Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More on open textbooks

Svetlana Shkolnikova, Online 'open textbooks' save students cash, USA Today, July 10, 2008. (Thanks to Georgia Harper.)
As textbook prices skyrocket, college students and faculty seeking more affordable options increasingly are turning to "open textbooks" as an alternative.

Open textbooks are free textbooks available online that are licensed to allow users to download, customize and print any part of the text. Professors can change content to fit their teaching styles. Some authors offer a print-on-demand service that produces professionally bound copies for $10 to $20.

Textbook prices have outpaced inflation 2-to-1 in the past two decades, says a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office. They account for 26% of tuition and fees at four-year public universities and nearly three-quarters of costs at community colleges, the GAO says. ...

[Nicole Allen, director of the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign by Student Public Interest Research Groups] is leading an effort to gather signatures for an Open Textbook Statement of Intent, which asks faculty to consider using open textbooks. The statement has more than 1,200 signatures from faculty in all 50 states in schools ranging from community colleges to four-year universities to graduate schools. ...

Some in the publishing industry have noticed the trend.

Eric Frank spent seven years working for Pearson Education, one of the nation's leading textbook publishers, before quitting last year to pursue a new business venture. He spent three months talking to students, teachers and authors about textbooks, trying to find a solution to their complaints.

It became clear that open textbooks would provide the ideal solution, Frank says.

"The current business model fails the students, the faculties and the authors," he says. "Students are used to having choices in what to buy; instead they're getting the same thing they got 50 years ago and paying a lot for it. Instructors have different teaching styles, but a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter book never allows them to deliver it. The authors are getting paid less and less for their book.

"We flip the model completely."

Frank and his business partner, Jeff Shelstad, in January plan to launch Flat World Knowledge, the first commercial open textbook publisher. It will offer free online textbooks that can be printed and bound, for about $25 for black and white and $35-$39 for full-color copies. The average price of a traditional textbook varies by subject; many new textbooks cost about $150, Allen says.

Instructors will be able to modify the content, and authors will be compensated "at least as well as the traditional model." Frank is recruiting authors, who will receive royalties for texts and supplementary materials such as study guides. ...
See also the comments by Harper:
... Open access is just one part of a much bigger and more complex picture. I am very optimistic that open access will find its way into the book market (or what we call books today), but again, it's not like that will cut off the flow of revenues. Quite the contrary. It just makes it possible for a lot more people to benefit from the work of authors while authors and those who help them ready their works for public consumption still reap sufficient financial rewards to make creating worthwhile. Maybe the biggest stumbling block is understanding that as a copyright owner, you don't have to appropriate every cent of public benefit from your work. There's viability in skimming off the top and letting some of the benefit go to those who never would have been able to buy your book anyway. That concept seems really counter-intuitive to many authors and publishers, but I think it's what makes open access a successful competitor -- authors and publishers can still get paid (if that's what they want) but people who would not have had access also derive benefit. ...