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Open-Source College Textbooks Gaining Mindshare

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the pirg-nonethless-annoying dept.

Education 423

bcrowell writes "The LA Times has a front-page article about how open-source college textbooks are starting to gain traction. One author says, 'I couldn't continue assigning idiotic books that are starting to break $200,' and describes attempts by commercial publishers to bribe faculty to use their books. The Cal State system has started a Digital Marketplace to help faculty find out about their options for free and non-free digital textbooks, and the student group PIRG has collected 1200 faculty signatures on a statement of support for open textbooks."

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423 comments

Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657639)

...few have lived to tell the tale.

Seriously, though, you can expect a HUGE pushback on this from the publishing industry (college textbooks are a big moneymaker, especially considering how overpriced many textbooks are) and even from some professors (they write the books, after all).

And there is another issue too: Who is going to write these open source textbooks? Even though academics don't usually get paid particularly well for their writing, it's unlikely that many academics are going want to tackle something as big as a survey-level textbook for free (with the occasional exception like the professor in the article).

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24657651)

"Who is going to write these open source textbooks? "

Easy... Just look at Wiki. We all know how factual everything is there.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (0, Redundant)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657667)

Who is going to write these open source textbooks?

Already been done! We have Wikipedia...

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (0)

strawberryutopia (1301435) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658319)

Who is going to write these open source textbooks?

Already been done! We have Wikipedia...

You mean wikibooks [wikibooks.org] ? The problem here is that many if not most of these are incomplete. What we need is some way of paying volunteers to contribute.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Insightful)

db32 (862117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657677)

You can expect a huge pushback from the proprietary software industry (proprietary programs are a big moneymaker, especially considering how overpriced many programs are) and even from some programmers (they write the programs after all).

And there is another issue too: Who is going to write these open source programs? Even though programmers don't usually get paid particularly well for their writing, it's unlikely that many programmers are going to want to tackle something as big as the Linux kernel, Apache, or Samba for free.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (0, Flamebait)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657795)

You don't think Microsoft is pushing back? And much as I love open source, let's get real here. There are VERY few open software projects that even begin to compare to their commercial equivalents. Firefox is about the only one I can think of offhand (and don't EVEN say Gimp, because anyone who thinks that is even close to comparable to Photoshop is a complete r-tard).

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (3, Informative)

db32 (862117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657881)

Firefox, Samba, Apache, MySQL, PHP, Perl, Gimp (it is very comparable to photoshop given that most people don't use all of photoshops capabilities in the first place and assuming that everyone who needs a good graphic editing program is a photoshop wizard with $600 to drop on it is a complete r-tard). Then we have BSD, Linux, Gnome, KDE, Evolution, OpenOffice... Seriously...there are TONS of open software projects that compare to or exceed their commercial equivilents. Microsoft is going to support the ODF format BEFORE their own OOXML garbage...So push all they want...they are losing ground. Did you not just read how their silly SCO attempt went up in flames?

Now...that doesn't EVEN begin to compare the supercomputer and science realm of software that I don't have any experience in. IBM has been giving up tons of stuff to open source at a much lower level than "ooh look at the pretty clicky" user level stuff. The notion that free software doesn't compare to commercial software because you can't play Bioshock on a Linux desktop is laughable.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657965)

Okay, I'll grant you Apache and its modules. But everything that follows your "Then we have..." is not comparable. OpenOffice is fine if you never use any of MS Office's more powerful features. But the whole point of that price tag is that you HAVE those powerful features (and superior documentation) if you need them.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (1)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658239)

Speaking of modules, textbooks are a lot easier to integrate than software, expect perhaps postmodernism. Deconstructionism Forever, anyone?

I'm surprised this has happened so quickly though, I would have thought academic journals would have been opened up first, since academics do all the writing, then volunteer as reviewers, then pay for a subscription. I guess that MENSA already proved that you can make money off smart people if you really know what you are doing.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24657933)

I'd add the Linux kernel to your list without hesitation.

And Apache. Gimme the commercial web server which is not a wet joke when compared to Apache.

Eclipse and MS Visual Studio are pretty much reasonable competitors as well.

And there's tons I can't think of right now.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657953)

Actually most of the time I find the OSS software products I use are actually better than the commercial equivalents.

Notepad++ may be the best text editor I've ever used.

K3b is the single best burning app I've ever used.

Amarok is the single best media app I've ever used.

Etc, etc, etc.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658187)

There are VERY few open software projects that even begin to compare to their commercial equivalents.

Gcc, Git, Apache, Python, lzarc, just about any server application. Desktop apps like Word and Photoshop actually make up a pretty small amount of the software out there.

A lot of the best open source software is good enough that it doesn't have a closed source equivalent. The software that is developed by its users is typically pretty damn good. Since textbooks would be developed by their users we can expect it to be pretty much the same.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Funny)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657949)

Nice analogy, but now the whole discussion will be talking about Linux instead of open source textbooks.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (2, Funny)

db32 (862117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658035)

It wasn't an analogy. It was a simple search/replace. You know, like the People and Pandas creationist book after the court ruling. (Now with any luck I have brought religion and creationism into the mix too, muahahahaha!)

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (3, Funny)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658147)

You are right, the Bible is the perfect open source text book. The science section is a little outdated, but it works great whenever I need to calculate how many sheckles a cubit of grains cost.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658243)

If I had mod points, I don't know if I would mod that funny or troll.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658107)

How many members of the Linux Kernel team, the Apache team or the Samba team are actually unpaid for their work on said project? Last time I looked, the vast majority of all those teams were made up of dedicated, paid developers.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Insightful)

db32 (862117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658245)

And I imagine most of the professors writing books would be employed by a university. So the situation is still pretty much the same. The programmer paycheck isn't coming from selling the software, nor would the writers paycheck come from selling the book.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Insightful)

db32 (862117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657723)

Also...can you imagine a world were college text books are clear and concise and stick to the topic at hand? You can't sell a 100 page book for $200, but if the subject can be accurately covered in 100 pages... I don't think I have taken a college course yet that has used more than maybe 1/2 of any given $100-200+ book that I had to purchase. If the professors aren't being paid by the page volume trying to sell megabooks then you could conceivably take a course that only includes the pages that you will need in the course. Modular text books so to speak. What a wonderful world that would be. Even if they get printed and you pay some amount, can you imagine a world where you don't have a back injury from carrying more than a few college books around?!

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658151)

Hell with that.

Imagine a world where current higher education materials are available to ALL OF HUMANITY instead of a select few rich enough to go to college and pay these "rich people only please" prices. Such a move would further destroy the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Also to shoot down the "go to the library" cheap shot done here a lot : Incredibly few college textbooks are in libraries, the few that are are usually 5 or more years out of date.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (5, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658281)

Incredibly few college textbooks are in libraries, the few that are are usually 5 or more years out of date.

Incredibly few subjects change enough in five years to render textbooks out of date.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (2, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658379)

...the few that are are usually 5 or more years out of date.

Because Algebra/Geometry/Calculus have changed so much in the past few years...

Re:This is the pushback! (4, Insightful)

Technician (215283) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657941)

Seriously, though, you can expect a HUGE pushback on this from the publishing industry (college textbooks are a big moneymaker, especially considering how overpriced many textbooks are) and even from some professors (they write the books, after all).

This is the pushback against high monopoly pricing. They are starting to find the breaking point in an otherwise inflexible market (Ya gotta have that book).

As the alternatives start to errode the monopoly, the publishers will adjust to find the maximum profit point, but the policies that are put in place to curb runaway prices will remain for quite some time.

Re:This is the pushback! (1)

Hyppy (74366) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658389)

I can see this devolving quickly into a war involving students, publishers, and professors on a very large scale.

How long until we see textbooks being "Licensed" instead of sold? How long until BSA-style crackdowns, complete with SWAT teams and tear gas, on secondhand textbook stores?

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (5, Interesting)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657975)

Aside from the money, a writing or contributing to a published book is a good line item on their cv and counts towards tenure, peer recognition, professional requirements, etc. I can't find the quote right now, but Terence Parr (ANTLR parser generator, USF professor) stated that's one reason the ANTLR v3 documentation was published rather than put up for free on the website.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Insightful)

IcyHando'Death (239387) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658381)

A better line item on one's cv would be that one's text book is being taught at Harvard, Stanford, Yale, MIT etc. Should the big schools start moving to open text books, you can bet the academics who are giving any thought to tenure, peer recognition etc. will start contributing in a big way. In the academic world, once you have gained recognitions, the (grant) money can usually be counted on to follow.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Interesting)

Amouth (879122) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658005)

well there is an extra wonderful thing about this.

why do we need 20 diffrent math books?

why not have one in which allthe prof's can contribute to? so what if that one book has a thousand chapters - it is digital.. you can easily add/ change/ remove content and link to other peices.

you don't need one or tow guys to write the whole thing.. they jsut need to write a section. and when it comes down to most math books for college the only change from one edition to the next is typo's - some times added exlinations - and changeing of the questions and work sets.

if you could provide a book that is live and being updated - then you could do the questions as a list and let the prof just selected a set of them to assign as home work, and if ones he wants arn't there.. he can jsut add them to the list and then use them in his set and someone else can use it later.

it really supprises me this hasn't been doen before - but i am damn sure it can be done and would be extreamly useful.. but i bet money is the reason why we don't see it happening..

after having to pay >300 for a book for a single class - which happened to be writen bythe prof.. yea he got a hell of a kick back.. cause i know they don't pay him enough.. (might that not be the root of the problem?)

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658033)

Who is going to write these open source textbooks?

Only one person has to take the initiative. After that, the community will make any corrections or updates necessary. That's the beauty of open source.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (4, Insightful)

xutopia (469129) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658061)

In europe some universities do without textbooks. The teacher teaches and guess what? The students have to write everything the teacher says.

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (5, Insightful)

JustKidding (591117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658195)

I'd really hate that, because I like to read the book myself, and I don't need somebody reading it to me. Having to write everything down distracts from trying to understand what he is saying. If you go home with a bunch of notes that you don't understand, what good is that?

Re:Many a foolish man has crossed Houghton Mifflin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658271)

What I don't understand is why there isn't a HUGE pushback from the colleges themselves? Students are spending thousands on books. It isn't hard to imagine students dropping out due to money problems. It seems like it would be in their interest to make books as cheap as possible to keep their enrollment high. Colleges could put an end to the gouging in an instant if they tried. Some college already have.

Old fashioned way (1, Insightful)

ilovesymbian (1341639) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657655)

I prefer to buy a $200 textbook and sell it the next semester for about the same price instead of downloading the e-book and printing out the pages!

Printing an e-book (legal or illegal) is more expensive; printer cartridges are as expensive and the quality is nowhere near a real textbook.

New fashioned way (2, Insightful)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657787)

I prefer to download it as a torrent - oh and the solution guide, too, for free.

Who prints them?

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657811)

Don't use liquid ink then. Laser toner is vanishingly cheap. If you have the right laser printer, you just stick in a funnel and pour in more.

Re:Old fashioned way (5, Insightful)

jhfry (829244) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657819)

This assumes that next semester they use the same book. Publishers have been known to make changes every couple of years and discontinue the older version... forcing the professors to upgrade, making the old version obsolete.

Not to mention that I have never seen a buy back for anything close the original sale price.

Re:Old fashioned way (2, Informative)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658025)

In my years of college, I have never had a professor that wouldn't let you use an older edition of a textbook. I used an old version if my gen chem and organic classes and just copied the questions at the end of the chapter on a photocopier. The professor(s) knew and recommended it if you couldn't afford the newest.

Don't sell back your books at the buyback, sell them on Amazon. I sold a few mechanical engineering books for more than I bought them for, and they were 3 or 4 years old.

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658259)

My astronomy professor was totally against me using my pre-Copernican scrolls. Still don't know why, but I got an "A." Gotta love community college!

But seriously, and on-topic, there may be a push and interest in open source texts right now, but in the long run a lot of people will realize they stopped making tons of money, and the people churning out the texts will lose interest.

Wikipedia is cool, but ultimately it requires oversight, and if we are talking about texts from which professors teach and students learn, that oversight needs to be stringent. I do, however, like the fact that this enables more flexible texts which can have new "editions" released in short order and much less expensively.

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

holychicken (1307483) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657841)

Print the whole thing? Why waste the paper? Print what you need or nothing at all and take notes as needed. And what college did you go to where you found a steady flow of idiots to pay "about the same price" for a used textbook?

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657999)

what college did you go to where you found a steady flow of idiots to pay "about the same price" for a used textbook?

DMCAU?

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658153)

Montana State University's bookstore is student/faculty owned and used book prices purchase are generally pretty near the price of used books at the beginning of the next year.

Of course they only buy back as many as they expect to need so if they go to a wholesaler the price drops.

Why not local printing? (2, Interesting)

Nerdposeur (910128) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657851)

Printing an e-book (legal or illegal) is more expensive; printer cartridges are as expensive and the quality is nowhere near a real textbook.

Who says you have to print it yourself? When I was in school, some professors assigned course packets that you could pick up at a local printer. They were pretty cheap and looked fine. If a whole class went in together and had them printed in bulk, that would probably drive the price down further.

Of course these were black and white packets. But if you have a field where color images are really necessary - like anatomy diagrams - you could have a supplemental online site, or have just those few pages printed in color.

What I hated about buying the $200 book was that the next semester, I could not usually sell it for anywhere near the same price, and often the course that uses it would not be offered or would change editions of the book. I lost a lot of money on textbooks. All for some 300-page color glossy monstrosity of a history text that would have been fine in black and white.

Printing is not that big an issue (3, Interesting)

voss (52565) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658127)

If theres no copyright issue , most of these opensource books could be printed for $20-30 a copy for a large hardcover book. Private companies could even make a small profit selling the equivalent of "thrift editions" of these text books. They do it already for books in the public domain and furthermore most universities already have on-campus printers.

Re:Old fashioned way (2, Insightful)

mulvane (692631) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657853)

In a school system like grade and high school, could this not lead to cheaper operating cost for the school? Maybe this could allow higher wages to the teachers and more activities for the students to partake in. The books don't have to be e-books, but it would be nice as the books could stay at school and the students could view them online at home and or print out the portion of the book they need for that week.

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657871)

1. Presuming that particular textbook is actually useful for the course the next year. I've seen a lot of profs that just practically use the thing as a book of questions.

2. Any particular reason why you feel it needs to be printed out rather than read on a laptop/pda/etc.?

Re:Old fashioned way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658387)

Reading off of a laptop sucks...

Re:Old fashioned way (3, Interesting)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657911)

You can sell it the next quarter for the same price? DAMN, where do you buy books? The best I see around here is about a 10% return.

e-books don't seem problematic:

Lets assume an average of 500 pages a book (it's a bit high, but that hurts rather than helps the example).
Good color printer (can match textbook quality, or beat it) - $600
Toner with color - $200/5000pages (est, $20/book)
Paper - $20/500pages (est, $20/book)

So, $40/book. If the books are $100/ea, you come ahead $60/book.

After 10 books, assuming 3/quarter that's 3-4 quarters, you've made up your investment in the printer.

After 4 years (assuming summers off, that 12 quarters or 36 books), you are 26 books, or $1560 ahead.

Of course, you then have to subtract the cost of the ebook, if you pay for it. From the sound of it though, with an OSB, you probably /wouldn't/ have to pay for it.

You could get a nice waxjet and still do better over the time of a college degree, than buying the books retail.

Re:Old fashioned way (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658043)

My daughter has actually made money on her textbooks the last couple years. She buys them used on half.com and then sells them back to the university bookstore for more than she paid.

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658377)

(1) Buy your books online or used from other students - I only paid retail on four books in my entire college career (BS, MS, PhD).

(2) Anyone who sells their books back to the college bookstore is an IDIOT. You are giving up the profit margin to the bookstore. Either sell them straight to the student (surely you know some of your colleagues?) for a few bucks less than they will have to pay the bookstore next semester, or put up a flier on the bulletin boards in the dorms/class buildings, or sell them online. Myself, I knew underclassmen and we worked out a price between the bookstore buyback price (just call them up, they will give you an estimate) and the selling price in the bookstore (again, call them, they will tell you). Which was pretty close to the price I paid online in the first place. This was back in 2000, now in 2008, you have no excuse.

When all's said and done, I rarely paid more than 50% sticker (bookstore) price on books, often quite less, and rarely sold my books for much less than what I paid in the first place, when I chose to sell them.

That being said, two observations:

(1) in certain field, you might want to keep your books. I kept most all my books junior and senior years, and through my MS and PhD programs. They come in handy as an engineer as reference texts, both for myself and for colleagues (those who did NOT keep their textbooks).

(2) As you progress higher in education, the books tend to get cheaper. My last PhD text, new, is $50. Some of the Masters' textbooks were in the $40 range out of print, and some were just photocopies of the professors' papers and course notes, handed out by the professors in lieu of the text, no text at all.

Re:Old fashioned way (2, Informative)

muzip (1220080) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657945)

You are right, but, most of the time we do not read the whole 800+ pages of a textbook. IMHO, printing out the parts that require studying would not cost much.

And, since it will also be available online, we wouldn't have to carry those oversized books everywhere.

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658367)

And if you ever need to look up information in the real world (and not just to get a piece of sheepskin), then those textbooks will be a great resource.

Re:Old fashioned way (4, Insightful)

CogDissident (951207) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657963)

Sell it the next semester? But version 12 is out next semester, and they changed one entire sentence. Of course the professor won't allow your old version 11 book.

Welcome to the world of a book that is now worth 10$, not 200$.

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

shypht (1267660) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658141)

Ugh, I just graduated and the amount of money I spent on textbooks was insane. I always seemed to get the same line of "Oh, a new edition is out so you HAVE to buy it new" *grumble*, some semesters my textbook fee was nearing $700-$800 at times.

Re:Old fashioned way (3, Insightful)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657973)

Why print an e-book? What a monumental waste of paper and ink.

Are you aware that you can read it just fine on the computer, and with the right software you can even annotate the PDF and take notes, right on your computer. Oh, and you can search within the PDF.

Try firing up the search engine on your printed pages.

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658143)

That is fine for certain classes. Explain how I can annotate (draw) a Diels Alder cycloaddtion rxn with all the steps with a computer? I guess if you're an IT or business major you could, but this would be useless for about 90% of my chemistry (my major) classes.

No thanks, some classes need a *real* hardcopy, that you can draw in and write on

Re:Old fashioned way (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658197)

Apparently you've never used a full-fledged PDF editor. You can draw anything in a PDF. Aside from that, I'm confused by your statement.

You classes expect you to draw on the textbook and turn the textbook in? Given that many people want to resell their textbook, or buy a textbook, this in insipid. Furthermore, turning in a textbook is even more insipid. I highly doubt your teachers you demand you draw on the textbook, as opposed to note paper.

And given the huge bevy of scientific software out there, I would be shocked if you couldn't do chemistry annotations on the computer.

Re:Old fashioned way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658047)

I prefer to buy a $200 textbook and sell it the next semester for about the same price

That works fine for the first couple of semesters, but once you get to the upper end of your academic career you'll start to notice that those specialized classes you're taking require specialized books that your professor ordered specifically for that class, and the class itself is only offered during the spring semester, so you have to hold on to your books for nearly a year before you get the chance to sell it back, then, once that class is being offered again, you find out that there's a new edition of the book out, making yours completely worthless to sell back, or that the professor found some other book that she liked better to teach the course material, again making your book worthless.

Of course, you could also try to sell your books online, but once you factor in shipping, you might as well have just given the book to the local thrift store to save all of that time, effort, and expense.

Re:Old fashioned way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658175)

I used to buy the textbook that is one version older for nearly free or not buy textbooks at all or buy textbooks among a group of people (in the US). In India, I used to buy all my textbooks new and sell them next year for ~60% of their value. My textbooks never had anything written in them and looked new (says how much I used them)

What's the deal? (4, Interesting)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657719)

Can some people with more experience explain? I went to uni in England. The lecturers wrote stuff up on the board/projector/used powerpoint and handed out a sheet of questions and some pages of notes each week. They suggested one to three suitable textbooks for a course, but that's as far as it went. There were usually a bunch of the library and if the lecturer was suitably ancient, then the books were out of print by a commensurate amount.

Then, there was a big old bunch of final at the end of the thirf and fourth years (first year too, but they didn't count).

I gather that in the US system, it's common to have the course structured around a 3rd party textbook. Is this correct?

Re:What's the deal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24657767)

In the US system it is common that the course is structured around what the Republican/Democrat Party wants you to think.

Re:What's the deal? (4, Informative)

db32 (862117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657799)

Basically yes. Even if the course isn't structured around a particular book, instructors are going to be receiving pressure from the school to use the latest and greatest book from publisher XYZ that they have a deal with. It is a money issue more than anything. To be fair, some subjects do change often enough that you need to refresh books frequently, but many don't. How long has it been since Algebra or Calculus has changed significantly enough to warrant a new book?

I have never taken a college course that was really structured around the book in a start to finish style. Typically the instructor takes the few sections he wants to use, arranges them how he wants to teach them, and then uses the homework from the book and the grading key to deal with assignments. It keeps everyone at the same reference point.

Re:What's the deal? (1)

Swizec (978239) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657861)

It's the same here in Slovenia and I guess most Europe. Further to this, I don't think many people even buy the original books, we just buy the photocopied versions photocopying shops sell for a fraction of the price. I have no idea about how legal or illegal this is, but then, I don't much care either.

Re:What's the deal? (5, Interesting)

jhfry (829244) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657903)

Exactly... the US educational system is, like everything else, all about making money. I actually had professors tell us on the first day of class that we needed to have a certain book, but (wink wink) we won't actually use it during the course. Appearently he was being forced to name a text book, but wanted us to return it at our earliest convenience.

Re:What's the deal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658071)

many professors list the name, isbn and edition of the textbook on the class webpage as soon as registration begins, so you can buy a used copy from amazon, ebay, half, or whatever. schools are slick, though, and they commission "custom" editions, which aren't available anywhere except the school bookstore and, maybe, someone who took the class last term. The ISBNs for the custom editions don't appear anywhere -- not amazon, not the Library of Congress -- even if the actual content is indistinguishable from a public edition. b1tch1z.

Re:What's the deal? (1)

Marcus Green (34723) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657997)

My book budget for a 3 year UK degree was around £20, for the entire 3 years. I spent more on pens and paper than books. The college library was an excellent resource. This was in the early 1980's so there was no interweb thingy. What is it with the US universities?

(But I did only get a Desmond)

Re:What's the deal? (1)

mikael (484) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658049)

Before the days of the Internet, my undergraduate university made a deal with the local bookstore - in return for the university making a course textbook a "mandatory purchase", the local bookstore would give a "10% academic discount" on those titles. The university even gave the bookstore a student list so they could check out who qualified for the discount and who had made the purchase.

Otherwise, lecturers just made overhead projection slides and gave out course handouts (with the strange exception of database theory lecturers).

Re:What's the deal? (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658123)

Only my most introductory undergraduate classes were structured around a particular textbook. I think that was mostly because the classes were very large and they wanted to have some level of homogeneity across years.

Beyond that, most classes had a single recommended textbook and sometimes an optional one or two. People generally thought that the "recommended textbook" absolutely had to be purchased (and sometimes they were right, such as when it was heavily used for homework problems). A handful of classes had no real textbook.

Graduate classes were all more as you describe.

Re:What's the deal? (1)

ilovesymbian (1341639) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658129)

Actually in my universities, the professors recommend textbooks written by themselves! And they usually go out of circulation in a few years.

Re:What's the deal? (1)

skeptikos (220748) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658167)

There are some other sources of pressure. When professor's/instructor's performance is evaluated by the university's experts in teaching, how much they change the syllabus from one year to the next one is a big deal. You don't change it, you are not trying hard enough to keep your class up to date. It sucks because you cannot keep using the same classic textbooks as they are "old" and "modern" is better. If you are teaching a mature subject (people mentioned algebra/calculus there are others) especially at undergrad level, you may be forced to be shuffling the bibliography to include the latest craptacular rework of something that was done better before.

Same here in Germany (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658171)

The older lecturers (which didnt do the lecture for the first time) usually had a script that was either published for printing cost by the faculty (something like 5â), or downloadable from the internet.
The newbies usually said something in the line of "my lecture is based on the books x,y,z".
Which might cause you to buy them, read them in a library. Or just write your own notes during the lecture.
As i have _never_ seen any need for stuff from a certain textbook that wasnt taught in the lecture.

(speaking about physics)

Ah, and yeah: After the 5th year or so, good textbooks are getting more and more rare, so you entirely depend on review papers and the lecture script.
That doesnt mean that stuff like the Ashcroft dont have their place, but they are not _required_.

Re:What's the deal? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658273)

here in the USA college is not about education but about how much money they can suck out of the students and their parents.

Re:What's the deal? (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658401)

Thanks for asking, that's always puzzled me as well. I went to Imperial in London, and while I did buy a few books in my first year, I soon realised that it was essentially just a waste of money. The notes were good enough in almost all cases, and if I wanted to learn something in greater depth, the library was excellent.

In fact my only difference to your experience is that I had exams at the end of all four years, and while the first year didn't contribute much to my overall score, they certainly did count...

They should be free (2, Insightful)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657747)

Calculus hasn't changed in like what, 400 years? And yet they keep coming up with new texts all the time. Why is this?

Re:They should be free (3, Interesting)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657897)

New ways to teach it. At a minimum, you'd hope that they'd update the examples some time over the 400 years.

Re:They should be free (1)

Quirkz (1206400) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658001)

Also, pick nearly any other subject. Most sciences change significantly from decade to decade. Social sciences, too. Even many of the humanities (history, art, etc.) have new trends and perspectives on a frequent basis. Sure, math at the undergrad level doesn't change much, and I suppose most English classes just require lots of "regular" books, but almost any other subject does need updating frequently.

Re:They should be free (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658089)

Most of the time with 'new coursebooks' the only change in the entire book is how the study questions/answers are numbered.

Re:They should be free (1)

Chineseyes (691744) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658161)

Have you looked at most new mid to upper level math books recently? There are an embarrassingly high number of mistakes in most math books. When I took Calc 1-3 then Differential Equations in college the books were filled with everything from simple mathematical errors to the answers in the back of the book being all wrong.

My Diff EQ. prof actually apologized mid-way through the semester because a new book that was written by a colleague of his (who was supposedly a "top mind" in applied mathematics) had so many errors that the book was pretty much useless because it created more confusion than clarification. The Prof. ended up just using the book as an outline creating his own problem sets, and offering more office hours which ended up being better than any book I had ever read. If I still had the book in question I would post the authors name because he deserves the embarrassment.

Re:They should be free (2, Interesting)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658181)

Well, in my case I had to get the updated copy of my Calculus book because my Differential Calculus professor was the one who wrote it. You'll not see him advocating free text books any time soon. It didn't help that it wasn't even a particularly good textbook on the subject. My Integral Calculus professor even formed a committee to find alternative textbook. He was not invited back the next year.

slashdot is broken (-1, Offtopic)

joss (1346) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657961)

I cannot get to slashdot from firefox due to some fucking starwars ad, was able to access it using a windows vmware installation with IE. Great, just great guys, slashdot only useable under windows for me right now, congratulations. Anyone else experiencing this ?

Re:slashdot is broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658057)

(off-topic)Try Noscript.(/off-topic)

Re:slashdot is broken (0, Flamebait)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658091)

No, not experiencing it. Don't use that awful bloated pseudo-OS known a firefox (lightweight??? ). Use a good browser like links2. I use it as mich as possible. It doesn't work on anything requiring JS, but for regular browsing, it's fantastic.

Now I'm going to get modded down for bashing firefox, but it's OK because I have karma to burn.

Re:slashdot is broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658297)

I wish I had modpoints to mod you down. You asked for it, you deserve it.

Well something has to be done (3, Insightful)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 5 years ago | (#24657981)

A friend just dropped 200 bucks on a math book for a fairly low level math course. It was brand new, because of course it was a new revision for this year.

Differences? Bug fixes, essentially. So because they fixed a few of their own errors, he had to spend full price instead of the used price ( which is still a rip off ).

Couldn't he have gotten the old one online for a good price? No, because on the first day of class his professor checks to make sure he has the right book.

If none of this raises anybody's suspicions, I have a bridge for sale. cheap!

Re:Well something has to be done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658361)

A friend just dropped 200 bucks on a math book for a fairly low level math course. It was brand new, because of course it was a new revision for this year.

I'll confess that I don't have any books that expensive, but I just bought my books for this upcoming year. Five courses, $944. Book prices are ridiculous; I know people who couldn't go to their top choice schools in large part due to books.

Open source vs. gray market (1)

timholman (71886) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658013)

Open source texts are a great idea, but you'll need two things to make them work: (1) credentialed people willing to write and edit them, and (2) companies willing to supply a nicely bound printed version of the text for a reasonable price. Purely online texts won't cut it; reading a highly technical text on a computer screen becomes tiring very quickly.

But let's say someone does write an open source text, and someone else offers you a printed, bound version for $20. The problem is that you're now competing with gray-market textbooks intended for overseas markets. I see more and more of those in my classes every semester. Yes, you're not supposed to be able to buy them in the U.S.A., but the Internet takes care of that. Why pay $150 for a text when you can get the same text for $20? Granted, it's a soft-bound grayscale version, but that makes zero difference in the course.

That's the battle that open source texts have to fight. They're not competing with $200 hardbound traditional textbooks; they're competing with $20 softbound gray-market versions instead. I think we're going to see publishers unintentionally subsidizing the low-cost textbook model for some time to come. Eventually the gray-market growth is going to seriously impact their bottom lines, at which point they'll probably try to force faculty and universities to help them enforce their marketing rules (fat chance of that). Hopefully by that time enough open source texts will be available to fill the gaps.

Re:Open source vs. gray market (1)

theheadlessrabbit (1022587) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658241)

but is this a battle about open source textbook knowledge vs. proprietary textbook knowledge, or is this about making critical information available to students at a reasonable cost?

whatever side becomes dominant, gray market or open source, students having access to $20 textbooks is a win for them.

supposing gray market books do take over the market and make selling printed open source text's unfeasible; publishers still can't sell $200 texts in that future.

i am OS supporter, I am not an OS zealot.

I see this textbook issue as a 'student access to information' issue, not an 'ideological debate on Free vs. proprietary' business models

Re:Open source vs. gray market (1)

jandersen (462034) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658347)

(1) credentialed people willing to write and edit them, and

Such as the teacher giving the lectures. You see, mathematics is mathematics, not some branded fashion statement. It remains true or false whether it is written by His Majesty on gold-foil or by a beggar on a piece of lavatory paper. A mathematics course goes through a number of relevant theories, proofs of therems etc - all of which can be found in any number of textbooks. There really is no need to get ripped off.

(2) companies willing to supply a nicely bound printed version of the text for a reasonable price.

Such as the university printer. I remember buying bound lecture notes for about $5 each, written by the teacher - they teach the same courses for years, so of course they not only know this stuff by heart, they also inevitably produce a growing set of notes to clarify this or that, and in the end they might as well publish it. Mind you, this was in Denmark.

At least 14 years of malicious publishing (2, Interesting)

Greg Merchan (64308) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658029)

In 1994 there were publishers trying to get professors to order customized textbooks. It was the same type of rip-off shown here: http://www.mcafee.cc/Introecon/Horizon.pdf .

Multimedia CD (3, Insightful)

SilentResistance (960115) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658119)

Many of the publishers are including a multimedia CD in the back of the book, which is pretty much useless. Perhaps this is part of their excuse for increasing the cost.

This model can leave room for profit (4, Insightful)

dmomo (256005) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658131)

Textbooks are knowledge. Knowledge should be free. Especially in established subjects. A lot of math doesn't really change much. The textbooks shouldn't have to either. The publishers struggle to keep changing the text so old versions will become irrelevant. They add new problem sets, pretty much. It's their way of squashing the second-hand market.

Publishers should sponsor free Open-Source books. The work has already been done. Improvements and corrections will happen organically and become available as they happen. There is little cost to their upkeep and students will always have access to the most recent version and can update at any time.

Where is the money made? Invest in creating new problem sets that are companions to these open source books. Universities could take them or leave them, but since there is an actual "added value" in putting the effort in to create and verify these problem sets, I think it would be profitiable. Publish and sell these workbooks.

Make old problem sets available online for free. Heck, it'd likely be a tax deduction! Make the answers to these problem-sets available freely and in an obvious way. This will encourage schools to pay for the newest problems sets to discourage cheating.

I honestly think with this model, everyone can win.

Re:This model can leave room for profit (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658307)

Instead of having text books, the prof could just post a series of links to sites that offer the desired info. Maybe it's a wikipedia article, maybe it's a google doc he or a colleague wrote.

From an insider (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658165)

Listen, I've worked for the largest educational publishers in the world both in NJ and in Australia.

Here's the deal. We sell a product with educational content, but it's a product. We do a damn good job trying to bundle subscription services with books in order to crush the use of used books. We demand that profs use the online services to assign work for credit in order to make the books essential. We put out new editions every three years and, depending on the subject, they're the same with some minor changes and a cool new cover.

Now I don't happen to think this is a crime or unethical - IT IS A BUSINESS and we want to sell books. I've made a nice six-figure salary doing it and like my job.

NCSU ahead of this... sortof (3, Informative)

RaigetheFury (1000827) | more than 5 years ago | (#24658253)

Most professors at NC State during my time (1994-2002) we realistic about the books. I was there when books went from cheap to retarded in price. NCSU is currently in the works to prevent books costing over $150 from being a choice, and to prevent teachers who use books they wrote or co-wrote from charging over $50 for it. I doubt it will go through and I'm sure I'm behind the actual state of it.

The worst offender I remember was some douche bag who wrote his own chemistry manual and his WIFE (a non chemist) proof read it. The funniest thing and I couldn't find a link to the picture was the the cover had Avogadro's number on the cover... as

6.023 x 10 -23... yes I said NEGATIVE 23 in bold yellow on glossy paper.

the book had so many mistakes. I'm so glad I wasn't in that class.

College text books... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24658299)

...are sold at a premium to captive customers. It seems that the students have begun a revolt, with one even sending a message to the publishers about the situation, as stated partially in this NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/27/technology/27digi.html?_r=2&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&oref=slogin&oref=slogin [nytimes.com]

I have to agree that something must be done, for when I was in college I paid an average of $1000 a semester for my books. The editions changed so quickly that used books were not always an option. Some "good" professors will tell you that an older edition will be fine, but some will not. It also depends on the class, for things do change quickly in some fields, unlike for basic calculus, chemistry and such. It is nice to see some instructors who want to keep education affordable by taking action in one form or another. I teach college now, and I do my best to see that my students do not need the book by giving them materials that they need to learn which they will be tested on. I remember what it was like to be on their side of the fence, having to pay outrageous prices for books.

I am inclined to think that the publishers are making the same mistakes of music industry by not changing with the times. They should offer reasonable digital editions, but they do not. Who wants to pay just a few dollars less for a digital edition which is full of DRM and expires, being unusable after a semester or two? Nobody.

It seems there are sites out there now with nothing but text books, such as http://www.textbooktorrents.com/ [textbooktorrents.com] in addition to the usual hodgepodge torrent sites which have books to be found. Todays students are doing what they can to save a buck, knowing that they are getting the shaft from publishers it seems.

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