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).
Noam 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 Lulu.com.
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.