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
Publishers love acronyms. They take up less space in their software programs and they are convenient to use in daily conversations. Royalty statements are not easy to interpret. When publishers use abbreviations, it can add to the already confusing task of understanding your statements. To help authors better understand and navigate their statements, here we outline some of the most common abbreviations and terminology.
It has an intimidating name. Indeed, it takes more letters to spell it than to put it into effect. But what is it and why is it bad for authors?
Most every book publishing contract will include a provision that obligates the publisher to periodically account to the author for the publisher’s sales of the author’s work. The language will probably look something like this:
Payments to the Authors will be made semiannually, on or before the last day of March and September of each year for royalties due for the preceding half-year ending the last day of December and June, respectively. If the balance due an Author for any royalty period is less than $50, no payment will be due until the next royalty period at the end of which the cumulative balance has reached $50. Any offsets (including but not limited to any advances or grant) against royalties or sums owed by an Author to the Publisher under this or any other agreement between the Author and the Publisher may be deducted from any payments due the Author under this or any other agreement between the Author and the Publisher.
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.
Most 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.”
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.