Executive Director’s Message: Developing sustainable textbook business models

Textbooks have a very different challenge from journals in converting to online businesses. First, readers have not embraced longer works online quite as enthusiastically as they adopted shorter journal articles. Print continues to have strong appeal as a reading format.

Another critical barrier to developing sustainable online textbook business models is working out the complexities of author royalties.

We have entered a new phase of experimentation with textbook business models. One major textbook publisher recently introduced a digital platform providing student access to all eligible textbooks in the publisher’s portfolio for a flat rental fee per semester. This is but one version of a broader strategy called “inclusive access” (see Joe Esposito’s excellent post on this in SSP’s Scholarly Kitchen blog from March of last year). Inclusive access plans enable institutions to negotiate for campus-wide access to titles for a student fee that can be a fraction of the current average cost of textbooks each semester.

There are serious concerns among authors – especially of works already published – about how these new plans will impact royalties. Are authors paid a small share of every student fee collected?…every time their work gets used?…or only when the work is adopted for a particular course? It is unknown how online royalties accounting can be audited, or whether author royalties for online access can remain at least comparable to print royalties.

Even so, experimentation with business models is necessary. Textbook publishing must adapt to both the threats and opportunities presented by the digital environment.

The business case for aggregated fees rests on expanding market share and increasing the percentage of students who purchase access digitally. Inclusive access and other strategies have already reduced student average spending per semester and per book in recent years, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the number of students who are getting by without purchasing a textbook, or only buying used books is still apparently very high today (see http://bit.ly/2ivJwlY).

Non-sales and used copy sales do not contribute anything to author or publisher royalties. Changing that dynamic might stabilize author royalties even if the royalty ‘per unit’ is lower. But there are risks for authors in the new arrangements, and the rollout of publisher business model experiments has so far been shrouded in secrecy. Publishers who want to act as partners with authors will take steps to inform them and address their questions before experimental models are presented to the market. And authors, as key stakeholders, should remain open minded to new models, but express their concerns and ideas pro-actively with their publishers whenever possible.

~ Michael Spinella, TAA Executive Director

Announcement of Cengage Unlimited royalty calculation model raises new questions

online library of textbooksCengage’s royalty calculation model for its new subscription service Cengage Unlimited has raised a few questions that remain unanswered, primarily, will their model account for the range of existing publishing agreements—which have a variety of different provisions for accounting for royalties?

“Here’s the key problem,” said Stephen E. Gillen, a partner with Wood, Herron & Evans. “Cengage has a wide variety of different contracts that were entered over time. Some of their longer lasting titles, those in their 10th edition and up, are the subjects of original contracts still in place that were entered 40 or more years ago. Many of their contracts were not done on Cengage forms but were acquired from other publishers, all of which have different provisions for accounting for royalties. Some of them were done before the days of bundling, custom publishing, digital publishing, and publishing through interactive/adaptive learning platforms and so do not provide expressly for those then unanticipated media or channels of distribution. But Cengage has thousands of authors and almost certainly a greater number of contracts (no author will have less than one contract, and many will have multiple contracts). It’s hard for me to imagine that they are going to have lawyers go back over every single contract to determine if and how it should be treated in the current scheme.” [Read more…]

4/12 TAA Webinar: ‘Making Textbooks Accessible to Students With Disabilities’

Robert MartinengoAs digital technology continues to redefine the market for instructional materials, one thing remains constant: students with disabilities must not be left out. While products evolve, the concepts of equal access, and the legal obligation of educational institutions not to discriminate, remain.

Join us Thursday, April 12 from 2-3 p.m. ET, for the TAA Webinar, “Making Textbooks Accessible to Students With Disabilities”, presented by Robert Martinengo, Publisher Outreach Specialist for the CAMI project at AMAC Accessibility. [Read more…]

5 Steps to formatting your academic book for print through CreateSpace.com

TextbooksAs an author and publisher (and new member of TAA) preparing manuscripts of my own design and assisting other authors to do the same, I needed a service that was cost-effective and efficient. After researching several different services, I selected CreateSpace.com, which is a part of Amazon, because it allowed me to print quality textbooks for pennies on the dollar. I also like this service because of the free ISBN number and the fact that if you intend to revise an edition you can lock in the ISBN number for subsequent editions. [Read more…]

TAA announces 2018 Textbook Award winners

Twenty-six textbooks have been awarded 2018 Textbook Awards by the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA). Four textbooks received William Holmes McGuffey Longevity Awards, 17 textbooks received Textbook Excellence Awards, and five textbooks received Most Promising New Textbook Awards.

The McGuffey Longevity Award recognizes textbooks and learning materials whose excellence has been demonstrated over time. The Textbook Excellence Award recognizes excellence in current textbooks and learning materials. The Most Promising New Textbook Award recognizes excellence in 1st edition textbooks and learning materials.

The awards will be presented during an awards reception at TAA’s 31st Annual Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference in Santa Fe, NM, June 15, 2018. [Read more…]

Cengage ‘will honor all contractual obligations’ with authors under Unlimited model

online libraryCengage’s Chief Product Officer Fernando Bleichmar said the company will continue to honor its contractual obligations with authors under the Cengage Unlimited model, but that the contract they have with authors generally grants them the discretion to publish the work in the way they think best helps drive the sales of those titles.

“We have spent significant time with our internal teams making sure the contracts allow us to do the Unlimited model,” he said. “The contracts are established in a way in which the publishers have the discretion of evolving the model that benefits both the authors and the publisher, and our contracts allow the creation of different models. We are going through all the details in the contracts, having those conversations with our authors to make sure they are comfortable with the Unlimited model as we move forward.” [Read more…]

The most useful textbook & academic writing posts of the week: November 3, 2017

"Wondering leads to writing" ~Lailah Gifty AkitaThis week brought with it the close of our Textbook Awards program nomination period and the start of Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo). It also brought with it articles focused on creative process, tips to improve writing, and cautionary tales for textbook and academic authors alike. Articles include innovative textbook development using augmented reality and creative learning activities, secrets and tips for improving your writing, how to manage commitments, and topics of potential concern related to copyright, predatory journals, and peer review. As you begin this month of academic writing, keep in mind the words of Lailah Gifty Akita, “Wondering leads to writing”, and stay curious, pursue new ideas, and write. [Read more…]

3 ways to illustrate your point in a textbook

Chemistry CartoonAccording to a 2006 cover story in the APA magazine, Monitor on Psychology, titled “How laughing leads to learning”, well-placed comedy in the learning environment has been shown to reduce tension, boost participation, increase motivation, and help students retain information.

In this article, cartoonist Dan Rosandich shares three ways for effectively incorporating cartoons and illustrations into your next textbook. [Read more…]

Learn how to design a web presence for your book – TAA webinar Part 2 – 10/17

Katie LinderYour book’s website is the only tool that works around the clock to promote your book, but sometimes the web presence provided by a publisher is… underwhelming. Join us Tuesday, October 17 from 3-4 p.m. ET for part 2 of “Designing a Web Presence for Your Book (Beyond the Publisher’s Website)”, facilitated by book author Katie Linder. You’ll learn how to create a web presence for your book that highlights its key features, bonus materials, purchasing options, and more. [Read more…]

Collecting unpaid royalties: Trends, traps, and litigation strategies in textbook royalty enforcement

textbooksMuch has been written about changes in the college textbook marketplace over the last decade. The industry has adapted to new pedagogical methods, the proliferation of digital learning materials, and profitability pressures felt by publishers — all leading to significant innovation in the publication of learning materials. Some observers have concluded that we may be witnessing the death of the textbook as we have known it.

As the textbook publishing marketplace has changed, so too have relationships evolved between authors and their publishers. Commercial arrangements forged in the era of print media — which were amended and extended over time to apply to the publication of new editions — have been impacted by these industry-wide changes. [Read more…]