Over the past several years major publishers have been moving away from physical or electronic books into online learning platforms and courseware, and from straight sales of standalone books to bundles, custom products and subscriptions. Traditional publishing contracts were developed at a time when a book was a discrete unit, sales could easily be tracked in those units, and revisions occurred on a predictable cycle. Publishers are trying in various ways to update and adapt their contracts to the new textbook landscape. In her 2023 TAA Conference session, presenter Brenda Ulrich, an attorney at Archstone Law Group, will explore the ways in which the contracts are changing, and what the implications are for authors.
TAA announces results of 2022 Textbook Contracts & Royalties Survey
A recent survey conducted by the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA) found that nearly 30 percent of respondents agreed to allow their royalty rates to be changed. Nearly 40 percent of respondents have been asked by their publishers to sign new contracts, and two-thirds of those have complied.
Stephen Gillen, an attorney with Wood Herron & Evans (Cincinnati, OH), estimates most of those authors did not know they did not have to agree to that royalty rate change, and most of the new contracts were almost certainly more favorable to the publishers than the ones they were replacing. “My guess is that the respondents did not appreciate the differences and did not fully understand that they did not have to agree to the new contracts,” he says.
TAA’s goal with this survey is that the results, combined with tracking data from the 2015 and 2020 Textbook Contracts & Royalties Surveys, will help authors 1) negotiate better contracts; 2) negotiate higher royalty rates for print and digital products; 3) to seek professional advice when negotiating contracts and when they want to better understand their royalty statements.
Five chances to reset the terms of your book contract (part 2)
In Part 1 of this article (published in the summer edition of the TAA newsletter), we wrote about the imbalance in negotiating leverage between an author and his/her publisher early in the author’s publishing career. And we noted that there would be opportunities later for an author to retake some of the ground lost in those early negotiations. In particular, we wrote about two of these opportunities:
1) Your publisher calls for work to begin on a new edition and sends an amendment to your contract to memorialize this . . . with a few additional “updates”.
Five chances to reset the terms of your book contract (Part 1)
If you published the first edition of your textbook ten or more years ago, you may find yourself occasionally muttering to yourself, “I wish I kew then what I know now.”
Why is that?
Historically, the publishers start the book contract negotiation game with all the cards…backs to you. You have one card…it’s face up. And it tells everybody, “I’m new at this but I’m excited. Just tell me where to sign.”
Publishers have generally been the gatekeeper to a published book. While this may be less true now, with self-publishing and Open Educational Resources (OER), the publishers still have the most established distribution channels self-publishers cannot begin to match.
Royalty payment class actions: Opt-in? Opt-out? How does it affect me?
In recent years multiple class action lawsuits have been filed against the biggest textbook publishers, challenging their royalty-payment practices. In 2016, it was a suit against Pearson, alleging (among other things) gray market sales to international subsidiaries, paying lower international royalty rates, and then shipping books back into the U.S. for retail sales.1 More recently, there have been suits against Cengage, challenging “Cengage Unlimited,” Cengage’s all-access, Netflix-like subscription model.2 McGraw-Hill was also sued, in January, for improper royalty payment practices on its “Connect” products.3
Your textbook isn’t being revised. Now what?
If your standard textbook revision cycle has come and gone, it doesn’t automatically mean that you aren’t being revised, and you can’t expect that your publisher will reach out to you either, so you’ll need to ask, says Donna Battista, vice president of content strategy for Top Hat.
“Get in touch with your publisher and just ask directly,” she says. “I think it’s always good practice to start from the perspective that everybody is going to work in good faith. Nobody wants to squat on your rights.”