R. Preston McAfee, a Cal Tech economics professor, is annoyed at how overpriced textbooks are. “‘The person who pays for the book, the parent or the student, doesn’t choose it,’ he said. ‘There is this sort of creep. It’s always O.K. to add $5.'” To fight back, he’s foregone the potential six-figure advance traditional publishing would have granted, and published his textbook online for free.
You can also buy print versions through Lulu and Flat World Knowledge for anywhere from $11 to $60, but it’s free to download in Word and PDF formats. (Note: unless you plan on downloading it, you may want to skip the link to avoid wasting the professor’s bandwidth—here’s a screencap of the otherwise unremarkable page for the curious.) The New York Time says that it’s not a widely used text yet, but Harvard is among the colleges using it.
The article also takes a look at Connexions, an open source textbook project that allows users to mix and match existing content according to CC licenses and sees 850,000 unique users a month.
And then there’s CourseSmart, an online service backed by five dead tree publishers that sells limited access to printed textbooks for a discount of up to 50% over the print version. We haven’t tried CourseSmart ourselves, but the Times’ description of it makes it sound like a deliberately constrained “service” dreamed up by companies that don’t want to hurt their $200-a-copy golden goose, but want to take advantage of the market they created in the first place when they priced their books so high. Which, okay, sounds like good business, but we still think they suck.
“Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free “ [New York Times]