Thursday, May 10, 2012

Apple, Nonprofits Push Digital College Textbooks

SHEILA RILEY  > 05/08/2012 05:26 PM ET

College students will no longer be out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for print textbooks every year. Instead, they'll read e-textbooks at much less cost — or no cost at all.

At least, that's the scenario promoted by e-textbook advocates, a movement that's flourishing. Sacramento, Calif., nonprofit Twenty Million Minds Foundation, which works to provide free and low-cost digital textbooks, is among those leading the charge. And companies such as Apple (AAPL) are pressing ahead in this market.

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Apple Senior Vice President Philip Schiller introduces iBooks 2 for iPad on Jan. 19 in New York City. 

The foundation is piloting free e-textbooks at three California community colleges.

And it's working with academics to create a library of 25 open-source, lower-division books that professors can modify to fit their classes. The nonprofit offers e-textbooks in statistics, physics and sociology. Other subject areas are in the works.

Students can read the e-textbooks via the Internet, on PCs or on mobile devices such as tablets and e-book readers. The books are printable and permanently available.

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The nonprofit says it will raise and allocate $3 million for its e-library, and says it's received promises of an additional $2 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates, and William and Flora Hewlett foundations.

Other efforts are in place to lower textbook costs for California students. Proposed legislation seeks $25 million in state funding to develop digital textbooks for the 50 most widely taken lower-division courses in the state's higher education system.

Online textbooks and related materials would be free to the state students, and print copies would run $20.

Proponents say e-textbooks make it easier for students to learn. Students will do without books when the cost is too high, they say.

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