College textbook publishing: Royalties, risk, and reward

College textbook authors are motivated to write for many reasons. Some write with the goal of providing the optimum textbook for their students. Others are excited to share their approach to teaching a subject, or they simply enjoy the experience of translating research into practice. And, in some cases, the primary motive is to generate income.

Regardless of their motives, every textbook author must grapple with the same question: How can I achieve the best return on the time I spend writing a textbook, and how much risk should I accept in exchange for my sweat equity? To this end, there are several considerations authors should keep in mind regarding royalties as they negotiate a publishing agreement.

Trends in college textbook publishing: 5 Tips for navigating the digital transition

Many college textbook authors are experiencing declining print unit sales and diminishing royalty checks. Regular price increases previously helped college textbook publishers offset shrinking print sales, but that strategy is no longer effective. Consequently, some publishers are cutting budgets to offset revenue shortfalls. They’re also diverting remaining investment resources into new digital products and services that offer a measure of protection against the depredations of used, rental, and pirate competition. As a result, those publishers are rebranding themselves as software or learning science companies and setting very public goals to eliminate or scale back their print publishing programs in favor of fully digital product models. What are the key forces driving college publishers’ online publishing strategies? What are some steps higher education textbook authors can take in response?