Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guest Post: Marc Sher on the Nonprofit Textbook Movement

by Sean Carroll

The price of university textbooks (not to mention scholarly journals) is like the weather: everyone complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. [snip].

But that might be about to change. We’re very happy to have Marc Sher, a particle theorist at William and Mary, explain an interesting new initiative that hopes to provide a much lower-cost alternative to the mainstream publishers.


The textbook publishers’ price-gouging monopoly may be ending.

For decades, college students have been exploited by publishers of introductory textbooks. The publishers charge about $200 for a textbook, and then every 3-4 years they make some minor cosmetic changes, reorder some of the problems, ... . The purpose, of course, is to destroy the used book market and to continue charging students exorbitant amounts of money.

The Gates and Hewlett Foundations have apparently decided to help provide an alternative to this monopoly. The course I teach is “Physics for Life-Scientists”, which typically uses algebra-based textbooks, often entitled “College Physics.” For much of the late 1990′s, I used a book by Peter Urone. It was an excellent book with many biological applications. Unfortunately, after the second edition, it went out of print. Urone obtained the rights to the textbook from the publisher and has given it to a nonprofit group called OpenStax College, which, working with collaborators across the country has significantly revised the work and has produced a third edition. They have just begun putting this edition online (ePub for mobile and PDF), completely free of charge. [snip].

OpenStax College Physics’ textbook is terrific, and with this free book available online, there will be enormous pressure on faculty to use it rather than a $200 textbook. OpenStax College plans to produce many other introductory textbooks, including sociology and biology textbooks. [snip].


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