Friday, August 17, 2007


Ask My Readers: Revenue Sharing from Textbooks

A returning correspondent writes:

You and your readers were very helpful in responding to my questions about how to convince my college's leadership to consider my textbook project a professional rather than personal project. In fact, college leadership now officially considers my project to be professional rather than personal. But this has led to another situation. College leadership wants to discuss a "revenue sharing agreement."

What are the precedents in community colleges for "revenue sharing" in this type of situation? (To recap, I am writing the textbook in addition to teaching a full load and fulfilling my service obligations; in other words, I am writing the textbook on my own time. I want to use the following college resources: my office, my email account, my office phone, my college-issued computer, paper, post-it notes, pens, and copy machines.) I don't expect there will be much "revenue" from the project as my textbook will appeal to a fairly small niche of instructors in my discipline. How much revenue should I expect to "share" with the college considering that I will be putting in hundreds of hours of work (on my own time) and the college will be doing very little for the project, all things considered?

There is no faculty union at my institution. As far as I can tell, no other faculty member currently at my institution has published a textbook.

Gee, free Post-Its? You're living the dream!

I'll have to ask my readers about precedent, since I've never asked this question of my colleagues at other schools. At my cc, we don't give release time for textbook writing, but we allow faculty to use their offices and email and suchlike without checking up on them, and we don't ask for a cut of whatever they produce. (Development of online courses is another issue. But 'writing' in the traditional sense – books, articles, etc. -- is owned entirely by the author. In the union contract, it's clear that lecture notes belong to the professor, but syllabi can be kept by the college.)

At Proprietary U, there was an understanding that in return for institutional support, the author(s) would split the royalties from copies sold at Proprietary U. Royalties on copies sold anywhere else went to the author(s). This struck me as reasonable, since the royalties on copies sold at a single campus amounted to roughly enough to spring for donuts once a year.

Good luck. If you don't mind my saying so, I'm not overly impressed with your administration.

Wise and battle-scarred readers: what arrangements have you seen?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

It is my understanding that other kinds of institutions have revenue sharing agreements because they have invested release time for writing as well as a substantial research budget.

If nobody else would be using your office while you are working on your book, they aren't out anything there. Likewise with your computer -- these are costs the college would have with or without your project. It seems as if the only "investment" the college is making is in electricity, paper and ink... So, I'd say that the revenue sharing arrangement DD had at Proprietary U is the MOST you should agree to.

If you count your time at $25.00/hour, for hundreds of hours - and then add in the approximate cost of electricity, paper and post it notes (maybe $100.00?), you'll come to a total production "cost" for the project. Whatever miniscule percentage of that production cost $100.00 is, is what they should get back from you.
This is a bit off topic but, hopefully, a cool story!

When I taught composition as a graduate student the director of the comp program had co-authored a lucrative textbook which was used by the majority of grad TAs. It was strongly encouraged to do so which was fine with me--it was (is!) a great book. While I don't think that the director was subject to a revenue sharing agreement hu's policy was that books generating hu's income should go back to faculty development for folks in the comp program. It's my understanding that all revenue generated by the text went to faculty development for the comp program. This is why the comp director was a much-loved and respected figure among grad students as this seemed like hu had done the smart and ethical thing. If you're going to strongly encourage folks in your department to use the textbook you co-authored then giving that money back to the program seems like the right move to make!
At my school, they only get into revenue sharing if you: (1) have received research funding from the school or (2) use your own textbook for the class you are teaching. I'm sure it varies quite a bit: I've seen some places that everything you produce on a school computer becomes the property of the school. (Yeah, write your book on your own laptop ...)
Now aren't you sorry you brought it up? ;)

They probably see it like this: You want some sort of "professional time" credit; that means they're giving you something, so you have to give them something in return.


Unless you have an unusual contract, you can tell them to pound sand. You're doing what you are getting paid to do, and the textbook is just gravy. You can do ADDITIONAL things over and above what you are paid to do, and they can't claim a cut.

If, however, you're SUBSTITUTING textbook stuff for things you would otherwise be expected to do--like publish, teach, or serve on committees--then you're wrapping textbooks into your "what I do" package. In which case, they're hiring you to write textbooks, and it's not unusual for them to get a cut.

Which setup do you prefer?
Why not just dodge the whole bullet and write the book on your own computer at home? It's a specious argument to say that there is no cost to the college if you use your office; it's their space, provided to you for their benefit, not yours, and they get to say what you can do in it. If they don't want you to write a book using their resources without sharing the rewards, then don't use their resources.

(Years ago we had a case of a faculty member who was tutoring high school students for the SATs, and was using his office and lab space to do it. The college lost no time in shutting down that enterprise. It didn't cost the college, but he was essentially conducting a business from space that belonged to someone else. It didn't fly.)

You say that you're writing your book during your off hours; create some office space in your home, or go to a local Starbucks or Panera and work there. Copy at a Kinkos or (if it's possible) pay your institution back for your copies. (At my place I can put money on my swipe card to use for personal copies; very handy.) That way it's all yours.
I agree with Viki. Keep it simple and work on the text independently. It will save you grief later.
I don't understand why you characterize working on the book as "on your own time" if the college now considers it to be a professional rather than personal project.

If it is professional, then it is professional. And even if you work on it at 3am, at home, don't we all do some of our job at weird hours and places - one of the perks (and downfalls) of an academic job parts of which can often be accomplished outside of the office.

So, the question is what kind of cut the school normally gets from other people doing their professional duties.
I've never heard of an institution thinking it has a right to a cut from textbook royalties. Many institutions have intellectual property policies dealing with patents (etc.), but textbooks, in my experience, belong to the author. Period.
Again, using my basketball game metaphor, the university doesn't get a cut of my physical fitness just because I emailed my friends using their server. The university does get a fitter, more energetic employee. The same applies to you -- the university gets an employee who has written a textbook on the subject. That's reward enough for some post-its and lent space.
Offer them 5% of the royalties. The goodwill of getting them on your side is worth it, the school arguably deserves at least a little money for its facilities, and they may really need to show that they aren't giving things away for free. (Public institutions may not even be allowed to.) However, it's hard to argue that the facilities being provided are really contributing more than 5%.

The administration may well have wildly inflated ideas of how much money this will earn, if nobody else there has published any textbooks. It's easy to say ridiculous things like "there are a million students out there; if 10% of them take such a course, 10% of those use this book, and each copy yields $5, then that's $50,000 per year." In the real world, if you can sustain textbook sales of 1,000 copes per year, you should be proud, and if you ever hit 10,000 in a single year, then your college should host a parade in your honor.
I'm coming to this discussion quite late, but I want to add my voice to those who have said that revenue sharing for textbooks is not the norm. I'm not an expert on this, but I've never heard of such a thing. The only exception that I've heard is that usually there are some sort of arrangements when an instructor requires students to buy a textbook that he or she has written. Often this sort of thing would be covered under a conflict of interest policy. So you might want to check at your school's faculty or employee manual to see if there's anything in their conflict of interest provisions relevant to your situation. Good luck!
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