Getting the Rights Back: The First Step for Reproductive Physiology of Mammals

Keith Schillo wrote Reproductive Physiology of Mammals: From Farm to Field and Beyond, working with Publisher Del Mar Thomson. With the acquisition and recent changes at Cengage Learning, Schillo’s book was discontinued from print, a fact that he didn’t even realize until he went to order the book for his Fall 2018 class.

Keith and I met as we discussed options, we used what was then a new tool by the Authors Alliance to see what his options and rights were as the original author of this book. I had a video conference with Alexis Clifton and Allison Brown at SUNY OER Services to try to learn as much as I could about rights reversion and what we need to say (or not say) to the publisher to maximize our chances of obtaining the copyright with the book. 

In the end, however, Schillo just needed to ask the right person at Cengage for the rights to the book, and they started a 6-week process of communications, emails, and finally the paperwork so that Keith officially owns his own work again.

Next Step: Printing and Distribution

When they returned the rights to Keith, they also gave him the PDF of his book. While Keith was happy as a first step to upload that PDF to Blackboard for all of his students to have this semester, he went an extra step further and contacted his future class, told them about his plans, and asked what they would prefer. Enough of the class said they would prefer a low-cost printed version of the book that we decided to get a paperback version printed to be available at the bookstore. This has been one of my tips for faculty all along, make sure you give your students options.

In my last post about Lenore Horowitz’ publishing journey for Programming for Problem Solving, I wrote about how made for a great publishing experience, so it won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I turned to them again to print. We decided to go with a black and white version of the book, knowing that if students needed to see the images in color, they would have the full-color version available online.

Working With the Bookstore

SUNY Oneonta has an independent bookstore, owned by an alum of the college who has been working with the campus community for decades. While many of us in the OER community around SUNY talk about the need to partner with the bookstore, I feel a strong responsibility and pressure to be a good partner to both the students and the bookstore. The manager has to set a price on the book based on his ability to get the book, shipping costs, guessing how many students will actually buy it, and also think about what will happen if he is left over with extra stock. As a specialty print on demand book, extra copies at the end of the semester won’t have any retail value and he can’t return it to the publisher. We came up with an arrangement and a price that we think is fair to the students, fair to the store, and gives us flexibility for the future.

One of the most productive things that came out of our conversations was a standard way that OER books and course packs will be labeled in the bookstore’s system. All OER courses will be labeled like this at the bookstore. 



This helps the bookstore educate students about their options when they come in, and also helps the bookstore mark books in their catalog that they may want to keep a lower inventory knowing that students will have a variety of options available to them.

What comes next?

While there is still a traditional copyright on the first edition of Schillo’s book, he has plans to publish the 2nd edition and share it with an open license. He will be applying for funds through SUNY with several distinct goals:

He hopes to convert the book into Pressbooks so that it will be available as a web book, EPUB, MOBI, do the layout for his future Print PDFs, and be available for easy sharing among the open community. Creating the book in an accessible format will be a large undertaking because of its size (450 pages) and the large number of objects, figures, and diagrams (over 300). In addition to the reformatting, he hopes to add two additional chapters to the book and create original internet objects, manipulatives, and self-checks for students to make the ebook version an interactive experience for students.

The funding is important to me as an OER advocate. When I attended the SUNY CIT conference, one of the best experiences for me was Robin DeRosa’s OER talk. One story that she shared as part of her own OER journey was paying out of her own pocket for student workers, because she needed to highlight and document the academic work that goes into these endeavors. The State of New York, with it’s funding of the initiative by SUNY and CUNY is one of the largest funders of OER in the world. DeRosa gently scolded us, reminding us that the whole world is watching how we incentivize and reward faculty members who choose to publish in alternative ways, and looking at the models of support required from librarians, technologists, and instructional designers as we scale a massive OER initiative. 

Schillo and faculty members like him are the people we have to convince for the future of the open textbook movement. Being a great teacher and being a great textbook author are two very different skill sets. We need people like him, with a successful publishing resume and the skills that go along with it to be the future creators and maintainers of open content.

Ed Beck is an Instructional Designer at SUNY Oneonta. 

He works with faculty as they develop content for their online, blended, or face to face courses. Interests include Open Educational Resources, collaborative learning, leaning analytics and assessment of learning, and the creation and scaffolding of digital literacy skills across the curriculum.

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