Making book on free texts

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an article, “Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free.”

I haven’t taken a higher-education course in some time, so I didn’t know what heights textbooks had achieved. Introductory Econometrics: A Modern Approach is discounted at Amazon — to $126.85. The Paralegal Professional is discounted to $99.20 (I’ve got a virtually unused copy; make me an offer).

Part of the Jack Kerouac manuscript for On The RoadNoam Cohen’s column in the Times mentioned R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech, who’s put his introductory text online — free. Or, if you’re not keen on reading 328 pages online, you can order a printed copy for $11.10 from

McAfee actually deals with two online publishers, Lulu and Flat World Knowledge — “to further constrain their ability to engage in monopoly pricing.”

(The Flat World site is “info only” at the moment; for now, it has four short videos explaining their business.)

Another publisher, CourseSmart, is owned by five publishers. CourseSmart’s model allows students to subscribe to a text — they can read it online, then highlight and print out portions. Oddly, you can either read online or download the book, but not both.

A third path: Connexions, which calls itself “a content commons.” Connexions includes modules (‘small knowledge chunks’) and collections (groups of modules structured as books or as class notes). Modules and collections use a Creative Commons attribution license, meaning anyone can add or edit, as well as reuse, as long as there’s attribution.

I played a bit with Connexions. As you might expect, some modules are better written than others. A sidebar offers links to related material and provides cross-references to collections using the module; a footer includes a link for sending feedback to the author.

Image: Jack Kerouac’s manuscript for On the Road; photo by emdot / marya.