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…]

Ask the Expert: What to look for in publisher-driven ‘new’ textbook contracts

Gillen book covers

Steve Gillen has authored three books with TAA on the topics of textbook authoring, publishing, contracts, and rights clearance and permissions.

Q: I’m a published author. I signed a textbook contract with a publisher 32 years ago and the first edition of my text was published 30 years ago. It’s since been revised 9 times, all under the original contract, and is due to be revised again soon. Recently, my publisher wrote and said they wanted to sign a new contract for the new edition because the industry had changed, their business model had changed, and the old contract was no longer in step with their current practices. Should I go along with this and sign the new contract?

A: Maybe. . . but not without doing a little homework first. Your original contract almost certainly contemplated that your text, if successful, would need periodically to be revised. What it probably said about this was that “if and when” the publisher thought a revision was warranted, the publisher would call upon you to prepare it. And if you were willing and able to do that, the revision would be prepared and published under the terms of your then existing agreement as if it were the work being published for the first time. [Read more…]

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

Click to download PDF ebook

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. [Read more…]

Textbook rights reversion: How to get them back

A Second Bite at the AppleMost publishing contracts are for the life of the copyright, so how could an author ever get their rights back? In her TAA webinar, “A Second Bite at the Apple: Getting Rights in Your Book Back”, Brenda Ulrich, a partner at Archstone Law Group, discussed the role of reversion clauses in a publishing contract, which allow rights in a book to revert to their authors under certain circumstances.

The issue of rights reversion can confound many authors, said Ulrich, especially as it relates to how broad the grant of rights is in any traditional publishing contract. “It’s a very broad, very wide, very long, license,” she said. “You are giving the publisher permission to publish the book, but you are not signing over the book to them forever.” [Read more…]

2020 Textbook Contracts & Royalties Survey

Are you curious what royalty rates other textbook authors are receiving for print and digital books? What about what they’ve been able to negotiate regarding first right of refusal, the sunset clause, or royalties for bulk, wholesale and foreign editions?

If you are a published textbook author, we invite you to participate in the Textbook & Academic Authors Association’s 2020 Textbook Contracts & Royalties Survey, which aims to provide a look into the range of royalties and contract options offered for print and digital textbooks. [Read more…]

eBook Download – Can My Textbook Publisher Really Do That?

First-time and novice textbook authors may ask themselves throughout the publishing process – “can my publisher really do that?” And the answer is “yes”. And “no”. And “it depends”. Your answer will be determined by the initial negotiation of contract terms and your willingness to invest time in marketing the work after it’s published. TAA’s newest e-book is full of advice on both. [Read more…]

Publishing in 2019: Charting new waters

compass over waterDuring her 2019 Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference presentation, “Publishing in 2019: Charting New Waters”, intellectual property attorney, Brenda Ulrich identified some of the legal aspects facing authors who are publishing in 2019 and beyond.  

Whether working with a traditional publisher, self-publishing, or exploring open access options, contracts and copyright laws are still important. And as Ulrich notes, in many cases, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Below are some of the aspects for consideration as you continue your publishing journey. [Read more…]

Q&A: Writing professors’ rights: Can the university claim the rights to your publication?

Q: Writing professors’ rights: Can the university claim the rights to your publication/royalties based on your employment at the time of writing the manuscript?”

A: Brenda Ulrich, Partner, Archstone Law Group PC:

“It’s an interesting issue. Under standard employment law the employer owns anything created by the employee in the scope of their employment. And certainly writing and publishing scholarly work is considered to be in the scope of a professor’s job duties. However, within academia there is what is often called the “academic tradition,” namely, that professors and academics own their own scholarship. Most universities will defer to the academic tradition and don’t try to claim ownership of the books and articles their faculty members write – and many state this policy outright in their faculty handbook or other policies. As a practical matter, it also just makes sense: if a faculty member departs for another university, everyone assumes their scholarship and publications will go with them since they will be continuing to build on that work at the new institution.

The place where I’ve seen the issue get murky or divisive is around things like course or teaching materials – both online and in class – which arguably have aspects of both scholarship and straight teaching obligations built into them. Course materials also might receive a lot more support and investment from the university itself – especially for online courses –  such that the university feels it has more of a vested interested and right to use or license them later. In these circumstances I strongly recommend putting some sort of written agreement in place between the university and the instructor so everyone understands ownership and use rights going in.”

Analog contracts in a digital world

Shaking hands over a signed contractCollege level textbooks and their publishers have been in the news a lot lately, with all of the major higher education publishers emphasizing a shift to a digital first market strategy. The vast majority of publishing agreements for established textbooks were written in a world where print books were the dominating market offering. As the world shifts, there are certain contractual provisions to be mindful of when evaluating one’s royalty statements and in negotiations over amendments.

In reality, print sales still dominate, but publishers are trying to move away from the model, and the future of higher education materials is uncertain. [Read more…]

President’s Message: The shifting landscape of textbook publishing

Laura FrostAs many of us return to campus for the fall semester, it may be time for both textbook and academic authors to take a look at what our institutions are doing regarding textbook purchases and costs. Is your campus offering Cengage Unlimited or signing up for Pearson’s Inclusive Access? With Pearson’s recent announcement this past July that it will also be “moving from ownership to subscription based access models”, several of the major publishers have now committed to digitally transforming their businesses into something more akin to Netflix than what authors have been used to (DVD purchases).

It only takes a few hours of internet research to discover that the publishing industry is only doing what consumers want—lower textbook prices—and hoping that the investment will be worth it in the long run. After losing out to rentals, piracy, and OER models, publishers are lining up to recollect on their own investments. But where does this leave their authors? [Read more…]