Textbooks Go Open Source, Students Rejoice

Textbooks Go Open Source, Students RejoiceIf you have attended college or taken online courses, you know the astronomical cost of textbooks. With some books costing as much as $300, purchasing textbooks for multiple classes can clean your wallet out completely.

But what if textbooks were available on a cheap hosting website? What if these books were available free of charge, thanks to the open source model? I'm sure many college students would be overjoyed to fill their cabinets with more than Ramen noodles!

OpenStax College

Founded in 2012, the OpenStax College initiative has been relying on a Creative Commons license to create peer-reviewed open source textbooks. Exactly how much are students saving? It's estimated that this year alone, they expect to save about 40,000 students at 300 different colleges and universities roughly $3.7 million on textbook costs. That's a lot of Ramen!

Since the organization was founded, their open source textbooks have been accessed by over 1.7 million people, with approximately 170,000 total downloads, according to site sources.

Textbooks Go Open Source, Students Rejoice: How It Works

Textbooks are offered for the most popular introductory college courses (physics, sociology, anatomy, and biology, both majors and non-majors). In fact, the founder of OpenStax College is the same man that founded Connexions, and the similarities between the two initiatives are clear.

What about OpenStax College's content? It's quite normal, really. There are authors, reviewers, and content developers as with most traditional textbooks. Work-for-hire agreements are set up detailing payment arrangements. Content can be submitted in any form, converting it into numerous formats such as PDF. Thanks to the Creative Commons licensing, instructors are able to provide their students with materials for the sweet price of: free.

Students are able to download the textbooks directly through the site, also for free, and the downloaded material is available at all times. There is no expiration date.

The Old Way

The problem with the “old way,” (really, e-books aren’t that old, but you get my point) is that access is restricted after a certain trial time period has lapsed. When all is said and done, an e-book textbook can cost as much as a hard copy, so there’s not much sense in going the e-book method. There’s another side to this coin too: the author side.

Realistically, most textbook authors don’t actually generate revenue. Best-sellers are heavily marketed while the rest goes unnoticed. Authors, in the meantime, work tirelessly to write and research books that never really pad pockets – it’s clear to see why OpenStax Collect makes a lot of sense, right? The one restriction with OpenStax College are iBook versions of textbooks. In order to access iBooks, students have to pay a $5 fee per book. These funds go towards keeping the nonprofit afloat.

Problems Ahead

There’s no doubt that this nonprofit will face some slack from publishing houses screaming copyright infringement, but OpenStax College is prepared for that, it seems. In the end, though, cheaper textbooks is the goal here, and students everywhere will be more than happy to alleviate some college debt by going the OpenStax College route.

Photo Courtesy of Cote via Flickr Creative Commons

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