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…]

MindTap and Cengage Unlimited under fire from two new class action lawsuits

On August 12, 2019 the law firm of Susman Godfrey LLC filed a class action lawsuit against Cengage Learning on behalf of Douglas Bernstein and four other authors. Three days later, a similar suit was filed by Slarskey LLC on behalf of Grafton H. Hull.

Both cases reflect elements of a 2018 lawsuit against Cengage Learning by authors David Knox and Caroline Schacht, which was handled by Slarskey’s firm. At issue in all of these cases are Cengage’s emerging publishing practices and royalty calculations associated with its digital MindTap platform and the Cengage Unlimited subscription service. [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…]

Pearson’s ‘digital first’ announcement: A legal perspective

Interpreting, Adapting, and Amending Textbook Publishing Contracts in a Changing Publishing World

In announcing its new strategic commitment to digital courseware and its dramatic break from the traditional model of successive print editions of textbooks, Pearson addressed a letter “to our author community.” In the letter, Pearson emphasized its ties to “our authors and partners” and declared that “together we can provide updates, enhancements, and digital functionality to respond more quickly to changing customer expectations, demands, curricular shifts and developments in your field.”

One thing that Pearson did not address in its letter to its authors is how it proposed to interpret or change existing publishing contracts in order to be able to go forward in a “digital first” world. It’s what the contracts say that counts, and many of these contracts are very difficult to apply in the changing publishing world.   [Read more…]

The anatomy of a textbook contract

contract signingDuring her 2018 Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference presentation, “The Anatomy of a Textbook Contract”, intellectual property attorney Brenda Ulrich walked participants through a standard textbook publishing contract clause by clause to dissect and explain what the language means, what is significant, what to look for, what is worth trying to change and what is not.

Below are key points from the presentation covering the first four contract elements: grant or transfer of rights, manuscript preparation and delivery, acceptability of manuscript/acceptance, and failure to deliver. [Read more…]

Can my publisher really do that? Common author questions and answers from industry pros

textbooksAt TAA’s 2019 Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference, industry insider Sean Wakely and royalty auditor Juli Saitz addressed some common questions authors have about what prerogatives publishers have in respect to publication decisions, calculating royalty payments, marketing, and rights, with hypothetical examples from their point of view.

Here are the questions and answers from that session, divided into five parts: [Read more…]

Textbook publisher mergers and acquisitions: What authors need to know

mergers and acquisitionsIf you’ve been published (or simply signed, for that matter) by a US publisher in the last dozen years, there is a fair to excellent chance that the master to whom you are now answering is not the master to whom you indentured yourself when you signed your original publishing contract. Among the larger transactions: [Read more…]

Cengage authors begin to receive royalty statements under Cengage Unlimited plan

CU LetterWhile some Cengage authors are still waiting for their first royalty statements under the company’s new Cengage Unlimited plan, which, launched in August 2018, offers students access to its database of textbooks and other online content for a flat fee, several have received their statements and shared how the new plan has affected their royalties.

TAA President and Cengage author Mike Kennamer said royalties from CU were included on the most recent statement for one of his three Cengage titles. “The royalties generated from CU, for me, were insignificant and overall sales are down significantly,” he said. “I plan to reach out to Cengage’s Author Relations team to ask for help in interpreting my statement, which is less than clear.” More than three weeks later, he said, he is still waiting for a response. [Read more…]