Free Textbooks Shaking Up Higher Education

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Though paying for tuition and housing eat up more money, textbook costs are among the most groan-inducing expenses incurred by college students. With tools like Amazon and chegg.com, only the least resourceful of freshmen are blowing $200 for a brand new textbook these days. But a new type of textbook is threatening to disrupt a $4.5 billion industry that has so far avoided the media upheavals experienced in music, movies and trade publications. Open-source textbooks, free for students to use and for professors to modify, are being developed by more companies and adopted in more classrooms. They may work hand-in-hand with the rise in free online courses to revolutionize the way we view—and pay for—higher education.

“There’s a crisis of access in this country,” says Richard Baraniuk, a computer and electrical engineering professor at Rice University. He’s talking about the rapidly increasing cost of college education, which includes not only tuition, but also room and board, class fees and, yes, textbooks. Estimates of how much students spend on textbooks in a given year vary widely, but most colleges’ financial aid websites peg the cost at about $1,000.

Baraniuk thinks that cost should be reduced to zero. He’s been part of the open-source educational movement since 1999, when he grew frustrated with the book he was using in his electrical engineering class. He considered writing a book himself but had an epiphany as he learned more about the open-source operating system Linux. “I realized that we could take the same ideas–namely, modularity…and open-sourcedness, making it free and remixable–and apply that not just to software but to textbooks.”

Now he’s the director of OpenStax College, a nonprofit organization that is working to develop 25 college textbooks for introductory-level courses. With the backing of Rice University, OpenStax is bringing a big-name pedigree to the textbook market.  “There are a lot of open, free textbook projects out there, but the quality has been uneven,” Baraniuk says. “What college instructors need is the whole package. They need the textbook, the homework system, the PowerPoint slides, the test bank.”

(MOREWhy the Online Education Craze Will Leave Many Students Behind)

OpenStax promises to offer this “whole package” in every subject from Spanish to microbiology. Two of its books, College Physics and Introduction to Sociology, have already been published and will be used by a few thousand students this semester. Anyone can access an online version of the texts, or download them in PDF and ebook formats for mobile devices. Students can also order a color print edition, with prices ranging from $30 to $50.

OpenStax is not alone in this emerging textbook market. Flat World Knowledge has been publishing open textbooks since 2007, and will be serving around 200,000 students this fall with dozens of textbook offerings. Both companies have all their books peer reviewed, as is standard with traditionally published textbooks.

Unlike with traditional textbooks, however, professors have the ability to remove chapters and insert new materials as they please. Those educators that have jumped into the open-source waters say there are great benefits for the students and for themselves.

“It’s rather disheartening when you look out over a class and only half of the students have textbooks because they can’t afford them,” says Bob Livingston, a business professor at Cerritos College in Los Angeles. The school’s business administration department began using Flat World books in 2009. Now the company’s texts are now used in two-thirds of the department’s classes. “[Students] love them,” Livingston says. “There’s lots of options and that really helps make it more affordable as well as more useful for different learning styles.”

How to Finance Free

It’s an almost utopian solution to one of the many financial issues plaguing higher education—or it would be, if producing a textbook was also free. But creating a quality textbook costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, which presents the first and greatest challenge in giving away course materials.

Right now OpenStax books, some of which are adapted from out-of-print texts, are funded through philanthropy. To create its first five books, OpenStax raised more than $5 million from Rice University and groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Really, it’s kind of a business deal,” Baraniuk says, explaining why these organizations have committed their funds. “They might invest a million dollars to develop two books, but they would like to see that paid back over a number of years by saving students $20 or $30 million.”

(MORE: Making Personal Finance Cool to Kids)

But what happens when the money runs out? Baraniuk thinks OpenStax can become self-sustaining. Again borrowing from Linux, he envisions OpenStax being a free, open-source platform around which companies would build content that students pay for, like study aids and homework sets. OpenStax would then get a cut of the revenues. The organization is partnering with web-based educational companies like WebAssign to develop the supplemental content that it hopes will pay the bills.

Flat World, a for-profit company, already operates on a similar model. While the web-based versions of Flat World’s books are free, students can also buy study aids like flash cards for $20, a black-and-white print version of a text for $40, or an all-access “digital pass” that includes ebook and sometimes audiobook formats for $35.

 “We don’t really care how the student experiences our content,” Flat World CEO Jeff Shelstad says. “Of course we want them to pay, but we also are battling the access and affordability issues, so we think letting them in free is good for business and good for the world.”

Though the company would not disclose its finances, Shelstad says 40% of the students who use a Flat World text end up buying something, most of them spending at least $35. Flat World is also crafting relationships with college administrators. The company inked a deal to distribute Flat World texts in courses throughout the university system of Ohio last year and is providing the textbooks for some of the courses in MIT’s free OpenCourseWare initiative.

As a much smaller company compared to the heavyweights of higher ed, one Flat World’s biggest challenges is recruiting authors. “We have to convince authors that our model makes sense for the industry, makes sense for them and their IP, and will reward them in a fair way,” Shelstad says.

(MORE: Should Justice Drop the Apple ebook Lawsuit?)

Flat World pays authors a 20% royalty rate, while OpenStax offers a set fee up front. Both organizations claim they’re giving authors a better shake than the big publishers, but almost all the money in the textbook industry still resides in the coffers of heavyweights like McGraw-Hill, Cengage Learning, and Pearson.

Of course, these well-established companies don’t intend to get left in the digital dust. They have their own online initiative, a digital textbook rental program called CourseSmart, which offers discounts up to 60% off the sticker price of print books.

With a typical textbook from a major publisher costing as much as a million dollars to produce over the course of several years, there’s no removing money from the equation, according to CourseSmart executive Cindy Clarke. “The publishers play a huge part in curating the content to make sure that the student ultimately is going to understand core concepts in their subject discipline,” Clarke says. “Free always sounds good up front, but you have to ask yourself: Are you going to risk your education on free content that may not have the depth, the completeness, the most current content available for you to learn?”

A Long Road to Mass Adoption 

The numbers suggest that most educators aren’t yet willing to gamble on free. CourseSmart has experienced triple-digit growth every year since its inception and currently has more than 3 million users downloading its 30,000 textbooks. It is even becoming integrated into learning management systems that many colleges use to distribute course materials to students.

Erik Christensen, a physics professor at South Florida Community College who has been using open source books for five years, admits that you have to look harder to find a quality free textbook. As the chair of the school’s science department, he says it’s been a challenge getting some professors to trust open books. “There is more work, there’s no doubt about it,” he says.

(MORE: A U.S. Degree at Any Cost)

To address this need for quality control, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development has set up an Open Textbook Catalog. Professors from around the world can conduct peer reviews of the posted works and share their findings on the site. The university is even offering stipend incentives to get its own professors involved in the project.

“It’s meant to be an unbiased, academic approach to reviewing these,” says David Ernst, an administrator in the college. “Faculty, when it comes to quality, listen to each other.”

There’s no telling whether the open textbook movement will be able to get enough professors on board to truly upend the industry, but its leaders are ambitious. OpenStax director Baraniuk called a 10% marketshare by 2017 conservative, and Flat World’s Shelstad says the company wants to provide textbooks for every student in the world.

The professors they’ve converted so far, at least, are believers. “The biggest thing for me is that it makes teaching fun again,” Christensen says. “It gives me more control over what I’m teaching and so I feel greater ownership. It’s my course, not the book that the publisher did.”

MORE: Apple’s Textbooks: Undeniably Cool, But Will They Help Students?

53 comments
DarlaBloom
DarlaBloom

http://bookboon.com/ is probably the best place to download free college textbooks, at least it has proven to be so in my experience. They have loads of textbooks on various subjects and I could easily find what I need. All the books are in pdf format, so they`re easy to read on different devices. I recommend it to anyone.

fibuhe
fibuhe

Having read this I thought it was very enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this information together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile! http://businessforge.blogspot.com/

Jen
Jen

Good luck keeping your accreditation.

bibleverse1
bibleverse1

Music and movie industry was felled by the internet soon textbooks will fall.

Guest
Guest

Ah yes, the book scam.

Logictron
Logictron

Higher Education should be about that, higher education. Although I don't speak for  for all universities, my university is nothing about beer, parties, and setting things on fire. Then again, who am I to question the nature of such things? I couldn't  expect no less from the population here. 

Linnea Sommer
Linnea Sommer

This is what Amazon is for! I gave up on the school bookstores a long time ago. You can usually find the textbook list either in the bookstore or (nowadays) on the bookstore's website. I would just take notes about what books I needed (including edition #'s and ISBN's) and then buy them on Amazon. There was the occasional "course packet" or some such that was a custom thing for the class, put together by the teacher, but for the most part, I could find what I was looking for online. You wouldn't believe how much I saved that way. I still prefer actual books, so you can highlight and take notes in the margins.

Jane
Jane

I thought the iPad was going to revolutionize education, heh, heh, heh.apple is taking back the throne , and trying to get more costumers by giving away the latest Ipad and iphone

what is required is a simple email submit so they can contact you , limited offer thou qr.net/iQiZ

Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith

Old ways die hard, new knowledge offends the status quo.

Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith

My comments were flagged. Perhaps i have hit a nerve?

Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith

i am concerned however,  that the infrastructure of the 'book' distribution itself, the electronic internet and associated devices is subject to a 'China Syndrome' disaster if the 'power goes out'.

as we have seen from current events, people become numb and cranky when they lose their iPhone service, TV, cell and other (ahem) necessary tools of (ahem) 'survival'.

The fear of being 'excommunicated' is apparently alive and well!

;-))

Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith

let me see,  'The Three R's'  Ver 1.2322.D  or Ver 1.2322.E?    oh deary me, whichever should i choose to teach the same incremental standardized continuum of knowledge to my dumb, inattentive morons?

This entire business of 'teaching' is nothing more than an outright scaleup of extortion and theft. In as many ways as these so called educators devise to make it appear they are actually beneficial to their 'students/underclass' they have become no more than party to the insidious business of one-time scam opportunists. They know they usually will get one shot at the pocketbook of each of these students, (who are now scared stupid by the threat of grade failure and loss of future economic 'opportunity') and they know the system of loans, credit and rich or poor parents will cough up the mooolah without a hitch.

If the 'internet' has taught anything, it is the  failure of 'legacy' instruction methods and 'old money' that has itself wrought economic damage and social stratification among the mass of millions of young.

Everyone of these teachers is party to it, by choice or by force, to retain their position, tenure or esteem.   'Original thought' is such a contrived heap of classic baloney, just try to write anything that can be considered 'non-plagarised' and find your monkey finger typing pitted against some obtuse written tome that has been 'printed' before.

Ideas are not to be 'owned' or 'controlled' by some few,  power wielding entrepenuers at the expense of the many. It is an abomination of the spirit of life, to withhold knowledge and the betterment of all humanity for the enrichment of the few.

Revolt! Rise up! cast the universities and throngs of administrators back into the streets that they may know the severity of their ways., the pain they cause among the very people they claim to love.

;-))

TESTATOR
TESTATOR

I have an explanation for at least part of the exorbitant price of textbooks. During forty-five years of university teaching I saw a large change in the production of books. (I taught political science). At the beginning of my career, text books were just books, somewhat large and bulk,y but books. Over time, they became glossier and full of ever-increasing photos, cartoons and other illustrations. They were more like magazines than books. To these amenities were added various supplemental "aids". I never saw any practical use in all this glitz. It just seemed to be a futile exercise in "dumbing down".  And it raised the cost far beyond any value it had to either the instructor or the student. 

brenro
brenro

I thought the iPad was going to revolutionize education, heh, heh, heh.

jeanocelot
jeanocelot

I have amassed about 200 GB of textbooks via torrent amp; Rapidshare.

rjs0
rjs0

"No payment — no access code — no participation — lower final grade." -

 Now the use of textbooks and the sharing of a new textbook can be stopped with the sale of a yearly access code to engage in discussion boards by students with instructors. The Publishing Industry with the help of one Economics Professor has found a way to stop the sharing of text books amongst students and the sales of old text books to the next incoming classes. New students will be forced to buy a new text book or buy a special code allowing them to use the book new or old. The press release describing the new invention put it in this manner: "In the case of a used book or pirated download, the student pays for the access code," according to the press release. "No payment — no access code — no participation — lower final grade." Professor Patents way . .. Grades of Students Who Pirate Would be Docked Under Prof's Plan. Maybe it is just me, but an education which is increasingly  expensive and restrictive as the ways to shave a few dollars off of it are closed to those who only wish to achieve it  from using old text of which more times than naught are out of date after one year. The world and its knowledge turn much faster leaving students to beg for the obsolete education resources paid for by a hefty tuition.

http://www.angrybearblog.com/2...

Taxpyer
Taxpyer

This is exactly what we need more of in the US, especially for K-12.  School districts need to stop buying expensive texts over and over with no new information.  Has history changed since 1400 through 1980?  Why don't schools use some public domain text?  Have public college professors make any corrections/updates, publish it to a pdf file, print as necessary.  Only need to buy a new text for 1981 to present OR have college professors write that book too.  Schools are simply paying for too much.  Each state has a pool of talent that can be drawn upon to get this done. 

Whatnow05
Whatnow05

Text books for many subjects are a racket.  Worst place was actually a CC where they always changed material per semester. Best place was actually a private university where the professors created/provided their own material or didn't have an issue with using a few year old books.  What exactly has changed with human anatomy in the last couple of years? We haven't grown any new parts recently.  Same for certain math courses and so on.  Even sociology, finance, polysci, (lulz to those) the professors should add in material if the other stuff is lacking current news. 

Albin
Albin

Doesn't seem so very different from the hardcopy "casebooks" that law school profs used to photocopy and spiral bind to keep their courses up to date.

Michael
Michael

If you spent $1M to develop a textbook, you made 0 hard decisions. Stop making students pay for your inefficiency and lack of leadership.

indigoassassin
indigoassassin

UC Regents are about to jack up the tuition prices 20% this fall and since UC schools are on mostly on the quarter system, textbooks cost more. 

Last time I checked, only six out of thirty-one regents even attended a UC. Why are outsiders making all decisions around here?

mike_byster
mike_byster

As

an educator, I believe it is very important to teach material that is

important for the future of the students. When inventing my math and

memory system Brainetics (http://www.brainetics.com), I wanted to focus

on new subjects and innovative methods to teach. By teaching for the

21st century, students will be more prepared in the future. It seems

like so many aspects of today’s society centers around the digital

environment and teaching should be altered to adapt.

Great article,

Mike Byster

http://www.mikebyster.com

Inventor of Brainetics, Educator, Author of Genius, Mathematician

 

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

If ONLY the cost was a thousand dollars a year for books. 

It averages closer to a thousand dollars a TERM.  The textbook industry is one of the most egregious scams pulled on college students to date.  The text books are often written by the editors, containing blatant errors.  A few words may be changed, and a whole new edition would be printed, with the cost of the book being higher than the previous one and banning the use of a used book from the previous edition, forcing the student to pay even more.

Bravo for these folks doing "open source" text booking.  I don't mind paying for something, of course, but in the case of text books, given the usually egregiously inflated prices that are charged for them and the captive audience, something has to be done to help make education more affordable.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

not sure you , but text books have been virtually free for quite some time .. it is good to see that now they will also legal ;-)

padgettshcom
padgettshcom

Technology has surely hurt some tried and true businesses--record stores, for example--but it has created so many businesses as well. Things shift and settle. I'm sure the students don't mind.

Talendria
Talendria

This is a great idea.  They need to do the same thing for public primary and secondary schools because school districts are spending way too much taxpayer money on low-quality textbooks.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Higher education is now affordable only by the elite upper class.

Instead of providing opportunity to all it now supports and promotes economic class distinction.

For the majority of American families (and students) higher education has become a terrible financial burden or is simply not affordable.

Reform that takes advantage of our now wired world is only reasonable.

Expensive campuses, administrations and excess educators are not needed to provide the complex education necessary in our modern world.

Excellent teachers can reach an audience of thousands.

Primary education needs reform as well.

snopup
snopup

Although the efforts of OpenStax and Flat World are admirable (and necessary!), people need to be taking a more aggressive look at one major reason for market failure vis-a-vis textbooks: The Professoriat. As long as professors aren't footing the bill for the books (they select and students purchase; this creates an incentive to opt for the biggest/flashiest textbooks for even the most introductory of material) and as long as promotion/tenure doesn't account for open-sourced or self-published material, the digital age will continue to drag limply into the classroom.  Luckily, as today's students become tomorrow's professors, I believe they will find the current system both unpalatable and inefficient and make the necessary transition.   

lokiii
lokiii

The system touts of bettering yourself with a good education then does everything possible to put it out of your reach monetarily these days.  I remember profs writing new books every other semester where the only difference was a few pictures and reworded sentences.  Oooh thats the old book you can use that......

rjs0
rjs0

some profs are docking your grade if you dont buy their textbook amp; produce the receipt

LuapLeiht1
LuapLeiht1

I was going to reply that we never set anything on fire when I went to school, but then memories began to flood back.

I thank you for the smile it produced.

LuapLeiht1
LuapLeiht1

It would have, but Steve Jobs spent the last years of his life trying to remedy the greatest injustice in the history of the universe....People were trying to rip off his idea of a communications device with rounded corners.

He did try hard in mass producing the iPad using slave labor in China, though.  Gotta give the man credit for trying...

Oh, the humanity...

me987654
me987654

YES YES YES... especially for subjects like basic math... textbooks from 30 years ago would still be fine for that

LuapLeiht1
LuapLeiht1

Wouldn't the cost to develop a textbook depend upon the subject being taught?  A textbook on computer-based artificial intelligence should cost more to develop than on on mideval literature, shouldn't it?

Also, I believe the article said $1M to develop two textbooks.

Please read the article and exercise critical thinking before posting a response.  It shows inefficiency and a lack of leadership.

Whatnow05
Whatnow05

Dont know where you're going to school but my costs never went over $300, and I went to a 4 year private university.  Granted I was in tech so perhaps we didnt use as many, but uh... Your number seems rather exaggerated. 

Talendria
Talendria

I thought they'd underestimated the cost.  I used to pay $400/semester, and that was 20 years ago.

Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith

The 'water of knowledge'  goes one way and it's  downhill.  Each brain is a vessel, and a short lived one at that!  

Richard Erskine Frere Leakey and Madame Leakey in Africa is proving that on a daily basis!

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Get rid of the Administrators, the Schools and even most of the Teachers.

In the modern computerized world we don't need them and they are nothing but an outmoded luxury without purpose that we can no longer afford.

Computer education can do a far superior job at a tiny fraction of the cost.

The biggest problem is that all of those people with all those jobs are going to scream bloody murder.

It doesn't matter, like buggy whip makers and loggers, you can't support a dysfunctional system for the sake of those running it.

Diane_dp
Diane_dp

Wow. That's just *wrong*.

I was lucky; I don't remember ever having teacher I had considered cost when choosing a text. That meant not requiring a new version just because it was available. Some teachers told the class that an older textbook would include everything but [blank], and they could copy the necessary pages from the new text in the library. Sometimes new was necessary, but it was nice to have instructors who lived in the real world.

Whatnow05
Whatnow05

If that's even remotely true... I would sue the school.  I've not once seen a teacher put into the syllabus "No book = loss of grade."  I've seen required reading...but that pretty much means if you dont buy the book your loss for lacking info/staying on course. 

Michael
Michael

"With a typical textbook from a major publisher costing as much as a million dollars to produce over the course of several years, there’s no removing money from the equation, according to CourseSmart executive Cindy Clarke."

Michael
Michael

"With a typical textbook from a major publisher costing as much as a million dollars to produce over the course of several years, there’s no removing money from the equation, according to CourseSmart executive Cindy Clarke."

Read more, but carefully this time: http://business.time.com/2012/...

Diane_dp
Diane_dp

 I paid about $300 a semester, and this was 7 years ago. I was very cost-conscious, and bought very few books through the college bookstore. Of course, the internet makes lower prices easier to find.

Diane_dp
Diane_dp

Learning on a computer may* be cheaper, but it isn't "far superior". Part of the educational experience is interaction with others. Unless your future includes working at a computer for yourself and BY yourself, you're going to have to deal with other people. (In fact, you'd have to be a hermit to avoid dealing with other people...and hopefully your online degree is horticulture, or you'll starve.)

Schools have rules and regs, also part of life. Going to school--getting up, spending the time there, even timing your commute (if applicable)--is going to be part of your life. Speaking in front of others is a lot different than posting a video. Chemistry labs aren't like watching Bill Nye, The Science Guy. And listening to the questions of others, even if you never speak up, gives you information and perspective you don't get on a message board or in a chat room. (Then there's math...math can be REALLY hard online!)

Online courses are terrific, but so is the college experience. There's a lot that doesn't come with an online-only degree.

     *  Tuition isn't only rising on campus; some schools have jacked up online

course prices--mine doubled them--making that online course more expensive than the one I'd take in person.

Teachers are NEVER obsolete...unless you are willing to leave college without learning anything.

What makes you think earning a degree in a classroom is dysfunctional? You're not talking about textbooks, you're talking about EDUCATION. Think about it. Try.

rjs0
rjs0

here is the article on that: "No payment — no access code — no participation — lower final grade." - Now the use of textbooks and the sharing of a new textbook can be stopped with the sale of a yearly access code to engage in discussion boards by students with instructors. The Publishing Industry with the help of one Economics Professor has found a way to stop the sharing of text books amongst students and the sales of old text books to the next incoming classes. New students will be forced to buy a new text book or buy a special code allowing them to use the book new or old. The press release describing the new invention put it in this manner: "In the case of a used book or pirated download, the student pays for the access code," according to the press release. "No payment — no access code — no participation — lower final grade." Professor Patents way . .. Grades of Students Who Pirate Would be Docked Under Prof's Plan. Maybe it is just me, but an education which is increasingly  expensive and restrictive as the ways to shave a few dollars off of it are closed to those who only wish to achieve it  from using old text of which more times than naught are out of date after one year. The world and its knowledge turn much faster leaving students to beg for the obsolete education resources paid for by a hefty tuition.

http://www.angrybearblog.com/2...

rjs0
rjs0

"No payment — no access code — no participation — lower final grade." - Now the use of textbooks and the sharing of a new textbook can be stopped with the sale of a yearly access code to engage in discussion boards by students with instructors. The Publishing Industry with the help of one Economics Professor has found a way to stop the sharing of text books amongst students and the sales of old text books to the next incoming classes. New students will be forced to buy a new text book or buy a special code allowing them to use the book new or old. The press release describing the new invention put it in this manner: "In the case of a used book or pirated download, the student pays for the access code," according to the press release. "No payment — no access code — no participation — lower final grade." Professor Patents way . .. Grades of Students Who Pirate Would be Docked Under Prof's Plan.

http://www.angrybearblog.com/2...

LuapLeiht1
LuapLeiht1

Baraniuk says, explaining why these organizations have committed their funds. “They might invest a million dollars to develop two books, but they would like to see that paid back over a number of years by saving students $20 or $30 million.”

I don't believe you were referring to "typical publishers" in your original comment, but this new atypical model.  In that context, this reference is more fitting.

Personally, I love the idea that technology can be used to reduce costs of education when it is applicable.

Talendria
Talendria

You're right that the internet is a game-changer. My only source for used books was a street fair on campus. If you didn't show up at 7 am and elbow everyone out of the way, you didn't get anything. (Also, I had to go to the library to do research; hello, Google!) Still there's no reason for education to be so expensive. Textbooks are admittedly just the tip of the iceberg, but we need to focus on making knowledge more accessible to everyone.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

The only reason it doesn't yet seem clearly superior is because so much time effort and expense has gone into shoring up an obsolete and grossly over priced educational system that no longer is affordable or works.

Time to move on.

Those rules and regulations can be learned at home just fine and there are plenty of other social organizations that encourage them as well.

Modern work is tending towards home telecommuting as well and it is certainly more efficient and less polluting in any case.

What you are speaking of are the conventional excuses for supporting this dinosaur.

I'll bet your one of those teachers or administrators who'd have to get a real job, or perhaps just one of those people who thinks the old ways are always best. (EG: Dinosaur).

Sure there are always people trying to make the most money they can.

Software based educators often fall into that group.

But think of the massive public spending to support the current educational system.

Apply one tenth of that to an E based system and free education for all to any level is immediately possible.