As 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).
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.
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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:
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.”
During 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.