SOA criticises new Pearson author payment scheme

The Society of Authors has criticised a decision by Pearson to change the way it pays some of its authors for their publications.

Instead of receiving royalties based on how many books they sell, Pearson will now pay some authors upfront fees instead, meaning they would lose out on a share of the profit if their title becomes a success.

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK [pictured], told The Bookseller the new payment model was in response to evolving ways content was being used through digital technology. He said: “Customers increasingly want to access content in different ways and on a variety of platforms. Content is also increasingly produced in collaboration and subject to continuing change through personalisation and adaptation by users. Meeting this new context means working with authors in a range of ways, using a number of different reward models, including payment of one-off fees and royalties.”

He added: “Pearson is committed to continuing to produce the highest-quality learning resources and content to improve learning and help our learners make progress in their lives. Achieving this goal will require new ways of developing and delivering content.”

But the Society of Authors’ general secretary Kate Pool, who has been contacted by several authors troubled by the new payment model, said the decision was short-sighted.

Pool claimed: “I think most educational publishers would admit they are struggling to work out how to pay authors for electronic uses other than like-for-like digitised sales. I have some sympathy with trying to allocate shares of royalties from complex packages, but absolutely do not think the only viable, or fair, alternative is a one-off fee.

“Traditionally educational writers have regularly gone the extra mile to create, trial, rewrite, promote, etc, because they were willing to share the risk in return for sharing what were often very lucrative rewards if a course became a success. If all they get is a generally pretty miserable upfront fee, their incentive to produce high-quality materials is massively reduced.”

In a recently published report titled “An Avalanche is Coming”, Pearson said that the entire learning ecosystem needed to change in order to support alternative providers. The report said: “The new student consumer is king and standing still is not an option. Embracing the new opportunities . . . may be the only way to avoid the avalanche that is coming.”