Making money from college textbooks

College textbooks, like many other book genres, have their bestsellers, middle of the road sellers, and those that make little to no money – as seminal as they may be. A textbook in an area such as linear algebra, that is published and promoted by a well-known publisher, and that is used in colleges and universities both in the U.S. and worldwide, can make the author, or authors, a decent amount of money – often at least as much as their annual salary as college teachers. University journalism professor Brant Houston is quoted as saying: “For the most part, no one is going to become a millionaire off of textbooks” That may be true in the field of journalism texts. However, mathematician James Stewart has done extraordinarily well from writing a series of mathematics texts that are prescribed texts for many college and high school courses. How well has Stewart done? The following quote from the Wikipedia article on Stewart gives some indication:

In the early 2000s a house designed by Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe was constructed for Dr. Stewart in the Rosedale neighborhood of Toronto at a cost of $24 million. Stewart paid an additional $5.4 million for the original home in Rosedale, which was torn down to make room for his new home.  Called “Integral House” (a reference to its curved walls), the house includes a concert hall that seats 150. Dr. Stewart has said, “My books and my house are my twin legacies. If I hadn’t commissioned the house I’m not sure what I would have spent the money on.”

James Stewart in "The House that Math Built"

James Stewart in “The House that Math Built.” Click to see the story & more pictures

Taken seriously, and approached in a proper business sense, textbook writing can – as James Stewart demonstrates – be a highly profitable enterprise. There’s more to being very successful in textbook writing than writing an excellent, text that is valuable to students, and especially to instructors, and finding a publisher who can, and will, market the book aggressively to college and high school teachers: Building a brand is important, and treating the enterprise as a business is important.

Click on the image to buy at Amazon

Click on the image to view at Amazon

Read how Jeffrey Albacete extends his successful “Matrix Algebra” text, now into its 9th edition, by working with a colleague and a student to produce a new high-tech version of his book; in “Coffee, Love and Matrix Algebra”