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Students, librarians urge professors to use free, online textbooks

5 February 2016

From The Seattle Times:

A student advocacy group, along with one of the University of Washington’s top librarians, is urging faculty members to take a good look at using more free online textbooks.

And two bills in the state Legislature would promote and facilitate the use of such open-source textbooks and course materials.

The problem is the high price of textbooks. U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and student affiliates of that nonprofit, including WashPIRG, say the cost of textbooks has gone up 73 percent in the last decade –four times the rate of inflation. About 80 percent of the textbook market is controlled by just five publishers, and individual books can cost as much as $400, according to PIRG. The College Board says students should budget about $1,200 a year for textbooks and supplies.

Nearly a third of students surveyed by PIRG recently said they had to use financial-aid dollars to pay for textbooks. And when broken down by college type, the survey showed that the cost had a disproportionate impact on community college students, 50 percent of whom had used financial aid to cover textbook costs.

. . . .

Faculty members sometimes say they don’t want to use free textbooks because they don’t offer the same quality as books by traditional textbook publishers, Danneker said. But open textbooks are getting better all the time. “We’re highly in support of it here in the libraries, and across the UW,” he said.

Matt Stasiak, a UW junior and member of WashPIRG, said students employ a variety of strategies for avoiding having to pay for expensive textbooks. Sometimes, they’ll wait until after the first few weeks of a course to determine if the textbook is really necessary, or will buy an older version.  Recently, pirated copies — scanned copies of books — have appeared online, he said.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to JA for the tip.

Non-Fiction

13 Comments to “Students, librarians urge professors to use free, online textbooks”

  1. Ho, ho, ho. The Academic Publishing lobbyists will be all over this like fleas on a dog! Shrilly screaming bloody — no pun intended! 🙂 — murder at the top of their lungs.

    I hope the bills pass, and start a trend in universitiies and state legislatures. This needs to happen. I can still remember having to struggle and scrimp to buy textbooks when I was a student back in the 70’s. It’s a couple of orders of magnitude worse now. 🙁

  2. Sometimes, they’ll wait until after the first few weeks of a course to determine if the textbook is really necessary, or will buy an older version. Recently, pirated copies — scanned copies of books — have appeared online, he said.

    Yes. If I were a cash-strapped student now I would just check around to see if the “Bookster” site would give me spyware or viruses or whatever and then dive right in.

    Nearly a third of students surveyed by PIRG recently said they had to use financial-aid dollars to pay for textbooks.

    In my first year I used a $1000 scholarship for exactly that. I naively thought that it would last me all four years of college textbooks. I have Nelson Muntz’s “Hah! Hah!” in my head right now.

    A student advocacy group, along with one of the University of Washington’s top librarians, is urging faculty members to take a good look at using more free online textbooks.

    May the odds ever be in their favor.

    • I’m not sure it was the same site (Bookster), but I tried that with an astronomy text book last night. 100 dollars on Amazon? Or possibly free online. I spent an hour and a half trying to uninstall *&%& and finally had to hit system restore on my computer. And that was AFTER my virus program and a malware program had a look at the file.

      Nope. No thanks. And bugger the textbook companies too. Guess I’m out of luck all around.

      • I’ve never tried to find such a site, I just assumed one existed. But I’m sadly not surprised by your experience. It just seems that when it comes to college, one way or the other someone will gouge you.

  3. “… pirated copies — scanned copies of books — have appeared online …”

    Make it so much cheaper for others to pirate rather than pay and they will.

    Though I’ve heard of some professors giving out links if not the actual info needed for the class. (and there are other professors that like getting paid for ‘their’ books being sold for their classes …)

  4. Where is the AGA demanding that the US Department of Justice investigate these five publishers for price-gouging?

    Sending carrier pigeon to Maine hut with just that suggestion.

    Disclaimer: ax to grind. Daughter #2 is third year college student in el-ed major.

  5. In grad school we groused that book costs were how the state evened up in and out-of-state tuition costs. $300 was my best semester (as in cheapest). $800 was the worst (book about paleo-environments and an engineering text, plus my history books. Ow.) Tuition also went up from $300/hour in 2003 to $1200/hour in 2008.

  6. I wanted to use one of those books. I bought a copy and settled down to reconcile my weekly study guides with it and identify the reading assignments. The book was so strangely organized that reading assignments for one unit demanded students to read a few pages or paragraphs from five or six different chapters — this in a class that I have taught from at least 5 other textbooks, without having to change anything except the chapter numbers and assigned problems.

    My students can find used versions of the standard textbook online for $5. So I feel no need to conform myself to a substandard product just because it’s free.

  7. i just paid for the grands college text books. It is BEYOND Bernie Madoff what the text pubs steal from hardworking people. Some, are three ring punched at 500 pages for 250.00. I could just wipe blood of calving onto one of those and send it to the prez of Houghten Mifflin as a valentine.

    Yeah, Mifflin alright. BEYOND miffed. It is completely aggrivating. And unjust. I hope all who are pushing against this absurdist acceptance of textbooks costing more than clothing allowance for a college student, win. Big.

  8. This is such an incredible scam. It’s like the healthcare industry and those $5 aspirins that hospitals charge. You have a captive audience with little or no choice in the matter. So you gouge them for as long as you can get away with it. It’s the exact opposite of what a free market should be able to provide, but doesn’t because of a kind of shadow collusion. Surely, these books do not cost $500 to produce and still provide a fair return on investment . . . yet, there they are. Why would another publisher provide the same book for, say, $40 (that is, use competition to bring the price down) when they themselves live off of the same gravy train. Why would they rock the boat? The students are more or less trapped — they need the book.

    Like heathcare it is a separate economy; it lives by its own rules. When you have a captive audience, competition is short-circuited. The foxes can’t run the hen house. I hope the students, and others, will find ways to circumvent this, overthrow it, bring light to it . . . whatever. Anything would be better.

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