Here’s a cool project: OpenTextBook. When I was at Acadia, we often wondered why students had to pay CAN$80 for a Calculus textbook when it was obvious that all such textbooks are the same, they have to be, and all of the content has been known for quite some time.

What are we paying publisher for, exactly? We could never quite figure out, but because, neither the university nor the professor ends up paying the bill, we keep asking students to buy expensive textbooks for no good reason.

To be fair, professors are not evil. Not all of them. Many wondered whether we could write a free calculus textbooks ourselves. I think there are some free textbooks but who would dare trusting them? I would trust a textbook that the community can peer review though. If people find mistakes, they can come in and correct the mistakes. It would not converge into a free, perfect textbooks, but it might end up producing an acceptable textbook, for sure.

I co-wrote this really cool document on Series. It is free! You can have the LaTeX source if you ask or are clever enough to navigate my hidden Web.

One day soon, I’ll co-wrote an open textbook. I should make a note of it.

Daniel Lemire, "OpenTextBook," in Daniel Lemire's blog, June 15, 2004.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “OpenTextBook”

  1. The problem you outline with textbook availability and pricing is what originally prompted Bob Young (my boss) to buy a company called Open Mind Publishing (OMPG) and turn it into, an open publishing platform. That said, there are, relatively speaking, only a handful of real textbooks being published through, among them W.B. Kincaid’s Investigating Biology. But with an average of 45 books a day being published through the site, the number of educational projects is creeping up. I’d love to see Lulu host a print-on-demand version of the Open Text Book project.

  2. It is in the best interest of the used book market to keep the focus on the publishers and new books. Students are not getting a ‘bargain’ when they buy a used book. But quietly, and without being noticed, the used book market certainly is. Go into any college campus bookstore and you will find a much greater proportion of used books on the shelves than new.
    Why are used books priced so high? And why doesn’t anyone address this issue in order to help students? Over the years, a feature of the marketplace that has changed greatly, yet has gone mostly unnoticed, is the sale of used books.
    A student sees a new book on the shelf for $100 next to a used book going for $75. It would appear the used book is a bargain, but is it really? The first student paid $100 for that new book, and then sold it back to the bookstore for (at best) $50. The bookstore then puts in back on the shelf for $75, a 50% markup. Is this really a bargain to the student?

    The used book market spent no money creating the book, yet over and over, they make huge profits from the book while claiming to give students a ‘deal’. The next semester, the used book returns back on the shelf for the ‘bargain’ price of $75. Why doesn’t the price of a used book go down each time it is re-sold? And why are students paid so little for the books they sell back?

    Bookstores prefer selling used books to new books because of the much higher profit margins on used books. The publishing company profits only the first time a new book is sold and never thereafter. The used book market profits each and every time a book is sold, whether new or used.

    College and university bookstores used to be owned by the school and operated as a service to the students and the faculty, but those days are past on most campuses. Now the bookstores are operated by large companies (Follett’s, Barnes and Noble, and others), often the same ones who own and operate the used book warehouses. It’s a win-win for the used book market. It is a lose-lose to the student.

    The fact is that the repeated used book sales do not go to the authors and publishing companies that actually wrote and produced the books but rather to the used book market that specializes in buying and selling used books- publishers can only dream of making the profits that the used book market makes. Meanwhile, students are the ones paying the outrageous price that the used book market sets, not the publishers.

    Please look into why used books cost so much; after all, go into any college campus bookstore and you will find a much greater proportion of used books on the shelves than new. All the while the bookstore advertises, “We save students money!” No they don’t. Instead the used book market exploits the students and blames the publishers, all the way to the bank.

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