Open Source Comes to Textbooks
College professors are ready to reinvent the textbook. The new price: $0
Think back to your college textbooks. What’s the first thing you think of? How expensive they were, of course. Okay, we’ll come back to that. What’s the second thing you think of? How good some of them were. And the third thing? How long-lived they are.
For example, my father had an M.B.A. The text I think he used for his financial management class is now in its 13th edition, has been in print for more than 45 years, and made its author, Eugene Brigham, a wealthy man, according to an article on the website Poets & Quants. Maybe very wealthy: The book retails for $243. Sure, it’s 1184 pages, but still, that’s a lot of money, about 20 cents a page. By comparison, a popular book like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is less than 6 cents a page.
What makes for a decades-long success like Brigham’s? Quality is certainly one factor, but another is inertia. The Poets & Quants article quotes an executive at McGraw-Hill, which publishes a competing textbook, as saying, “It can be difficult to get professors to change the books they use.”
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One of the most serious efforts is a project called OpenStax College, based out of Rice University. Later this month, it will release two textbooks: College Physics and Introduction to Sociology. The textbooks will run on an “open education platform” called Connexions
Open source comes to textbooks
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