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2020 Textbook Contracts & Royalties Survey

2020 Survey InfographicIn a recent survey conducted by the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA), 27% of respondents reported that their 2019 royalties were 25% or more lower than in recent years. Only 8% reported that their royalties were 25% or more higher than in recent years.

One survey respondent, who writes in the Business discipline for Cengage and has been authoring textbooks since 1985, said: “Cengage Unlimited has had a significant impact on our royalties. We were told that CU would capture more sales (at a lower price point). It has not happened; we are selling (marginally) fewer units, but at a much lower price point.” The highest royalty rate this respondent had negotiated for both their print and digital textbooks was 20% and the lowest was 15%. They also reported their 2019 royalties were between 10% and 25% lower than recent years.

The majority of respondents (47%) signed their first textbook contracts between 2000 and 2019, and represented authors from 36 publishers, the highest number from Pearson (19%) and Cengage (14%). Forty-three percent write in the Natural and Applied Sciences (43%), are tenured (28%), and have taught in the subject area they write about for more than 20 years (59%).

The survey, last conducted in spring 2015, was promoted via email to TAA members, prospects, and expired members; via a survey pop-up on the TAA website and blog; and through the association’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) from February 17 to March 16, 2020, and received 105 responses.

TAA’s online 2020 Textbook Contracts & Royalties Survey was aimed at published textbook authors with the goal of providing a look into the range of royalties and contract options offered for print and digital textbooks.

2020 TAA Textbook Contracts & Royalties Survey ResultsKey findings from the survey include:

Highest Royalty Rates Negotiated
15% (38% of respondents)
Lower than 15% (35% of respondents)
Higher than 15% (27% of respondents)

In TAA’s 2015 survey, the majority of respondents reported 15% and 18% as the highest royalty rates reported, but in the 2020 survey it was 15% and 10%.

Lowest Royalty Rates Negotiated
Higher than 10% (45% of respondents)
10% (29% of respondents)
Lower than 10% (26% of respondents)

In TAA’s 2015 survey, the majority of respondents reported 10% and then 11% as the lowest royalty rates reported, but in the 2020 survey it was 10% and then 15%.

Sixty-three (63%) percent of respondents reported the same royalty rates for digital and print, and 31% reported lower royalty rates for digital versions. Only 7% reported higher royalty rates for digital versions. These percentages were nearly identical to rates reported in TAA’s 2015 survey (those who reported higher royalty rates for digital versions had only increased by 1% in the 2020 survey).

Ninety percent (90%) of respondents reported that their textbooks were sold in digital versions. This represents a 17% increase over what was reported by respondents in TAA’s 2015 survey.

The majority of respondents (50%) reported that they do not receive royalties on ancillary sales. Sixteen percent (16%) said they receive royalties on most ancillary sales. These findings are only slightly higher than those from TAA’s 2015 survey.

Sixty-two percent (62%) of respondents reported that their digital books were sold in the publisher’s proprietary format such as Cengage’s MindTap or Pearson’s eTexts. This represents a 9% increase over what was reported by respondents in TAA’s 2015 survey. In the 2020 survey, PDF (28%) and Kindle (26%) formats were the next highest reported digital versions, which were similar to what was reported in 2015. Only 16% reported that their textbooks were sold through Cengage Unlimited.


Survey Questions & Responses

Have you received a flat fee rather than a royalty compensation for any of your textbooks?

Yes (11%)
No (89%)

Fifty-five percent (55%) of respondents reported that only one of their textbooks had been written for a flat fee.

What is the HIGHEST royalty rate you've negotiated for a print book you've authored?

15% (38%)
Lower than 15% (35%)
Higher than 15% (27%)

What is the LOWEST royalty rate you've negotiated for a print book you've authored?

Higher than 10% (45%)
10% (29%)
Lower than 10% (26%)

Which of the following ancillaries are available for your textbook(s)?

Online instructor manual (63%)
Electronic test bank (58%)
Free media, such as videos (42%)
Free student website (39%)
Paid student website (39%)
Print instructor manual (39%)
Paid student workbook (26%)
My textbooks do not have ancillaries (19%)

In TAA’s 2015 survey, online instructor manuals and electronic test banks were the top two textbook ancillaries reported, but the third highest was print instructor manuals (54%), while in the 2020 survey, free media was the third highest textbook ancillary.

Do you receive royalties on the sales of ancillaries?


Not on any sales of ancillaries (60%)
Yes, on most sales of ancillaries (19%)
Not on most sales of ancillaries (13%)
Yes, on all sales of ancillaries (8%)

One survey respondent, who writes in Natural & Applied Sciences for Cengage and authored their first textbook in 1990, said: “I recently negotiated the full royalty rate for WebAssign because I actively create content for it. I only receive 10% for sales of the student solutions manuals for my books. My contract specifies a fixed payment (in 2004 dollars) for camera-ready production of an instructor's manual. Cengage has resisted giving me this.”

Are any of your textbooks sold in digital versions?

Yes (90%)
No (8%)
Not sure (2%)

This represents a 17% increase over what was reported by respondents in TAA’s 2015 survey.

In which formats are digital editions of your textbooks sold?

Publisher's proprietary format such as Cengage MindTap or Pearson eTexts (62%)
PDF (28%)
Kindle (26%)
Nook (7%)
iBooks (13%)
Cengage Unlimited (16%)
Not sure (19%)

The percentage of 2020 survey respondents whose textbooks are sold in the publisher’s proprietary format represents a 9% increase over what was reported by respondents in TAA’s 2015 survey.

Have you viewed your digital textbook(s)?

Yes (69%)
No (31%)

Only a slightly higher percentage of 2020 survey respondents have viewed their digital textbooks compared to 2015 survey respondents (61%).

Did you have any input into pedagogy, layout, interactive quizzing, and/or media for your digital textbook(s)?

Yes (44%)
No (56%)

Seventy-one percent (71%) of respondents of the 2015 survey said they had no input into their digital textbooks.

Which best describes the royalty rate for digital versions of your textbook(s)?

Royalty rates are the same for digital and print (63%)
Higher royalty rate for the digital version (7%)
Lower royalty rate for the digital version (31%)

These percentages were nearly identical to rates reported in TAA’s 2015 survey (those who reported higher royalty rates for digital versions had only increased by 1% in the 2020 survey).

One survey respondent, who writes in the business discipline for Cengage and has been authoring textbooks since 1985, said: “We had to negotiate digital royalties. They are the same as print, but authors have to participate in the digital creation.”

In 2019, what range of income best approximates the amount of royalties you received on all of your royalty-based textbooks combined?

Less than $5,000 (29%)
Less than $20,000 (46%)
$20,000 - $99,999 (26%)
More than $100,000 (29%)
More than $500,000 (7%)

Twenty-nine percent (29%) of respondents reported 2019 royalty income of more than $100,000, which represents a 31% decrease over 2014 royalty income of more than $100,000 reported during the 2015 survey.

How do your 2019 royalties compare to the past few years' average?

My 2019 royalties are 25% or more higher than recent years (8%)
My 2019 royalties are between 10% and 25% higher than recent years (8%)
My 2019 royalties are within 10% of recent years (35%)
My 2019 royalties are between 10% and 25% lower than recent years (27%)
My 2019 royalties are 25% or more lower than recent years (23%)

Which of the following best describes your "sunset clause" (i.e. the section in your contract that stipulates what happens when you no longer participate in revisions)?

I do not have a sunset clause (29%)
I'm not sure whether I have a sunset clause or what it says (20%)
I get half for the first edition, then 25%, then nothing (23%)
I get half of my previous royalties for the first edition, then 25% for the next edition,       
     then 2% for all subsequent editions (5%)
I get 100% of royalties, but must pay someone to take over my writing (1%)
I get no royalties for editions that I don't participate in (5%)

Other responses (17%) included:

  • 75% then 50% then 25% then nothing. But I am taking back rights at 35-year point 3
  • 60%-45%-30%-15%-0% on main book; 50-25-0 on smaller book
  • 60%/40%/20%/10%/0%
  • I get 7.5% on some books and 5% on other books as long as they are in print even if I am no longer participating.
  • 80%, 50%, 20%, 0%
  • 3/4 for first new edition, then 1/2, then 1/4, then 1/10 for remainder
  • For the first 3 editions in which I do not participate: 65–55–35%, then 10% for life and posthumously as long as my name is used on the book.
  • I get 66.5% on the first edition, then 33.5% on the second edition, and 16% for all subsequent editions.
  • Depends on book. Will take reduced rate with each edition but always retain 35%
  • I get 2/3rd for the first revision, 1/3rd for the second revision, then 0%
  • I get 60% of royalties for first edition, 30% for second edition, and 15% thereafter.
  • I had edition-based step-down clauses; now the word "edition" no longer exists and I have a set percentage split with my co-author and no step-down, since there is no way to calculate it.


In the 2015 survey, the majority of respondents (42%) said their sunset clause gives them 50% for the first edition, then 25%, then nothing.

One survey respondent, who writes in the Business discipline for Cengage and has been authoring textbooks since 1985, said they had negotiated a three-year phaseout (75%; 50%; 25%).

Another survey respondent, who writes in the Humanities for Oxford University Press and has been authoring textbooks since 1986, said they get 75% on the third edition, 50% on the fourth, 25% on the fifth, 10% on the sixth, and then nothing for all subsequent editions.

Do you have a non-compete clause in your contract that prevents you from writing textbooks in your field for other publishers?

Yes (57%)
No (35%)
Not sure (8%)

In the 2015 survey, 68% of respondents reported that they had a non-compete clause in their contracts and 27% said they didn’t.

One respondent, who writes in Natural & Applied Sciences for XYZ Textbooks, said their non-compete clause gives them the right to publish in the same field with another publisher, “with some mild restrictions.”

Have any of your books been translated into other languages?

Yes (49%)
No (41%)
Not sure (10%)

When your books are sold outside of North America, is the royalty rate reduced?

Yes (58%)
No (25%)
Not sure (18%)

In the 2015 survey, 73% of respondents said their royalty rates were reduced on books sold outside of North America.

One respondent, who writes in the business discipline for Pearson Education and wrote their first textbook in 2000, said they get a lower royalty rate for books sold outside of the US (10%) and wholesale, deep discount, or high schools (5%).

Is the royalty rate reduced when your textbooks are sold in bulk or wholesale?

Yes (39%)
No (28%)
Not sure (32%)

Does your contract give you the right of first refusal for revisions of new editions?

Yes (58%)
No (14%)
Not sure (28%)

In the 2015 survey, 47% of respondents said their contract gave them the right of first refusal.

When the publisher no longer wants to publish one of your textbooks, does the copyright revert to you?

Yes (50%)
No (11%)
Not sure (39%)

In the 2015 survey, 43% of respondents said the copyright reverts to them, and 21% said it didn’t.

Click here to view the full 2015 Textbook Author Survey results

 
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