statement, released by the groups on February 13, calls CDL “a flagrant violation of copyright and authors’ rights”, and appeals “for a dialogue among writers, authors, publishers, and librarians on how to enable and create the digital libraries we all want, in ways that fully respect authors’ rights.” [Read more…]