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Advice On Creating an Open Source Textbook?

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the not-for-mammon-alone dept.

Books 178

Occamboy writes "I wrote a slightly successful (30,000+ copies sold) computer communications textbook a number of years back that was published via the traditional textbook publishing route. The royalties were nice, but, frankly, the bigger money came from the boost in my professional standing (I'm a practicing engineer, not a professor). I also felt bad when the publisher hiked the price dramatically every year because students were stuck once a professor adopted a text — $50 for a smallish paperback seemed very high (although I like to think what they learned was worth it!). I'm thinking of writing another textbook, this time about the practice of software engineering in critical systems, using the experience I've gained in the decades I've spent developing, and managing the development of, software-driven medical devices. Poking around on the Net, I've found several intriguing options for distributing open source texts, such as Flatworld Knowledge, Lulu, and Connexions. This concept of free or inexpensive texts intrigues me — the easy adoption and lack of price-gouging. Do any Slashdotters have experience with this new paradigm? Any suggestions or experiences to share from authors, students, and/or professors, who've written, read, or adopted open source or low-cost texts from any source?"

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178 comments

Nice idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29114809)

As a college student, I think that's an awesome idea. I don't know anything about open source textbooks though.

Rob Malda wishes to make an announcement (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29114845)

In celebration of Wikipedia's 3 millionth article, Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda would like to announce that he will be participating in the "Gangbang 3 Million" event in order to get in the Guiness Book of World Records for "Most Dicks Put In Your Asshole in One Week". The event will be held in Las Vegas on September 11th, 2009 at the MGM Grand Casino. If you would like to sign up to be a part of this momentous event please go to http://slashdot.org/gangbang_3_million_signup.php [slashdot.org] . Signing up here will automatically enter you in the drawing to be the first in line to fuck Rob's asshole and for the consolation prize of sloppy seconds. After the event is over, DVDs and Blu-Rays will go on sale on December 15th exclusively through Sourceforge, Inc's ThinkGeek.com retail site at a special 30% off discounted price. Later in January these items will be available for a wide release at 100s of other retailers but at the full retail price. Rob Malda and the rest of the staff at Sourceforge, Inc. hope to see you there!

Re:Rob Malda wishes to make an announcement (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115083)

Sounds cool... and I'm going to be in Vegas that weekend. I'm not queer or anything (my girlfriend will be with me), but there's nothing gay in helping set a world record! Anyhow, how is it gay to stick your dick in man's asshole, but not gay to stick it in a woman's asshole? Or how is it gay if a coworker sticks his dick up my ass but not gay if I pay a hooker to do the same with a dildo? Bottom line, I've experimented with some stuff, but that doesn't make me gay.

Two good examples (and classic) (4, Informative)

CDMA_Demo (841347) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114827)

Have you looked at Wikipedia?

You can try some ideas from books already available in print as well as in electronic versions.
SICP [mit.edu]
Stony Brook Algorithm Repository [sunysb.edu]

Re:Two good examples (and classic) (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115749)

Have you looked at Wikipedia?

Or, more specifically, Wikibooks [wikibooks.org] ?

Lulu is EXPENSIVE. (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116455)

Wow! Lulu is expensive [lulu.com] , in my opinion. For a 300-page hardbound book, 1000 copies: "Manufacturing cost: $72,000.00 Per unit cost: $72.00".

Printers are cheap. Self-publishing is expensive? (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116579)

Gorham Printing quote [gorhamprinting.com] , 300 pages, 1,000 copies, paperback: "Your Price: $5,130.00 ($5.13 per book)".

Anyone have experience with book printers?

The "self-publishers" I found in a Google search all seem to take advantage of the desire of authors to see a paper copy of their book.

Re:Lulu is EXPENSIVE- NOT. (2, Informative)

mrjb (547783) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117021)

That's because you've chosen to make it expensive.

Unit costs for a 300 page paperback on publisher-grade paper, black and white contents, full-color cover, perfect bound is only 7 dollars for a single unit, or 6.50 for 1000- and that's for on-demand printing.

Re:Lulu is EXPENSIVE. (2, Informative)

Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117147)

That's full-color inside printing ... even if 290 pages are only black and white, the printer is expensive to use to get the other 10 pages in color.

If you go to black and white inside pages, the price drops considerably:
1000 = Manufacturing cost: $20,500.00 Per unit cost: $20.50
And even a single copy run = Manufacturing cost: $22.50

Re:Lulu is EXPENSIVE. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29117341)

Try 'The Lightning Source'
You control the content, format and pricing

They just print it up one or more at a time as ordered by your students/readers

Flexbooks (5, Informative)

fbsderr0r (601444) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114829)

This site's work seems interesting. http://www.ck12.org/ [ck12.org]

Re:Flexbooks (4, Informative)

fbsderr0r (601444) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114967)

In case people are too lazy to click on the link.
"CK-12 Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market both in the U.S. and worldwide. Using an open-content, web-based collaborative model termed the "FlexBook," CK-12 intends to pioneer the generation and distribution of high quality educational content that will serve both as core text as well as provide an adaptive environment for learning."

Is this a Moral Conflict? (1, Interesting)

Logibeara (1620627) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114835)

Wait I'm confused. Don't you want to make money off of this? If you're looking to to just contribute to society why not just post tutorials or build a wiki.

Re:Is this a Moral Conflict? (1)

Korbeau (913903) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114893)

Do you have a tutorial about how to build a wiki? That would be very handy! :)

Re:Is this a Moral Conflict? (1)

Renraku (518261) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114929)

I think he means he's tired of textbook companies charging more and more for the exact same book, simply because the students taking a course have no recourse other than to either pay up for the book or drop the class (in most cases). It's a horrible scam and if I wrote textbooks, I'd be looking for a way around it, as well.

RTFS (4, Informative)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115003)

RTFS. Read The F'cking Summary.

The royalties were nice, but, frankly, the bigger money came from the boost in my professional standing (I'm a practicing engineer, not a professor).

Re:RTFS (-1, Redundant)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115545)

I was thinking the same.

How lazy do you have to be to not even read past the first few lines of a summary.

Re:RTFS (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115707)

I think there are some people who just can't fathom not "monetizing" everything they do to the point that they can't even imagine other people ever thinking about it.

Wiki Books (3, Interesting)

Soldats (1282896) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114867)

If you truly want to go the open source route I would strongly suggest just putting it up on wiki books. I discovered it recently by accident and have learned an enormous amount from that place, I only wish they had a detailed text on programming in assembly code.

Re:Wiki Books (2, Informative)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115449)

http://sourceforge.net/projects/nasm/files/ [sourceforge.net]

Tada!

Open Source X86 assembler, with a textbook sized help file. Check the NASM documentation tab.

I can also mention that a lot of assembly is similar, and if you can get a good handle of this one, it's mostly the same. The only difference between architectures is the instructions available and sometimes what they do.

Interesting (5, Interesting)

Rehnberg (1618505) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114871)

Perhaps the new model could be something like what Cory Doctorow has done, in that textbook authors publish at physical book and, at the same time, release a free digital download of the textbook. That way, professors and students who felt like they needed the full versions could buy it, while those who don't need the printed version and/or can't afford it could simply download it. Of course, there might have to be incentives to buy the physical book, but, in my opinion, they should be limited to what is absolutely necessary to ensure that the publisher and author can actually make money; the free version should still be substantive.

Re:Interesting (1)

calmofthestorm (1344385) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114973)

Many of us like online textbooks because they're free, but I still see quite a few of my classmates purchasing books (SiCP is a great example). Given that ebooks are available free whether or not legally, this may not be a bad idea.

HOWEVER: I imagine doing the online route will make it far harder to get published.

Re:Interesting (2, Informative)

julesh (229690) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115979)

HOWEVER: I imagine doing the online route will make it far harder to get published.

Yes. You'll have to find a sympathetic publisher, and while some do exist in the field of fiction publishing (Baen and Tor are two that spring to mind, both having published books while giving away free downloads of them, but I think there are others too) and others in references works (ISTR that a lot of the Coriolis open-source titles were distributed like this, and I've seen some of the Addison Wesley Professional titles with text distributed on their authors' own web sites too, e.g. xUnit Test Patterns [xunitpatterns.com] ), I don't know of any in academic publishing. But, that said, the fact that the model has been successfully used in other fields might convince a publisher who hasn't done it yet to try it.

The important thing, though, is to talk to publishers before releasing your text. A publisher is much more likely to want to get involved if they at least feel like they're in control of the release. Publishers rarely touch works that have been released to the public before they get hold of them. The few exceptions are almost universally extremely popular books (e.g. Tom Clancy's first novel which was originally published by a specialist military publisher before being picked up by a mainstream press), and you don't want to count on your book being that popular.

Re:Interesting (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116153)

The thing about fiction publishing is that it's an entertainment medium. It's a basic fact of human nature that neither war nor economic depression nor famine nor "growing up" will ever eliminate the human desire for entertainment. Can you say the same of elementary algebra?

Give a man a fish, and he'll feed himself for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll never need to buy an illustrated guide to fishing.

In a sense, what Tor and Baen are doing is comparable to what Google is doing with software. Google can afford to build an innovative browser and give it away for free -- source and all -- because Google isn't in the business of making money off software. Google is in the business of making money off the Web.

Give a man a book, and he'll keep himself warm for an hour. Teach a man to read -- teach him the JOY of reading -- and you've built a market for books.

Textbooks aren't about the joy of reading. In fact, some of the most awful reads I've ever endured have been in textbooks. Textbooks are designed to accompany classroom discussion, experiments, homework assignments, and all of the rest of the rigmarole that goes along with coursework. As such, many are practically illegible. Most people I know wouldn't willingly pay a dime for a textbook -- save that they're forced to.

POD printing (1)

a302b (585285) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117171)

What about "Print on Demand" (POD) books? Just offer a PDF on your website and have a link for a POD book for those students that prefer a physical book. There are many, many POD publishers out there. and most are pretty good/indistinguishable from "regular" printing. And if you use Amazon's POD publisher, Booksurge, you automatically get listed with them. To me this seems like a "no fail" system that provides both free (ebook) and physical (POD) versions of your book while side-stepping an outdated publishing industry.

Re:Interesting (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115043)

Perhaps the new model could be something like what Cory Doctorow has done

While not a bad idea, per se, I would strongly advise anyone against any behavior or course of action which may result in an increased similarity to Cory Doctorow.

Re:Interesting (1)

mad flyer (589291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115359)

Seconded...

First you do like Doctorow... then Paris Hilton... and after... who know how low you will go...

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115785)

Of course, there might have to be incentives to buy the physical book..

I think the biggest incentive is to be able to read a book while taking a shit. I've read all of the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE books many times over while on the crapper. I once had a bad experience with my laptop (you don't want to know) so I have shied away from using one of those on the crapper.

Re:Interesting (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115899)

Perhaps the new model could be something like what Cory Doctorow has done, in that textbook authors publish at physical book and, at the same time, release a free digital download of the textbook.

I've seen this applied to reference works as well, and see no reason it couldn't work with textbooks too. The lesson to learn from how Cory does it, though, is one that isn't at first obvious: talk to the big publishers first, and tell them exactly what you want to do. Your book is likely to see a lot more circulation with the reputation (and marketing budget) of a big name publisher behind it than if, say, you decided to print & distribute it yourself via lulu. There's a reason the world hasn't gone entirely self-published and that is that the publisher's reputation is important in the decisions people make to buy books.

Re:Interesting (1)

sgarg (197658) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116543)

One buys physical books because they are easy to read - I still find paper much easier to read than on screen, though e-book readers could change that. Today e-book readers are way too expensive. Add to that the fact that I can make notes in the margin (though in some cases it could be too small: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermat's_last_theorem [wikipedia.org] ) and books make worth buying. But, the digital ones make sense - many are easily available, they are searchable etc. One nice model is bundling the physical and digital version together. The physical book should actually cost less than or equal to what would be spent in printing out the book and binding it - there should eb an advantage to the economies of scale. A book that needs colour should have it in the publisher printed version - that is one advantage - colour laser printers are still probhibitively expensive.

Scribd seems to allow people to make money off digital books. Possibly docstoc too ...

unfortunately... (5, Insightful)

Odinlake (1057938) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114903)

...I suspect many professors still feel a textbook lacks legitimacy unless it's hard cover, thick and there is a substantial price tag connected to it. I say this so as to suggest that "free" might mean it won't be as widely adopted as the authors first one.

Re:unfortunately... (2, Interesting)

spankyofoz (445751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114951)

I have to agree with this. Too many people still stick to the old adage "you get what you pay for", and are wary of free things.

Plus I have a large suspicion that there is some sort of kickback for professors enforcing textbook requirements. It might be a bit of a conspiracy theory, but it all fits together too well...

Re:unfortunately... (1)

calmofthestorm (1344385) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114985)

One of my professors would give us seven page numbers for every reference to a page he made and every problem he assigned...one for each of the seven versions of the course text. Obviously this is more than a little effort to put in, and we appreciated it. This guy did NOT like the textbook racket.

Speaking as a professor... (3, Informative)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115523)

I have never heard of any prof ever getting a kickback from a publisher and I have certainly never been offered one myself....and I ever were offered one I guarantee I'd pursue the appropriate action against the offending publisher. Frankly I, and a lot of my colleagues, find the frequent new editions where nothing but the problem numbers change to be a huge rip-off for the students and we would love to do something about it.

I'm certainly not suspicious of "free" books...but have you ever actually looked at the texts which are available? at least for physics? I have, and while I am not a fan of the big, glossy 1st year physics text books they are far superior to the free offerings available. The free books are generally unedited, full of mistakes, have few to no chapter problems or worked examples and/or are written by an author trying to push some bizarre methodology or point of view. They are simply are not suitable as a course text. They are not, at all, like Open Source software where the code is generally of higher quality than the commercial stuff just less polished.

Perhaps if things were to somehow get organized like an Open Source project then things would be a lot better since it would allow faculty members to write a chunk of the book and the central maintainer could then act as editor. However the number of people with adequate expert knowledge, plus an Open source-like attitude plus the inclination and time to write such a chunk is low enough that without a very high profile it would be hard to achieve critical mass...and without critical mass how do you achieve a high profile?

If you have any suggestions I would be very interested to hear them....

Re:Speaking as a professor... (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116229)

I'm certainly not suspicious of "free" books...but have you ever actually looked at the texts which are available? at least for physics? I have, and while I am not a fan of the big, glossy 1st year physics text books they are far superior to the free offerings available.

That doesn't seem to be what California [slashdot.org] found.

Re:Speaking as a professor... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29116235)

One of my physics professors used a free textbook from http://www.lightandmatter.com -- I found it to be better than the Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday/Resnick. I thought the free textbook was much better quality than any Physics textbook I've had to pay for and I continued to use the other free textbooks in the series as a supplement to my following core Physics courses.

Re:Speaking as a professor... (2, Informative)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117335)

Are you sure?

Kickbacks are often modified quite carefully so it doesn't seem like you may be getting one.
Publishing Company Sponsored events, where you are "networking" with other professors from different colleges to help others write their books for them, (or some research fill a paragraph get you name in the book, and some royalties) Chances are you will be pushing your book to your class. Or carefully presented to show you how to use all the features of the publishing company. Work Books, CDROMs, Web Site... Anything to make you want to get the Deluxe version, which hard to sell back as used.

The New trend of customized text books. where you can get mixed version of the book (only the chapters you need) and because you are making a mix you get royalties from the sales.

Free Textbooks as samples or as thanks for having your classes use them, (you can use such textbooks to donate to needy students)

Professors are excellent saps for such tricks or marketing. Because they have reached the peak of educational achievements many of them have got the Ego where they really think they are that much smarter then the rest of the population, even though most of them just got there threw hard work, not superior intellect. So they think they are immune to such tricks. Secondly a professors pay isn't really that great so incentives that could make them a little more money or get their name out a bit, they just jump to it. "I Can Do No Wrong" + "I need money/recognition" = "Publishing Company Profit"

Re:unfortunately... (1)

PeterBrett (780946) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115433)

...I suspect many professors still feel a textbook lacks legitimacy unless it's hard cover, thick and there is a substantial price tag connected to it. I say this so as to suggest that "free" might mean it won't be as widely adopted as the authors first one.

That's fine -- just take a leaf out of David MacKay's book (ha). His textbook (Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms [cam.ac.uk] ) is available online for free, but is also published by Cambridge University Press, one of the world's top academic publishers.

It's also one of their best-sellers.

(I own a copy of the above textbook; it's excellently written, typeset and bound. One of the best books I own!)

Re:unfortunately... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29117053)

Tilings and Patterns [amazon.com] is my favourite book. Beautifully typeset and bound with excellent illustrations it's also very interesting. And expensive. But you can't have everything.

I've only read the online version of MacKay's book. I'll have to buy a copy.

Speaking as a professor... (5, Interesting)

bradley13 (1118935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116539)

Speaking as a professor, I absolutely detest the practice of issuing new editions every year to screw the students. It is (a) never clear what has changed, (b) there is no reason students shouldn't be able pass on their used textbooks if they no longer want them, and (c) if you need translations, they are always a year or so behind, meaning that editions do not match across languages.

So, as a potential customer of textbooks, what is important?

  • The book must come up in Google. I find books by searching both in general and specifically within publishers sites. The best textbook in the world is useless if I never find out about it. Unfortunately, this means that the known academic publishers have a big advantage.
  • Content, content, content. I want real, useful, practical content. Stay relevant, cut the fluff. Take an example from the operating systems text by Tanenbaum: No student now alive gives a damn how the IBM 360 used to work. Heck, I cut my teeth programming an IBM 360, and I don't care how it worked. So why does he keep blathering on about it?
  • Price. I dislike the feeling that my students are getting ripped off. For my sins, I am teaching a new intro-to-CS course for business students next semester. The only half-way-decent textbook I could find is a 300 page, overly fluffy paperback - and it costs 50 Euros (that's about 75 bucks). Oh, yes, and there is a new edition out this year, great...
  • Online resources. I mention this almost as a negative point. Many publishers make much ado about online resources. It is nice to provide source-code and basic illustrations in electronic form. Perhaps solutions to some exercises. Anything else is useless - for example, I cannot imagine any competent professor using pre-prepared lecture slides.

For what it's worth, I would not be a fan of a purely electronic textbook. Electronic resources are great, but having a written reference on the side is still very useful - if only because you may need to see the reference while looking at stuff on your screen.

Re:Speaking as a professor... (2, Insightful)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117207)

For what it's worth, I would not be a fan of a purely electronic textbook. Electronic resources are great, but having a written reference on the side is still very useful - if only because you may need to see the reference while looking at stuff on your screen.

The lazy ones, though, make that pay off for them. It becomes the equivalent of the gamestop exclusive DLC, to damage the used book market. When you get one who actually tries to REQUIRE it (I did), you either rebuy the book brand new (eating the cost of the used one) or drop the section/class.

From Experience (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29114933)

I've written an open Math Textbook (old version here [wordpress.com] , email me for working draft, email address in book) and Electricity textbook (but it's somewhat neglected and I'm not yet pleased with it...).

In any case, I've come up with a few things on this topic:

- Commercial textbooks seem to try to justify their extortionate price by being longer than they need to be. This is not helpful and in fact your students will appreciate brevity (they don't want to read through a page to get something that could be explained in a paragraph). If you feel something really needs that sort of explanation, then do so (maybe try to give a brief explanation first?) but keep in mind that students will have to carry the book around.

- There is no reason to put questions in the book. Put them in a seperate book, or as seperate pages on line.

- Make sure that students know they can download a copy on line (having an electronic copy means that they don't have to carry things back and forth). Make the electronic version as friendly as possible, preferably with internal hyperlinking (this is easy with LaTeX, just use the hyperref package and a lot will be done automagically).

Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (5, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114935)

Do you want to write a free textbook, manage an open source textbook project or host/start a wiki textbook?

If you want to write a free textbook, go for it. There are several examples you can find, some by pretty big names.

If you want to manage an open source textbook project be warned that if you want a professor to use it you're going to have to assume the role of editor and put up your reputation to vouch for whatever goes into it.

If you want to start a wiki textbook project, there's no shortage of wiki sites, but nobody is going to use it in an official capacity. Just like Wikipedia doesn't fly in academia, wiki texts don't either.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (2, Interesting)

calmofthestorm (1344385) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114991)

I don't know, my professors regularly referenced wikipedia as supplemental reading. The more open minded/younger generations are starting to accept that it's a damn good reference at an encyclopedia level. Of course any kind of real paper requires a lot more depth, but it's a good place to start.

I've also had ones who just stubbornly ruled it out and refused to discuss it. But at least they had the common sense to make this policy clear in advance, rather than marking students down for it.

Yes, there is trash on wikipedia. If you can't separate bullshit from truth with reasonable accuracy, you have bigger problems than your coursework.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115099)

As supplemental reading it's a gutsy move. As the primary resource for the class (ie the textbook), it would be either irresponsible or a nightmare of extra work.

The professor is responsible for what he teaches you. With a properly edited textbook the editors, authors and publisher (if there is one) take responsibility for the accuracy of contents. With a wiki there's no one to do that. So to use a wiki textbook the professor really should have edited it himself, which is a lot of work.

As for a reference in a paper, unless you're writing about social interaction on the Internet and using Wikipedia as an example, referencing it is not acceptable above about fourth grade (and neither is a traditional encyclopedia). It's a great place to start, and even better now that they've started encouraging inclusion of actual references in the articles, but it doesn't cut it as a reference in a formal paper.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1)

calmofthestorm (1344385) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115265)

I'm glad my professors didn't see it that way. To be fair, I usually used wikipeida as you suggest: read it, read the references, cite them, but I cite wikipedia as well and always did fine.

It was most useful in science, math, and engineering classes for quick fact lookups in class.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115321)

With so many reliable sources, why use an unreliable one?

I was never allowed to cite wikipedia, even when taking some gen eds in a community college.

Our school had so many resources, access to so many databases, why would I waste my time on something like that?

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117051)

If you confirm any encyclopedia citations with a second source it's okay, but that's pretty redundant.

I'm pretty sure it was grade four when they weaned us off the encyclopedia. All encyclopedia cites were required to be backed up by a non-encyclopedia citation. In grade five we just dropped the redundant citation.

If you're writing a scientific paper for publication the only acceptable citation is really a peer reviewed paper. Even textbooks are out, except under special circumstances.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115143)

Paul Revere's famous "Midnight Ride" occurred on the night of April 18/April 19, 1774, when he and William Davies were instructed by Dr. Joseph Warren to ride from Boston to Arlington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the movements of the British Army...

Fine. Except it was 1775, not 1774, he rode to Lexington, not Arlington, and it's William Dawes, not Davies.

But if any of the above were represented on Wikipedia as fact, how would you--not knowing any better--separate out the "bullshit"?

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1, Insightful)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115249)

Key fact Wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica [cnet.com] . This is even taking into account the risk of vandalism. I don't care about the detail; there seem to be ways of counting which make Wikipedia win and ways that make Britannica win; what matters is that this means that statistically, a fact in Wikipedia is much more likely to be true than not. If you wouldn't worry when using a different Encyclopaedia, then you shouldn't worry when using Wikipedia.

Now, if you care about a fact enough that you are worried even in this situation. A; typical example where this might be true is when involved in academic studies; then you need to check the sources of the fact. This is where Wikipedia's citation policy [wikipedia.org] is a killer. Whilst you should still check the fact in multiple sources, knowing the original source tends to make it much easier to be clear when a fact is wrong. Why was it wrong? What is the original source of the misunderstanding etc. etc.

The only thing to be aware of in Wikipedia is that it's more likely that a fact is maliciously and deliberately wrong. In this case, it helps to check the history of the fact and see who added it; again something not possible in Britannica. If that doesn't matter / isn't likely for the fact you are interested in then again you just go back to statistics, which are in your favour.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (2, Interesting)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115725)

The problem with Wikipedia in academia is not the accuracy per se, it's that references on Wikipedia are not static and therefore are unverifiable. References in the Encyclopedia Brittanica - even a 50 year old edition - are. If you try to verify today what I quoted from Wikipedia last week, it may well have changed since then. If I quote a specific edition of the Brittanica as my reference for a fact, I may be taken to task for using an outdated reference, but at least my research will be reproducible because that edition will always carry the same content.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1)

TheCowSaysMooNotBoo (997535) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116123)

And if i remember correctly there isn't any "fact" checking in the references either. I can make a page saying I rule the universe and wikipedia will gladly accept it as a source (unless, of course, someone removes it as an unreliable source - but if you're learning about the subject you don't know what is reliable/unreliable ...)

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116423)

True. That's why you should be using statistics to your advantage (and check the talk-pages!). Well-read, often-quoted topics are viewed by more eyes and less likely to contain unverified nonsense. Not a guarantee, but I've seen some pretty controversial topics (try the scientology pages) that actually give out pretty reliable information, despite numerous edit-wars. On the other side of the spectrum there are the pages that are written by one person in an obscure topic, that nooone can verify. These should be treated with wariness.

By the way: from your statement it looks as if you've never made such a page. Why not go ahead and try it? I've just edited a few pages and got fast and good feedback. I'm pretty sure your page wouldn't last too long.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1)

TheCowSaysMooNotBoo (997535) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116869)

True about the not lasting long, but mine was a bad example: I think if I made a page about some obscure subject (that was Wikipedia-viable) the people coming to the wikipedia page would receive wrong information, and since it takes a long time (I think) for the editors to notice & fix the obscure pages the damage may have already been done.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29116145)

Hm. Using Wikipedia's citation tools does produce a reference to the state of the article at a given point in time, doesn't it?

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (1)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116445)

The one thing wikipedia has been teaching the world, which is in my opinion the most valuable contribution to the world it has made, is that *no* text is reliable just because it says so. The "failures" of wikipedia have taught us more than even its huge success as knowledge repository.

We have a whole generation of people growing up who get taught, in a way that hasn't been done before, that you should always check your references, investigate the statements. They used to be able to say "it's in the encyclopedia brittannica" and get away with it. But nowadays most teachers understand that saying "it's on wikipedia" just isn't good enough, so they get taught to check more references than just one. In effect, wikipedia has been teaching the world to "think critically". That, if nothing else, is a huge contribution to society.

Bullshit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29117415)

The "history" tab is not there just to look pretty. So long as you include a "date accessed" as part of your reference to a Wikipedia article, then one can check the exact text of the article at that time. On the other hand, if you quote *any* encyclopaedia for a fact, then you are not writing to academic standards anyway.

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (0, Troll)

calmofthestorm (1344385) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115275)

I'd argue that's not bullshit, it's a minor mistake. My understanding of history is shattered if I mistake that one year difference. If that one fact were important enough to matter, surely one would read more than one source anyway, and Wikipedia at that!

Re:Make sure you're clear on what you want to do (0)

lennier (44736) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115299)

"But if any of the above were represented on Wikipedia as fact, how would you--not knowing any better--separate out the "bullshit"?"

Would you be in a position where knowing such a fine level of detail would matter?

If you are, then it's a fair bet that you will have consulted multiple references.

Perhaps O'Reilly's Open Books (2, Insightful)

drgould (24404) | more than 4 years ago | (#29114977)

I understand O'Reilly publishes a number of books under "various forms of 'open' copyright [oreilly.com] ".

O'Reilly has published a number of Open Books--books with various forms of "open" copyright--over the years. The reasons for "opening" copyright, as well as the specific license agreements under which they are opened, are as varied as our authors.

Perhaps a book was outdated enough to be put out of print, yet some people still needed the information it covered. Or the author or subject of a book felt strongly that it should be published under a particular open copyright.

Experiences with Lulu (4, Informative)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115005)

So I work for a "big router company", and like other companies of similar size it has it's own publishing arm. After writing a number of books which were published either for free on the company's website or via their publishing arm. I decided that I had enough of the Editor's, and self proclaimed techwriters. Now my co-author and I wrote all the material and we handpicked our technical reviewers. We have close ties to the techwriters who author manuals/users guides etc. So finding a reviewer of grammar/style wasn't that hard.

In the end we decided to give away soft copies via download, but if the customer wanted a printed copy then we charged them market value for the book. We decided upon lulu because honestly it was an easy to use interface, they were responsive via email, though I don't believe you can call them up and speak with them. In the end we basically shipped them a .pdf, and then ordered a proof copy to make sure all the graphics/fonts came out as we expected.

We purchased an ISBN from them, and now you can find it on amazon/barnes and noble etc. Our audience is pretty specific, so getting word of our book is pretty easy. No need to pay for marketing, and "big router company" doesn't really help us. Just word of mouth of sales, tech support folks and visiting clients/customers.

I definitely like how I can create multiple versions, review copies etc. I'm sure that there are many other lulu.com type companies.

I would recommend Lulu.

Re:Experiences with Lulu (-1, Flamebait)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115343)

That's a vanity press. No book reviewer would ever take one of those seriously, sorry. Maybe the ones that work for Murdoch-owned papers.

Re:Experiences with Lulu (5, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115495)

For a catalog of free and/or open-source books, see my sig. I've written some free physics textbooks [lightandmatter.com] , and have been fairly successful getting them adopted at colleges and high schools (scroll down on that page for a list of adoptions).

In my experience, college profs and high school teachers tend to be pretty open-minded about adopting free books. I haven't seen much evidence of any stigma associated with the fact that they're not published by a big publishing house. High school teachers at public high schools generally don't get the freedom to choose a book that hasn't been approved by the state bureaucracy, but teachers at Catholic schools and charter schools do. Most of my high school adoptions have been from private religious schools.

Promoting a self-published book is always difficult. For me it's been mostly word of mouth, but I've also paid for ads in The Physics Teacher now and then.

I started out by doing the order fulfillment myself. That was nuts. After doing that for years, I was extremely happy to have it done by lulu -- no fuss, no muss. Pros and cons of lulu:

  • They do the order fulfillment. That means I don't need a business license or a merchant credit card account anymore. I don't need to do sales tax returns anymore. I don't have to extend credit to customers, or nag the flaky ones to pay their bills. I don't have to worry about going on vacation in the summer when orders are going to come in. I don't have to lay out capital to print hundreds of books at a time, or fill up all the closets in my house with them.
  • Lulu, unlike almost all vanity presses, offers an option where you don't pay them any money initially. That option is good. Use it. People who pay a vanity press to publish their book are mostly fooling themselves. Money is supposed to flow to the author; if it flows the other way it's generally a scam. With lulu's free option you don't get an ISBN. Don't worry about it. I've never had a college bookstore or high school get upset because there was no ISBN for the book. They handle instructors' course packs, etc., that don't have ISBNs, and they're used to it.
  • Support is more or less nonexistent. They have forums, and the other users on those forums are often very nice, but the chances of getting a helpful response from lulu staff are pretty low in my experience.
  • Don't use their USPS Media Mail shipping options, and make sure to warn your customers not to use it. The books will arrive six weeks late and damaged.
  • I have had lots of hassles with PDFs. Often a PDF will print fine for a year, but then one day someone will place an order, the particular subcontractor that's supposed to print the books for that region will get an error, and then I have a problem. The customer gets an email saying the order couldn't be fulfilled. I get an email saying there was an error, but not what the error was. This always seems to happen when the order is some gigantic order from a big university, and I'm out of town. Not fun. To maximize your chances that the pdf will work, and work reliably, make sure that no fonts are subsetted, and that 100% of fonts are embedded. If you're generating them with ghostcript (or one of the many other pieces of software that use gs under the hood), make sure it's a recent version of gs.

It sounds like you're planning on selling to colleges. Don't underestimate the insane cheapness of impoverished college students. If your book costs significantly more in print than it would cost them to download it and print it out at Kinko's, they'll download it and print it. No, it's not logical to save thirty-seven cents by printing the book out instead of buying a nice, bound copy. Yes, they'll do it anyway. For this reason, do not expect to make any money on this project. Do it if it makes you happy. Do it if it scratches your itch. The good thing about lulu is that if you use their free option, you're guaranteed not to *lose* any money.

Re:Experiences with Lulu (3, Informative)

Aussie_Scribe (899692) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115747)

> I decided that I had enough of the Editor's, and self proclaimed techwriters. Forgive me but perhaps ditching the editors was unwise. In only one sentence you've: 1. used an unnecessary capital; 2. used an unnecessary apostrophe; 3. used an unnecessary comma; and 4. omitted a hyphen. Seriously: editors add value.

Is Lulu 10 times more expensive? (2, Informative)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116687)

Look at the comments above [slashdot.org] :

Lulu is expensive [lulu.com] [lulu.com], in my opinion. For a 300-page hardbound book, 1000 copies: "Manufacturing cost: $72,000.00 Per unit cost: $72.00".

Gorham Printing quote [gorhamprinting.com] [gorhamprinting.com], 300 pages, 1,000 copies, paperback: "Your Price: $5,130.00 ($5.13 per book)".

Re:Experiences with Lulu (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29117263)

So I work for a "big router company",

What is the deal with starting sentences, and in fact entire thoughts, with "so"? Prior to about a year ago, I only heard the word connecting two thoughts, where the second thought followed from the first. Now people are starting off with the "so" as if there is a phantom idea that is preceding their first statement. I do not remember hearing this up until very recently. What does the word add to the writing or speaking?

So finding a reviewer of grammar/style wasn't that hard.

This is how I am used to the word "so" being used.

Hate to say it but... (5, Interesting)

s0litaire (1205168) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115051)

...Have you thought of Amazons POD (Print on Demand) service? Think for a basic book, all you need is 2 pdf's

1) The book itself

2) A front / spine/ Back images for the cover.

You upload it to Amazons servers and set a price (Think Amazon charges a fee for inital setup).

Then list it on Amazon and they are printed as required.

Re:Hate to say it but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115609)

The guy asks for help with an open source textbook and you mention Amazon?

Sheesh..!

Flossmanuals.net (2, Informative)

thatkid_2002 (1529917) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115097)

If you look at the FLOSS Manuals website [flossmanuals.net] you can read a number of Open Source manuals for Open Source software in both HTML and PDF form (IIRC) and if you want a hard copy it redirects you to lulu.com where you purchase a hard copy. It seems to work well for those guys.
You could probably email them and ask them about their experiences.

wiki, wiki, wiki (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115271)

Wikis are great for collaboration, and can be exported into LaTeX.

MJD of Perl fame wrote a great book, Higher Order Perl [plover.com] which is open source and has interesting community-based achievements, such as the most recent edition having been made of edits contributed on a bug tracker, iirc, among other such notable achievements.

ask a Prof (2, Interesting)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115283)

I was reading about MIT OpenCourseWare in the latest Popular Science, and the references they made about the costs not being totally free because of textbooks, etc. really intrigued me - perhaps you could contact an MIT professor who teaches a course that your proposed textbook would be appropriate for, and ask for advice on what would help open-minded professors use open source/free textbooks.

I think an education-minded billionaire would be very helpful in providing some free textbook and other materials to go along with this fantastic trend of free online education.

The (free) text I set for a class once... (2, Informative)

spinach and eggs (1472445) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115367)

... was "Dive Into Python" (http://www.diveintopython.org/). I don't remember how I came across the book in the first place, but I did, I set and used the text for the course, and the publishers probably got some sales out of it, too, from those who like to have a bound copy for the bookcase. So perhaps you could have a look at that book's publisher for another alternative.

Put it on the web for free AND print it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115405)

Eight years ago I had a sequence of classes in computational theory (Lisp basis) taught out of a book that was Free online and available in printed form. You can get by with the free online version but the ability to thumb through the dead tree version was helpful at times.

Some students want a hardcopy (not everyone likes reading from the computer or has multiple computers to work with) and some a free web page so do both.

A long time coming (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115437)

Since ~1996 I have had the idea of public, as well as other forms of education, adopting electronic formats for their required texts. Sure, then it would have been a little ahead of its time, but now...

With the ever growing budget deficits facing many school districts, as well as the prevalence of laptops in education down to the high school level, isn't it time we looked at distributing text in a pdf or other format?

The costs of textbooks for 11th and 12th grade combined easily surpass the cost of a new netbook for the student to view these files on.

As an educator I would rather the district cut costs by finding more efficient means of delivering the education rather than eliminate integral parts of that same education, such as PE, arts, and technology.

My experience (Objective C for Apple) (4, Insightful)

kanweg (771128) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115441)

With help from Alex Clarke and Philippe Mougin I wrote a tutorial on programming in Object-C, aimed at absolute newbies. It was released as a PDF and a great success. Over 200k copies were downloaded by people interested in programming for the Apple Macintosh (or perhaps iPhone). You can find it here:

http://www.cocoalab.com/?q=becomeanxcoder [cocoalab.com]

It was translated by volunteers in several other languages, amongst which Chinese and Arabic. Cool!

Bert

mod dnown (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115539)

bring Your own use th3 sling.

A mature example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115611)

Tony Kuphaldt has created a series of electrical and electronic textbooks suitable for use at a technical college. The project has developed over (afaict) about nine years.

I first stumbled over into the books through an educational website that doesn't seem to exist anymore. The textbooks seem to be a stand-alone project but a google search shows that they can be downloaded from about a zillion other sites. The books are open source and there are many contributors.

In particular, check out the contributor guidelines. That's where you will see how Tony manages the process.

http://www.ibiblio.org/kuphaldt/electricCircuits/index.htm [ibiblio.org]

Google OpenCourseWare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115705)

I am certain that any professor who is publicly advocating OpenCourseWare would love to review your book for class use.

Sell it on Kindle (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115775)

Sell it on Kindle for $9.95. Students can read it on the Kindle reader, or with a free reader for their iPhone or iPod touch. $9.95 isn't free, but it's pretty cheap for a text book.

Re:Sell it on Kindle (2)

nathanlang (838790) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116017)

More students would have laptops than a Kindle (or even an iPhone), so a pdf format eBook would reach more students. Or, try uploading and selling on one of the non-proprietary multi-format eBook stores - you're not limiting your market to one hardware platform then.

Freeload Press (2, Insightful)

ZPWeeks (990417) | more than 4 years ago | (#29115843)

Thanks to some very sane authors in my Finance department, I took a class using a free text from Freeload Press. They manage to turn revenue by putting ads in the DRM-free PDF files. Other good benefits are very quick error corrections, and students have the option to order an ad-free printed copy for a very sane price (around $30-40). My guess is that authors still get paid. http://www.freeloadpress.com/index.html [freeloadpress.com] (Normally I'm vehemently anti-advertising but as a college student, I'd *much* rather support an advertising business model than the current textbook industry. Yuck!)

Done and succesfull (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29115917)

There is a hybrid method that was applied by some professors in Food Science. (Steffe and Daubert)
They published a limited number of books at a decent price (about $50) and at the same time the book is available for free on the web.
Frreeman Press was the name of the company, my hunch is that those guys set it up.

You maybe able to talk to them (both of them nice guys) and get an opinion of someone that has already experience on the field.

Hard copy (e.g. 50 $) + free online version (1)

kusmin (1247272) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116025)

What about something like this:

***Network Theory Ltd - publishing free software manuals **
http://www.network-theory.co.uk/ [network-theory.co.uk]

Before buying a hard copy of one of the book they published (GNU Octave Manual) I consulted free online version of the book many times. I understand that your book is not a software manual. But maybe there are other publishers who do it like Network Theory Ltd.

Been in a class with an open source book (1)

der Nome (1570691) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116079)

I took a class last semester where we used Robert Beezer's a first course in Linear Algebra which is available for download. We had the university printing center print each student a copy of 500+ page book. Each student paid $20 for printing (compared to a new traditional book which would cost around $180). The book went over fairly well and my program is now considering using open source again in the future.

I've got some advice for you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29116693)

Stop using, so many, unnecessary commas,

FLOSSManuals (1)

delire (809063) | more than 4 years ago | (#29116815)

Look no further than http://flossmanuals.net [flossmanuals.net] . Check out the GNU/Linux Command Line manual, the new Ogg/Theora manual and also the "How To Bypass Internet Censorship" manuals for examples of what their platform is capable of (alongside a sense of the energy of the FM community).

Note there are three core publishing options: HTML, PDF and print-on-demand.

Wikiversity (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117011)

Check out http://en.wikiversity.org/ [wikiversity.org]

"Wikiversity is a Wikimedia Foundation project devoted to learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all levels, types, and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning. We invite teachers, students, and researchers to join us in creating open educational resources and collaborative learning communities."

The trouble is not in publishing but in marketing (1)

mrjb (547783) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117229)

I've published a book ('Growing Better Software [growingbet...ftware.com] ') through Lulu. It was straightforward to get my book 'out there' on all popular book sites, while maintaining ownership and thus control over pricing etc.

Getting the book published is the easy part. The hard part is to get the world to know that the book is out there and not to spend more on the marketing than the sales will earn you- unless it is more important to you that the book is out there than to earn back the time you invested in it.

Did your 'traditional publisher' help you out with the marketing? Over 30000 copies sold sounds like a decent marketing job to me. You may be able to get a higher percentage in royalties on a self-publishing site, but you're likely to be mostly on your own for the marketing. Sure, Lulu offers marketing services- but they consider a book a best-seller when it sells 500 copies.

Reality Check (1)

calspach (1538595) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117269)

Sadly, I don't think you will get the kind of exposure you want if you go this route. There may be some professors that start using this since they already know you, but it's a paradox. If something is free, it's not worth as much as something that costs $50. Most of your professors and colleges will opt for the $50 book simply because it must contain better information than a free download.

connexions (1)

rickyars (619739) | more than 4 years ago | (#29117291)

i was one of several undergrads working with rich baranuik on connexions back in 2000. i don't know how much has changed since then, but the philosophy behind the idea really intrigued me.

the goal is to create stand-alone "modules" of information, typically short and on a single topic. these are then placed in a repository from which anyone else can mix and match to create their own course. another appealing aspect was that courses no longer had to be linear, but could bounce around as the instructor saw fit.

connexions also works to separate content from design, which allows an author to focus on content creation without having to worry about presentation.

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