Federal Textbook Disclosure Rules Now Law

The fact that the Higher Education Opportunity Act (Public Law 110-315) — otherwise known as HEOA — was signed into law last year is probably not big news to anyone. One of the parts of the bill that I have been following and commented on here in DLTJ is the textbook disclosure rules. I haven’t posted follow-up commentary here because I’ve been expecting that the U.S. Department of Education will be forthcoming with new regulations regarding the implementation of the disclosure rules. As it turns out, a sentence was added into the legislation between the time I last read it closely and when it finally was made law: “No Regulatory Authority- The Secretary shall not promulgate regulations with respect to this section.” It would appear the language of the law stands on its own.

In December, Vincent Sampson in the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education wrote a 219-page “Dear Colleague” letter that provides summaries of provisions of HEOA. One summary covers the “Textbook Information” section (from pages 34 and 35, in its entirety):

The HEOA supports the academic freedom of faculty to select high quality course materials for their students while imposing several new provisions to ensure that students have timely access to affordable course materials at postsecondary institutions receiving Federal financial assistance. These provisions support that effort and include the following:

  • When textbook publishers provide information on a college textbook or supplemental material to faculty in charge of selecting course materials at postsecondary institutions, that information must be in writing (including electronic communication) and must include
    • the price of the textbook;
    • the copyright dates of the three previous editions (if any);
    • a description of substantial content revisions;
    • whether the textbook is available in other formats and if so, the price to the institution and to the general public;
    • the separate prices of textbooks unbundled from supplemental material; and
    • to the maximum extent possible, the same information for custom textbooks.
  • To the maximum extent practicable, an institution must include on its Internet course schedule for required and recommended textbooks and supplemental material
    • the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and retail price;
    • if the ISBN is not available, the author, title, publisher, and copyright date; or
    • if such disclosure is not practicable, the designation “To Be Determined.”

    If applicable, the institution must include on its written course schedule a reference to the textbook information available on its Internet schedule and the Internet address for that schedule.

  • A postsecondary institution must provide the following information to its college bookstores upon request by such college bookstore:
    • the institution’s course schedule for the subsequent academic period; and
    • for each course or class offered, the information it must include on its Internet course schedule for required and recommended textbooks and supplemental material, the number of students enrolled, and the maximum student enrollment.
  • Institutions disclosing the information they must include on their Internet course schedules for required and recommended textbooks and supplemental material are encouraged to provide information on
    • renting textbooks;
    • purchasing used textbooks;
    • textbook buy-back programs; and
    • alternative content delivery programs.

The HEOA also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the implementation of this section and report to Congress (See Non-institutional Studies, Reports, and Summits, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Studies and Reports, Textbook Information)

The Secretary is prohibited from regulating on this section of the HEA, but will monitor institutions and review student complaints relating to these provisions.

The law says that this provision “shall take effect on July 1, 2010” so schools have a little less than a year now to adjust their internal data gathering and reporting systems. I haven’t been able to find further guidance on the Department of Education website or at other sources. This effects Ohio’s efforts in promoting lower-cost, highly-effective course materials, so if anyone knows of other information, please let me know.


A colleague points out that the summary missed a crucial aspect of the legislation. Under publisher requirements, the law has this clause as well:
Unbundling of college textbooks from supplemental materials.– A publisher that sells a college textbook and any supplemental material accompanying such college textbook as a single bundle shall also make available the college textbook and each supplemental material as separate and unbundled items, each separately priced.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.uso.edu/opportunities/textbooks/index.php to http://web.archive.org/web/20110627135928/http://uso.edu/opportunities/textbooks/index.php on November 16th, 2012.

Textbook Affordability at the Student Success Assessment Summit

I had the pleasure of presenting on a panel at the Ohio Student Success Assessment Summit this morning on the topic of textbooks and open educational resources. Specifically, I was talking about the plans and desires of the University System of Ohio to help faculty help students with the escalating of costs of learning materials. My talk (below and on SlideShare) gives a background of the problem in the context of the State of Ohio, principles upon which a working plan for statewide support is forming, and strategic themes
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Drive-Thru Textbook Buy-Back

I continue to be astonished by how efficient the used textbook market has become. This week, at the end of the spring quarter at Ohio State University, a drive-thru textbook buy-back service popped up on the site of a long-closed gas station. It is a tent on a parking lot that truly does allow someone to drive through to drop off books (see the third image down). The operation is run by Budgetext, a national textbook wholesaler from Fayetteville, AR. I spoke with company representative Jerry Mohr about the service.
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Flat World Knowledge and U.S. Gov’t on Open Access Course Materials

The sand is really starting to shift under the traditional textbook providers as the open course content movement shows signs of, well, movement. Already this year there are two events that point to shifts in how instructors and students can shortcut the complex ecosystem of textbooks as we know it today. First, Flat World Knowledge — a provider of open access course materials — launched earlier this year. Second, new legislation has been proposed in the U.S. Congress to mandate that some agencies use their funding to produce open access course materials.

Flat World Knowledge Launches

Flat World Knowledge launched earlier this year, and it brings an entrepreneurial feel to the staid subject of textbooks. Billed as “the world’s first publisher of open-source college textbooks,” their website has a scrappy, web2.0 start-up feel to it. It should probably come as no surprise, then, that they are a web2.0 start-up — they recently received $8 million in venture capital funding. To faculty and staff in higher education, Flat World Knowledge describes themselves this way:

We preserve the best of the old – textbooks by leading experts.

Then we flip it on its head.

Our books cost $0 online.  We provide paperbacks, audio books, and self-print versions for under $30.  Our books are open for you to edit for your class.  Our new editions are on your terms.  We publish them – you decide if and when to use them.

They offer free versions of their textbooks online then charge for various derivatives and additions. Instructors can modify the textbook — rearranging chapters, add or delete chunks of text, and (coming soon according to the site) be able to add materials based on a database of what is available at Flat World Knowledge. (One has to register on the site to do this, but you can watch a video tutorial to get an idea about how it works.) Students get flexibility, too; one scenario from their website is:

Kayo doesn’t read books online. She orders the black and white softcover for about $29 bucks. It shows up in a few days. Too bland for her friend Sam – he orders the color edition for $59. Not Sharon. She commutes everyday, so nothing but the audio book on her iPod will do. Then there’s Chaz. He’s indecisive. He decides, well, not to decide. He’ll order the self-print .pdf chapters when he needs them for $1.99 per chapter. Cool. And don’t forget Tessa. She never has enough time. She’ll cut to the chase with our mp3 study guides, mobile flash cards, and online practice quizzes with feedback. That’s convenient. That’s choices. That’s Flat World Knowledge.

Right now their catalog is focused heavily on business topics, but they are looking to expand beyond it. (Into sociology, geographic information systems, and genetics according to their latest newsletter.) Here are the course materials available now and what they have in the pipeline.

TitleAuthor(s)Pub DateRelevant Course(s)
Exploring BusinessCollins, KarenFeb-09Introduction to Business
Fundamentals of Income Tax Theory and PracticeKiefer, DieterMar-09Federal Taxation; Federal and State Taxation
Introduction to Economic AnalysisMcAfee, R. Preston; Lewis, Tracy R.Mar-09Intermediate Microeconomics, Managerial Economics
Organizational BehaviorBauer, Talya; Erdogan, BerrinMar-09Organizational Behavior
Principles of ManagementCarpenter, Mason; Bauer, Talya; Erdogan, BerrinMar-09Principles of Management
Launch! Advertising and Promotion in Real TimeSolomon, Michael; Duke Cornell, Lisa; Nizan, AmitMar-09Advertising and Promotion
Principles of MacroeconomicsRittenberg, Libby; Tregarthen, TimothyApr-09Principles of Macroeconomics
Money and BankingWright, Robert E.; Quadrini, VincenzoApr-09Financial Markets and Institutions, Money and Banking
Principles of MicroeconomicsRittenberg, Libby; Tregarthen, TimothyApr-09Principles of Microeconomics
Risk Management for Enterprises and IndividualsBaranoff, Etti; Brockett, Patrick Lee; Kahane, YehudaApr-09Insurance, Risk Management
Atlas Black: Managing to SucceedShort, Jeremy; Bauer, Talya; Ketchen, Dave; Simon, LenApr-09Organizational Behavior, Principles of Management
Principles of EconomicsRittenberg, Libby; Tregarthen, TiMay-09Principles of Economics
Financial AccountingHoyle, Joe Ben; Skender, C. J.Oct-09Financial Accounting
Basics of Oral Business CommunicationMcLean, ScottOct-09Oral Business Communication
Basics of Written Business CommunicationMcLean, ScottOct-09Written Business Communication
Information Systems: A Manager’s Guide to Harnessing TechnologyGallaugher, JohnOct-09Management Information Systems
Principles of MarketingTanner, Jeff; Raymond, Mary Anne; Schuster, CamilleOct-09Principles of Marketing
Creative Destruction: The Economics of E-Commerce and the InternetKoch, JamesFeb-10Electronic Commerce
Personal FinanceSiegel, RachelFeb-10Personal Finance
Project Management in a Virtual WorldDarnall, Russell; Preston, John M.Feb-10Project Management
Sustainability, Innovation, and EntrepreneurshipLarson, AndreaFeb-10Entrepreneurship, Sustainability
Franchising: A Graphic NovelCombs, Jim; Ketchen, Dave; Short, Jeremy; Simon, LenMay-10Franchising, Small Business Mgmt

H.R. 1464 — The LOW COST Act

The title of this bill is cleverly named — the Learning Opportunities With Creation of Open Source Textbooks (LOW COST) Act. Let’s set aside my twitching in response to this use of phrase “open source” in this context — the correct form of “open” is probably “open access” — but that would ruin the acronym. (I had the same reaction to how the Flat World Knowledge folks used this phrase, too, so I should probably get over it.) The bill would mandate federal agencies that spend more than $10 million on science education to spend 2% of their budget on the development of related, college-level educational resources.


  1. In General- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the head of each agency that expends more than $10,000,000 in a fiscal year on scientific education and outreach shall use at least 2 percent of such funds for the collaboration on the development and implementation of open source materials as an educational outreach effort in accordance with subsection (b).
  2. Requirements- The head of each agency described in subsection (a) shall, under the joint guidance of the Director of the National Science Foundation and the Secretary of Energy, collaborate with the heads of any of the agencies described in such subsection or any federally supported laboratory or university-based research program to develop, implement, and establish procedures for checking the veracity, accuracy, and educational effectiveness of open source materials that–
    1. contain, at minimum, a comprehensive set of textbooks or other educational materials covering topics in college-level physics, chemistry, or math;
    2. are posted on the Federal Open Source Material Website;
    3. are updated prior to each academic year with the latest research and information on the topics covered in the textbooks or other educational materials available on the Federal Open Source Material Website; and
    4. are free of copyright violations.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Bill Foster of Illinois, and it is currently in the House committees on Education and Labor as well as Science and Technology. There are no co-sponsors to the bill, which I don’t think is a good sign, so I’m not expecting it to go far. Still, the sentiment is nice, so it is one to watch.

I’ve also heard through the grapevine that there is a bill being worked up to be proposed in the U.S. Senate that would set aside money for the development of open access course materials. So, at the very least, the notion of open access course materials seems to be catching on from top-down funders.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/printed-book/1639 to http://web.archive.org/web/20090327141711/http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/printed-book/1639 on November 13th, 2012.

Clarification Offered for “Technology: The textbook of the future” in Nature

A recent issue of Nature published an article by Declan Butler called “Technology: The textbook of the future” included a paragraph about OhioLINK’s exploration of digital textbooks:

Ongoing tests of CourseSmart e-textbooks by the University System of Ohio show that they reduce costs — the average US student forks out some $900 annually on print textbooks — and students using them perform just as well as when using paper versions, says Peter Murray, deputy head of new service development at the Ohio Library and Information Network in Columbus, Ohio, which assists the University System of Ohio on the project.

I’m afraid I didn’t clarify the particulars of our efforts in the phone call with the reporter. Our test for effectiveness of electronic course materials was with a category of materials we call “enhanced textbooks”. They are the platforms that offer not only the text but also links to videos, glossary terms, pre- and post-texts, supplementary reading materials, and simulations. Examples of these are Wiley Plus from Wiley Publishing and the Campbell/Reece biology offerings from Pearson. Another program of the University System of Ohio is the e-Textbook portal featuring page-for-page replication e-books from CourseSmart. We have not tested the CourseSmart material for effectiveness compared to the identical material in printed form.

Butler, D. (2009). Technology: The textbook of the future Nature, 458 (7238), 568-570 DOI: 10.1038/458568a

The text was modified to update a link from http://universitysystem.ohio.gov to http://web.archive.org/web/20090326141957/http://uso.edu/ on November 13th, 2012.

Drupal as the Foundation of Ohio Textbook Portal

At the end of last month, the Ohio Board of Regents announced the University System of Ohio Textbook Portal. The service has been talked about in the media, in trade publications, and in numerous blog postings. Enough time has passed now that word has gotten out, and I won’t be taking any of the chancellor’s thunder about the project. I did the back-end development work for the portal and wrote this document as an introduction to the project for our development team and anyone else interested about the project.

The textbook portal is based on the Drupal (version 6) content management system. In particular, the portal makes heavy use of the search module to execute and format search results. If you are familiar with Drupal, it is going to be different enough, however, that you’re going to want to read this to see why some decisions were made. If you are not familiar with Drupal, this document will give you a head start into understanding the Drupal way of the world.

A couple of points before we start. First, before starting this project I had only a passing familiarity with PHP as a programming language and no experience with code development for Drupal. 1 Read the code with that frame of mind; if you have more experience in either of these areas and know of a better way to do something, please let me know and I will gratefully incorporate your suggestions into the code. Second, you can find the code in OhioLINK’s public Subversion repository and reference to it in OhioLINK’s public Trac project server, should you want to take a look at it yourself.

This code in the Subversion repository corresponds to everything under the /sites directory of a Drupal installation. In the basic Drupal installation, there are two subdirectories in this directory: all and default. In a multi-site Drupal installation, the “all” directory is supposed to correspond to modules/themes that are made available to all sites within an installation while the “default” directory is intended for modules/themes for the “default site“. I’m using the distinction somewhat differently. Everything in the “all” directory is third-party modules and everything in the “default” directory is stuff I’ve created. It is an arbitrary, unnecessary distinction, but I think it will help with maintenance.

At a very high level, you can look at the Installation Documentation for the ETextbook Portal. This document was written from the perspective of a bare metal restore of the service. (Well, not quite — it assumes Ubuntu is installed on the server.) It has the various applications and modules that need to be installed to get the site up and running. This should make a good checklist should you wish to reproduce the portal. Knowing how to install Drupal comes in handy, but the installation process itself it pretty easy.

If you follow the documentation up to the point of restoring the database, you’ll have a good foundation. But doing so will mean that there are several configuration options you’ll need to set that would otherwise be in the database backup. You’ll need to activate these modules:

eTextbook Metasearch
Integrates the results from the various textbook search modules. This corresponds to the Drupal node type “all”.
CourseSmart Search
Searches the CourseSmart eTextbook Database. This corresponds to the Drupal node type “csmart”.
OhioLINK E-Books Search
Searches the OhioLINK E-book Center. This corresponds to the Drupal node type “ebooks”.
OhioLINK Library Catalog Search
Searches the OhioLINK Central Catalog. This corresponds to the Drupal node type “libcat”.
Safari Search
Searches Safari Books Online. This corresponds to the Drupal node type “safari”.

Each of them has minor, but important, configuration parameters that you’ll need to set up in the Drupal installation’s /admin/settings directory. In particular, the CourseSmart Search module will have parameters for the discount coupon code plus the username/password for the private API (the private API is discussed in the module-specific section below).

Structure of the Search Modules

Each of the search modules — CourseSmart, OhioLINK EBC, OhioLINK Library Catalog, and Safari — follow the same basic structure. (The “all” metasearch module is a little different and is covered below.) The outline, hooks followed by supporting functions, is:

function module_menu() {
function module_perm() {
function module_search($op = 'search', $keys = NULL) {
function module_form_alter(&$form, $form_state, $form_id) {
function module_search_process($keys) {
function module_format_result($item) {
function module_search_box_form_submit($form, &$form_state) {
function module_search_query($keys = '', $query = array(), $search = 'web', $version = 'v1') {

Some explanation for each of these:

  • module_menu() is a Drupal hook that defines the menu options for the setting screen. The code to generate the menus themselves will be in a file in the module called “module.admin.inc”.
  • module_perm() is a Drupal hook for defining the user permissions appropriate for this module. It isn’t really used in the portal. (The settings screens look for the “administer site configuration” user permission value.)
  • module_search() is a Drupal hook that defines a custom search routine for nodes of this type. The code pattern in other Drupal modules seems to be to use this as a level of indirection to a non-hook function, such as module_search_process().
  • module_form_alter() is a Drupal hook for changing the behavior of a form before it is rendered in the HTML back to the user. In conjunction with module_search_box_form_submit(), the code in this hook will turn FORM POST requests into pretty URLs.
  • module_search_process() is the function called by the module_search() function. This function prepares the query, including the pagination-of-results calculation, and calls another function — module_search_query() — to do the actual searching. We’re adding this level of indirection because the “metasearch” module will also call module_search_query() to get results, but the code in that module does do all of the things module_search_process() does.
  • module_format_result() is called with information about the search hit, and formats it in a way that can be fed back into the Drupal search.module output engine. The issue here is that we’ve got fielded data (author, copyright year, publisher, and ISBN) that we want to display as fielded, but Drupal doesn’t give us a way to do that. Rather, Drupal’s standard search module is looking for an array with keys for ‘title’ of the hit, ‘link’ of the hit, and a ‘snippet’ to display to give the user context for the result. (See the “Return Value” heading of the hook_search API documentation.) So this module will create a snippet of HTML that builds a nice display of the fielded data.
  • module_search_box_form_submit(), in conjunction with module_form_alter(), forms the callback to turn FORM POST requests into pretty URLs.
  • module_search_query() performs whatever functions are required to get hits from the remote service. This, of course, is the real heart of what we’re doing. Rather than searching text of nodes internal to Drupal, this function will return an array of results that comes from a query of a remote service. The array returned has two elements: ‘total’ — an integer representing the total number of hits for the query, and ‘items’ — an array of individual hits from this search.

Module-specific details

Although each of the search modules follows this general code pattern, they each have their idiosyncrasies.

CourseSmart is probably the simplest module of the bunch and a good place to start when looking at the code. Note that we are using the private API (appending md=1 to the end of the URL) in order to get the ISBNs as listed on the CourseSmart website. Calls to the private API is restricted to particular IP addresses, so in order to use it you’ll need to contact CourseSmart. CourseSmart is also a little funky in that they will return items in their inventory that they won’t sell. This is designated with an esubscription price of $0, and are filtered out in the module_search_process() function.

OhioLINK EBook Center uses the SRU interface to the underlying XTF installation in order to get search results out. The search results come back in an XML document returned with multiple namespaces, which complicates somewhat the DOM parsing of that document. Basically, it means one has to register the namespaces with the XPath processor and take them into account when using XPath to pull out elements for formatting the result record.

OhioLINK Library Catalog uses the Shrew PHP class created by David Walker at California State University. Shrew hacks through the MARC display of records for an Innovative Interfaces WebPAC and returns a MARCXML document. Without this, I’d really be stuck as to how to efficiently get the library catalog search results into the portal. I’m grateful to him for releasing the code at exactly the right time and to Rob Casson at Miami who pointed me in David’s direction when I was considering having to write the Shrew-equivalent myself.

Safari Books Online is using the same underlying engine as CourseSmart to deliver materials, so the search module is very similar.

Structure of the Metasearch Module

The eTextbook Metasearch module (a.k.a. “all”) is structured very similar to the other search modules, but deviates in several important ways.

  • When the Drupal all_search hook is called with the ‘search’ operation parameter, a results array with explicitly 1 “result” and the search keys as the item returned. What we’re really doing is faking out the Drupal Search module into thinking that there are actually results so we can get to the all_search_page() hook. If we didn’t set the number of results to a value greater than zero, Drupal would display the “no hits found” message for us (which we don’t want it to do).
  • The undocumented hook_search_page(), when defined for a module, is called by Drupal rather than using the built-in internal search results page. (The other modules use the built-in results page rendering.) We override the hook using all_search_page(), and that function calls each of the module_search_query() functions for the four remote sources in sequence. The results are then put into output block and the block is returned to the calling core code.
  • “all” also contains several utility functions used by the other modules. all_parse_keys() will look at the user’s search string for ISBN values and return the user’s search string as an array of an ISBN and everything else. all_proxyify_url() will determine whether a user is outside of a campus network and prepend the OhioLINK proxy server string to the URL.

Plans for Enhancements

Some ideas and plans for making this better.

  • We want to include bookstores in the search results. In particular, where possible, we’d like to search the bookstore’s inventory control system and display results right in the metasearch results.
  • For the metasearch results, each of the target remote services are called in sequence. Ideally, the four services would be called in parallel. Even better, perhaps, would be to render the base page, then inject search results from the remote services via AJAX as they become available.

The text was modified to update a link from http://drupal.org/getting-started/6 to http://drupal.org/getting-started on January 28th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.ljndawson.com/permalink/2008/09/03/USO_and_CourseSmart.html to http://web.archive.org/web/20081211220047/http://www.ljndawson.com/permalink/2008/09/03/USO_and_CourseSmart.html on November 13th, 2012.


  1. These made seem like odd choices to make for a project that had a short conception-to-production timeline, but a) there were already some helpful pieces written in PHP that sped development of some aspects of the portal, and b) I thought drinking the cool-aid of Drupal would be a good way to see what it was all about. []

Final Version of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act Leaves Textbook Provisions Intact

Earlier this week U.S. Senate passed its own version of the “College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007” (H.R.4137 to amend and extend the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes) by unanimous consent (hence no recorded vote) and appointed members of a conference committee to resolve differences with the U.S. House version. The conference committee report was published yesterday1. This afternoon the House completed a roll-call vote approving the conference version. If I remember my civics class correctly, the bill now goes to the president for a signature. The conference report had to be approved by the Senate, which it did late Thursday night. Although the White House previously opposed the bill, the Associate Press reports that President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

The main provisions of the textbook section remain intact from what was discussed earlier on DLTJ. The conference committee report goes into more detail about the intent of Congress in passing this legislation, so it is an interesting read by itself.

The managers on the part of the House and the Senate at the conference on the disagreeing votes of the two Houses on the amendment of the Senate to the bill (H.R. 4137), submit the following joint statement to the House and the Senate in explanation of the effect of the action agreed upon by the managers and recommended in the accompanying conference report:

(Now beginning on page 16 of the PDF version of the report)

Section 112. Textbook Information

The House bill includes provisions that provide more information on the cost of textbooks designed to ensure that students have better and timelier access to course materials.

The House bill requires publishers to provide faculty members with price information, copyright dates of all previous editions in the preceding ten years, substantial content revisions made between the current and previous editions, and to disclose whether the textbook or supplemental materials are available in any other format.

The House bill requires publishers that sell a college textbook and supplemental material as a single product to offer the college textbook and each supplement as a separate item.

The House bill requires institutions of higher education to publish in course schedules for pre- registration and registration purposes, to the “maximum extent practicable,” the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and the retail price of course materials.

The House bill requires an institution of higher education to provide upon request to any college bookstore its course schedule and materials required or recommended for each course.

The House bill provides that nothing about these programs supersedes an institution’s autonomy with respect to the selection of course materials.

The House bill’s textbook information program is effective as of July 1, 2008.

The Senate amendment contains no similar provisions.

The Senate recedes with amendments to the provisions to clarify the definitions of an integrated textbook and supplemental materials, and clarify that the provisions apply only to institutions receiving federal financial assistance. The amendments require a publisher to provide to faculty or others selecting textbooks, the wholesale price, and if available, the retail price at which books are made available to the public, respectively, and specify the copyright dates of the three previous editions need to be provided. The amendments also specify that an institution shall, to the maximum extent practicable, make the required textbook information, including ISBN information, available on its Internet course schedule in a manner of the institution’s choosing. Further, an institution shall publish a link to this information in its written course schedule. The amendments also encourage institutions to disseminate information to students about institutional programs that would help students save money on textbooks, such as rental programs or buy-back programs, prohibit the Secretary of Education from promulgating regulations on the section, and require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of the implementation of these provisions.

The Conferees intend that the provisions in this section decrease the cost of textbooks for students in higher education by ensuring that faculty, students, and bookstores all have sufficient, relevant, and timely information to make informed purchasing decisions. The information provided as a result of these provisions should be provided in a consumer-friendly manner and should be easily accessible. The Conferees further recognize the shared goals of identifying ways to decrease the burden of textbook costs on students by all parties, and the innovation of institutions, publishers, and bookstores in working toward this goal.

The Conferees recognize the cost savings to students of used textbooks. Further the Conferees do not intend the definition of “integrated textbooks” to discourage faculty and students from using such textbooks in their courses. Textbooks without explicit third-party contract limitations should not be considered as integrated if an identical used textbook or used supplemental material is commonly available to a student, thus making the materials fully usable for its intended purpose and meeting the requirements of a course of instruction at an institution of higher education.

It is the intention of the Conferees that institutions of higher education that do not offer Internet course schedules are not required to create such schedules for the purposes of satisfying the requirements of this section; and that institutions my satisfy the requirements by providing a link to another appropriate website that satisfies the requirements of the paragraph, provided that such link is clearly and prominently located on the institution’s Internet course schedule.

Further, the Conferees recognize the changing use of technology in the textbook marketplace. The provisions require institutions, to the maximum extent practicable, to disclose the ISBN information for each required textbook. As ISBN information changes, or is replaced by another standard identification system, the Conferees urge institutions to provide students with the most up-to-date and accurate information.

The Conferees understand that while regulations are prohibited in the context of implementation, enforcement and oversight, the Secretary of Education may need to develop non-regulatory guidance. The Conferees recognize that the Secretary has a variety of means by which to publicize these provisions, including publication in government materials, and should provide for the broad dissemination of such information through communication with institutions of higher education and other relevant stakeholders.

The Student PIRGs has an analysis of the conference version of the bill. No news yet from the Association of American Publishers or the National Association of College Stores.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/legislative/sap/110-2/saphr4137-r.pdf to http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/omb/legislative/sap/110-2/saphr4137-r.pdf on January 20th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.nacs.org/public/nacs/mediaroom.asp to http://www.nacs.org/advocacynewsmedia/pressreleases/archivedpressreleases.aspx on January 28th, 2011.


  1. “Conference Report on H.R. 4137, College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008.” Congressional Record Online. 30-Jul-2008. Thomas. Available http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/R?r110:FLD001:H57361 [31-Jul-2008]. See textbook section starting at page H7361. []

Colorado Community College System Announces Flat-price Electronic Textbooks from Pearson Education

Colorado Community College System (CCCS) signed an agreement with Pearson Education for flat-rate access to Pearson textbook content online. News of this comes by way of a link left by Lorcan Dempsey in a comment to an earlier DLTJ entry that pointed to a blog entry by Michael Cairns talking about yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article about custom textbooks, which in turn pointed to a blog posting by Alison Pendergast excerpting a Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus story about this agreement. (Whew! It was a long trail, but well worth it!) Key points in the agreement:

  • The cost to students is $49/course and it “will appear when they are assessed tuition.”  A black/white paper version will be available from the bookstore for $50.
  • “At the end of the 2008-09 academic year, 17 courses will be part of this partnership….  CCCOnline will continue converting courses…with the goal of having a majority of their enrollments benefiting from the agreement by Spring 2011.”
  • There is some sort of “edition control” in the agreement that will allow CCCS to “have much greater control over our course revision cycle.” [I’m not sure what this actually means.]

Detailed extracts and links to sources follow. The most information I can find comes from this press-release-of-sorts posted on a Denver region public blog space:

Agreement Reduces Costs for College Students1

Contributed by: Joe Marquez [Manager of System Communications, Colorado Community College System] on 7/1/2008 

In its 10th year, CCCOnline is a consortium of the 13 institutions of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) that furnishes online courses and student services to 17,000 individuals annually via nearly 1,400 course offerings. CCCOnline enables students to earn a degree or certificate from one of the 13 CCCS colleges via a curriculum which may be pursued entirely online or in combination with classroom instruction. 

Students will pay for their eTextbooks through a one-time digital materials charge that will appear when they are assessed tuition, enabling students to know upfront exactly what it will cost to take their CCCOnline course. “This arrangement is an excellent complement to the cadre of methods we are using to minimize the costs and improve the quality of course materials for our students,” adds Epper. Students may print whatever section of the eTextbook they desire, or, if they wish to have the text entirely in hard copy form, they can purchase a custom black-and-white print version via participating campus bookstores.

Another savings for CCCOnline will come from the edition control afforded by the new agreement. “CCCOnline faculty and instructional designers spend an enormous amount of time each semester revising courses to keep pace with updated textbook editions,” explains Epper. “Under the Pearson agreement, we will have much greater control over our course revision cycles.”

“We are delighted to collaborate with CCCOnline in producing content that benefits the consortium and its students,” remarked Daniel Bartell, Pearson Vice President and Director of Institutional Sales. “Working with CCCOnline we have created a model that gives students customized learning materials in a digital format,” he added.

CCCOnline is launching the new program for their Summer 2008 semester. At the end of the 2008-09 academic year, 17 courses (some offered in multiple sections per semester) will be part of this partnership that directly impacts college affordability. CCCOnline will continue converting courses to use the reduced- price electronic textbooks with the goal of having a majority of their enrollments benefiting from the agreement by Spring 2011. The agreement will complement other methods CCCOnline is using to minimize course material costs such as wikibooks and National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) digital content.

Between Summer 2008 and Spring 2009, the arrangement will benefit CCCOnline students taking specific Sociology, Human Nutrition, Business, Criminal Justice, Biology, History, Management, Economics, Marketing and Geography classes.

The story was picked up by a local news outlet, and has a few more details (particularly in the comments section of the news article):

Learning from a book that is not really a book2

Colorado Community Colleges Online just signed a deal with the Pearson Publishing Company to start getting required textbooks over the Internet….  [Lisa] Cheney-Steen [co-executive director for Learning Technology at Colorado Community Colleges Online] says reading the real page on a Web page can cut costs by half or more.  There is a $49 flat fee to access the online textbooks for each course. However, the same books for the same course could easily cost more than $100 a piece.

The comments in the story include these two paragraphs from Lisa Cheney-Steen3:

The contract with Pearson includes the option to purchase a black and white version of the textbook for an additional $50. That saves the print costs of individuals who prefer to read from paper.

CCCOnline is also working on producing more open-content courses, which don’t require a textbook at all and instead use content available on the web. Those courses aren’t free because it takes a significant amount of extra time to keep the resource links current, but they are much less expensive than a textbook. They include a recommendation of a textbook for those who want to purchase one, but there is no discount on those texts. For a look at one of these courses please see this link – http://media.ccconline.cccs.edu/ccco/HIS202/Tour/HIS202_Greenhouse_custom.htm


14-Jul-2008: I learned some more about the program from Lisa Cheney-Steen, co-executive director for Learning Technology at Colorado Community Colleges Online. Lisa kindly responded to some questions posed in a series of e-mails:

What is the delivery mechanism for the content?

The content generally sits on the publisher’s websites — for example in MyMathLab or in Course Connect.  Some of it is in our LMS. We like it better in the publisher’s databases though so they can keep it current.

What is the nature of the content in the agreement?

This is a big deal question.  Right now most of the time we have what is essentially a PDF of the textbook (exact replica) plus all available electronic content.  We don’t convert a course to this unless there is a significant amount of electronic content available (graphics, interactive, audio, video, etc.)  We are asking Pearson to work harder on developing a true electronic textbook that is more in line with the direction online magazines have gone — with hyperlinks, definitions, links to additional information, interactive graphics, etc. Something more in line with what organizations like NROC are doing.  (There was a link in there to an NROC course we ave developed that is also textbook free.)

Who is included in the program?

Just the online courses at this point.

How is the student charged?

Line item on the tuition bill. [As in, a separate line item on the tuition bill.]

Have you reconciled the problem of financial aid that includes textbooks?

The $40 charge appears on the student’s tuition bill, making it very straightforward to pay with financial aid.  Here financial aid accounts are handled at the colleges, not at the bookstore, so as soon as the financial aid officer approves the tuition bill, this charge is covered.

How does this agreement relate to text book selection?

All of our faculty use the same text, but they do get to choose that text as a group.  About a third of our courses used Pearson texts when we started, but not necessarily everyone in this first batch. We did talk to faculty teaching courses who were facing an edition change and ask them to review the Pearson text and choose it if 1) it is an appropriate text that is at least comparable to other texts and 2) the Pearson text is one with a plethora of electronic materials to look at.

What does “edition control” mean?

These are technically all custom published books, so we get to choose when we release a new edition.


  1. From http://denver.yourhub.com/Denver/Stories/News/General-News/Story~490808.aspx, visited Fri Jul 11 2008 08:56:05 EDT. []
  2. From http://www.9news.com/seenon9news/article.aspx?storyid=95049&catid=509, visited Fri Jul 11 2008 08:51:36 EDT. []
  3. Comment posted to http://www.9news.com/seenon9news/article.aspx?storyid=95049&catid=509 on Mon Jul 7 2008 7:29 PDT []

The Complex World of the Textbook

Who knew the college textbook marketplace could be so complex? The agents in this ecosystem and their interests are so intertwined that as a whole it poses a massive amount of inertia for those who attempt to change the marketplace. I’ve been involved for about a year with an effort to change the textbook ecosystem for Ohio college students, and I am amazed at the complexity with each new layer of the onion that is peeled back. I thought it worthwhile to document my findings here and ask what insights others have.

The Big Picture

In July 2005, the United States Government Accountability Office published a report called College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases that documents in great detail the complexity of the textbook ecosystem.

Figure 1 from page 5 of the report graphically depicts the life cycle of the college textbook along with the players in its ecosystem: publishers, instructors, bookstores, students, and used textbook wholesalers. The short version is this: Publishers create a textbook. Instructors tell Bookstores the textbooks they want to use for a course. Bookstores estimate the number of copies needed and buy stock from Used Textbook Wholesalers and Publishers. Students purchase the textbook from the Bookstore, and sometimes sell the textbook back to the Bookstore at the end of the term.

The Effect of Used Textbooks

There are, of course, many variables in this ecosystem. Used textbooks are highly sought by both the Bookstores and the Students. For Students, the used textbook is sold at a lower cost than the new version — typically about 75% of the new textbook cost. For Bookstores, the sale of a used textbook is a higher margin sale — averaging 33% versus the 23% margin for new textbook sales. 1 There are also actions that Bookstores can take to improve their margin. If the Bookstore knows that the Instructor will use the book again, it will buy back and warehouse more of that particular book from students at the end of the term. More used books held over by the Bookstore from term to term means the Bookstore does not need to buy and pay for the shipping of as many textbooks to meet student needs for the following term. The Bookstore may even offer higher prices to students who sell back these desired books. On the other hand, the Bookstore will offer lower prices for books that are not desired as much. A Bookstore may even refuse to buy back a current edition of a textbook when it knows a new edition is coming from the Publisher for the next term and the Instructor has requested the new edition.

So Bookstores try hard to get next term’s textbook selections from Instructors before the current term ends. With that information the bookstore manager can make better guesses and assume less risk in buying back books that the Bookstore won’t use. In the end, the Used Textbook Wholesaler is an agent that the Bookstore can use to attempt to smooth out the ripples between used textbooks on-hand and the demands for the new term. And as a last resort, since the margins are lower, it will stock new textbooks from the publisher. Between the actions of the Bookstore and the Used Textbook Wholesaler along with cooperation from Instructors, the used textbook market has become a very efficient part of the textbook ecosystem.

Publishers, on the other hand, probably don’t like this increased efficiency in the used textbook market. A publisher makes no money on a used textbook sale, so it typically had two options: 1) raise the new textbook price to spread the fixed capital costs of creating a new textbook among fewer purchases; and/or 2) employ strategies to force Students to purchase more new textbooks. The former is a matter of simple economics; Publishers spend upwards of $1 million dollars to create the book and the accompanying materials2 and those costs must be made up somehow. The latter occurs by publishing new editions more frequently and/or through “bundling” (forcing students to buy the textbook by combining it with one-time-use consumables like workbooks or term-limited website passwords). [Update 20080710T0954 : Publishers have another way of restricting the used textbook market: custom publishing. This is discussed in an article in the Wall Street Journal.]

The Digital Option

There is a third option now: use digital delivery to eliminate the Bookstore, its markup and its used textbook market. By dealing directly with Students, the Publisher could remove the influence of the Bookstore and the Used Textbook Wholesaler from the ecosystem; as a consequence it can lower the price and increase its own margin. The Publishers also gain an advantage by removing the used textbook market; the Student’s username/password to the digital editions hosted on the publisher’s website expire after a set period of time (typically six months to a year). Expired username/passwords are worthless, so the secondary used market dries up. (There is typically also contract language that the user accepts during the purchase process that says the student will not share or resell access to the publisher’s content.) No secondary market means that Publishers are assured of more sales to Students over the Bookstore-mediated market; as a consequence, the Publisher can spread their fixed capital costs over more unit sales, thereby lowering the per-unit cost.

Each of the major publishers has their own e-commerce site for digital textbook delivery, but the Publishers thought this was such a good idea (or at least thought it was a good idea to eliminate confusion on where to go to get an e-textbook) that they came together and formed a company called CourseSmart as a one-stop shop for students purchasing textbooks.3 The Bookstores, understandably, are not pleased with the creation of CourseSmart and its trade organization, NACS, is reviewing the arrangement through the lens of U.S. antitrust laws. The Bookstore is not out of the equation entirely, though.

The Bookstore’s Response

Call it a variation on the Publisher’s new digital delivery option: wholesaler-supplied e-textbooks. One of the largest Used Textbook Wholesalers, MBS, has their own multi-publisher e-textbook platform called Universal Digital Textbooks. It is not an e-commerce site — one must purchase the access codes for the e-textbooks through a Bookstore — but once one has access it is functionally equivalent to the CourseSmart site. It also happens that MBS and one of the largest college bookstore service providers, Barnes and Noble College Stores, share a common fiscal beneficiary, Leonard Riggio. This combined Bookstore/Used-Textbook-Wholesaler operation4 has a deep interest in not being removed from the textbook ecosystem. The other major college bookstore management company, Follett, is following a similar path by recently purchasing another e-textbook operation called CafeScribe. (And if you think the matrix of players isn’t complicated enough, know that Publisher-owned CourseSmart has now partnered with Nebraska Book Company, yet another college bookstore management company and Used Textbook Wholesaler, as a bookstore distribution channel for CourseSmart content.)

The Bookstore is also more than just a retailer of textbooks (electronic or not). It is also a service center for the purchase of textbooks. For instance, many bookstores will do the collection of required textbooks for Students and have the package ready for students to walk in and pay for. Bookstores are also agents for those receiving various scholarships (e.g. athletic and others) that include a textbook benefit provision. The Bookstore’s accounting mechanism ensures that designated scholarship funds are spent only on textbooks. There is not a national database of such scholarship recipients that a site like CourseSmart could use to provide an equivalent service — it is typically strictly a local endeavor. I’ve also heard in one anecdotal statement that Bookstores carry the debt of the sale of the textbooks to some scholarship recipients until the end of the term in accordance with the policies of the scholarship-granting agency. That may not be a service that a low-margin, online retail business model can offer. Perhaps this is the reason that Publishers seem to be unwilling to cut the Bookstores and the Used Book Wholesalers out of the digital market completely. After all, the Publishers have a choice as to whom they will give the digital version of their content; the Publishers could choose not to give the digital version to the MBS and Follett for their delivery systems. The reasons why Publishers would seemingly sacrifice margin to these alternate digital delivery systems is one of my unresolved questions.

And the Students? An Untested Analogy…

Students are reacting to increases in textbook prices in a way that is strikingly similar to that of the music recording industry versus listeners. The unit prices of the product have gone up (CDs / textbooks) while the introduction of ways to sell used items (CD exchange stores / textbook buybacks) result in a drop of first-copy sales. Digital delivery enters the landscape (via record company websites, iTunes and Amazon / publisher websites and bookstore/wholesaler websites), and the price drops a bit. (As we run our pilots, part of the equation is to seek a significant discount for digital delivery over the price of a new physical textbook.) Digital Rights Management is in the equation on both sides, with (in my opinion) only modest success. There are even reports of students engaging in digital piracy via Bittorrent with publishers clamoring to get the content removed and perpetrators standing behind a statement of “civil disobedience” against “the monopolistic business practices” of textbook publishers.

One clear difference is the time-sensitized nature: the CD tracks you buy from iTunes or Amazon don’t expire while the business models of the online textbook distributors clearly involve disabling access to the content after a set period of time. (This business model is more like “digital rental” than digital ownership.) It is also true that the student’s decision to buy is not without influence (the instructor determines the required textbook) or of a more life-altering nature (having and using the textbook would likely lead to a better grade, which is to say nothing of the likelihood of increased retention of the topic’s concepts). I haven’t thought completely through the analogy (hence the “untested” qualifier), but even with these differences it seems to hold together well.

Looking for a Path out of this Mess

I think it would be safe to say that no one is terribly happy with the status quo — if there is such a thing as a steady-state with all of the pieces of the ecosystem changing so quickly. In addition to efforts in the Ohio legislature to get a handle on this, the federal reauthorization of the Higher Education Act contains provisions related to the disclosure of data in the textbook ecosystem. It would certainly have an impact on quality and quantity of information about the various flows of data in the ecosystem. The result will be a shifting of players and price in the marketplace, but I’m not convinced this leads to a more fundamentally ecosystem.

Among the many unanswered questions in this ongoing exploration is why technology has not dramatically reduced the costs of the materials themselves. In other industries (computer hardware and software, music, automobiles, etc.) the introduction of technology has lead to falling prices (as compared to inflation) and rising functionality. This doesn’t seem to be the case in textbooks, where price increases are surpassing inflation and the product is not getting dramatically better. It is enough to make one wonder if there is something special about the textbook ecosystem or if this is the result of inequitable market forces.

Extending the analogy between the textbook ecosystem and the music ecosystem, you may wonder if there is the equivalent to the Creative Commons activity of the latter. 5 In fact, there is; such content is commonly called Open Textbooks or OpenCourseWare. The PIRG “Make Textbooks Affordable” campaign describes it this way: “Open textbooks are free, online, open-access textbooks. The content of open textbooks is licensed to allow anyone to use, download, customize, or print without expressed permission from the author.” Others, such as Flat World Knowledge, seek new business models like giving away the content online and charging for derivatives such as audio formats, print, and study aids. [Update 20080710T0953 : An article from USA Today talks more about Flat World Knowledge and the concept of open textbooks.]

Your Thoughts

So this is how I’ve come to know the textbook ecosystem as a librarian peering into unfamiliar places and relationships. Is this how you see the marketplace as well? Whether your a Student, Instructor, or a representative from a Publisher, Bookstore or Used Textbook Wholesaler, I’m interested in your thoughts. Please send them to me privately (contact information) or publicly in the comment section of this entry.


Thursday, July 10, 2008: Nicole Allen, Textbooks Program Director at The Student PIRG, sent me an email where she lists two articles related to textbooks that were published in major newspapers today. First is As Textbooks Go ‘Custom,’ Students Pay from page D1 of today’s Wall Street Journal. It describes another way that publishers deal with the used textbook market: custom publishing.
The University of Alabama, for instance, requires freshman composition students at its main campus to buy a $59.35 writing textbook titled “A Writer’s Reference,” by Diana Hacker. The spiral-bound book is nearly identical to the same “A Writer’s Reference” that goes for $30 in the used-book market and costs about $54 new. The only difference in the Alabama version: a 32-page section describing the school’s writing program — which is available for free on the university’s Web site. This version also has the University of Alabama’s name printed across the top of the front cover, and a notice on the back that reads: “This book may not be bought or sold used.”

The second is from USA Today entitled “Online ‘textbooks’ see college doors opening” and goes more in depth on the open textbook movement and the business model of Flat World Knowledge.

Friday, July 11, 2008: Even while this post was being conceived, news was spreading about an agreement between the Colorado Community College System and Pearson Education for flat pricing of digital textbook material. I found this via a convoluted path starting from a link that Lorcan Dempsey posted in a comment on this blog entry and ended up with a summary of the program posted on DLTJ.

Monday, August 16, 2010: Updated the link to the textbook piracy article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Thanks for pointing out the broken link, Nathan G, and for suggesting the link on “The Truth About Textbook Piracy” from GuideToOnlineSchools.com.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/minisite/about.html to http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/about on January 28th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.anotherbookstore.org/bundle.htm to http://web.archive.org/web/20080512144110/http://www.anotherbookstore.org/bundle.htm on November 13th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.forbes.com/finance/mktguideapps/personinfo/FromPersonIdPersonTearsheet.jhtml?passedPersonId=218341 to http://www.forbes.com/profile/leonard-riggio-1/ on November 13th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.guidetoonlineschools.com/tips-and-tools/textbook-piracy to http://web.archive.org/web/20100806001040/http://www.guidetoonlineschools.com/tips-and-tools/textbook-piracy on November 19th, 2012.


  1. The numbers are from page 13 of the GAO report. []
  2. See What Affects a Textbook’s Price? on the Association of American Publishers’ advocacy site “www.textbookfacts.org”. Retrieved 3-Jul-2008 []
  3. CourseSmart exists for other reasons, as well. For instance, the task of getting sample physical textbooks to instructors that may adopt them is expensive to publishers in labor and shipping expenses. Digital delivery of the entire content of the textbook to instructors via a website is more cost effective. The sample copies also tend to end up in the used book market at some point, at which point is a completely lost sale for Publishers. []
  4. From a B&N SEC filing:
    Barnes & Noble.com purchases new and used textbooks directly from MBS, a corporation majority-owned by Leonard Riggio…. In fiscal 2006, MBS began selling used books as part of the Barnes & Noble.com dealer network…. In addition, Barnes & Noble.com maintains a link on its website which is hosted by MBS and through which Barnes & Noble.com customers are able to sell used books directly to MBS.

    The filing has descriptions of other relationships with Leonard Riggio and these various enterprises. []

  5. Creative Commons, for those that don’t know, is the suite of activities that “that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry.” For instance, a musician can mark their works in such a way as to be signal an allowance for others to use and reuse the material in a variety of ways without further permission or compensation. []

Discussions of Textbooks Hit the Mainstream Media

There has been an increasing focus on the cost of textbooks in the mainstream media this year, and I don’t think it is the case that I’m just becoming more sensitized to it. Take for example the editorial from the Washington Post on February 7th. The second paragraph succinctly describes the issues being debated most often:

There are several reasons that textbooks are so costly. For one, even though there have been no major advances in fields such as calculus and elementary physics in decades or even centuries, publishers still churn out new editions of textbooks on these subjects every three or four years. The changes are typically superficial, but they prevent students from being able to purchase used, older editions. Publishers also frequently bundle unwanted additional materials such as CD-ROMs and study guides with textbooks. Professors rarely assign these extra materials, which drive up costs, and students often cannot sell the books back to bookstores once the shrink-wrap has been removed. Publishers can get away with these shenanigans because there’s a fundamental disconnect in the textbook marketplace: The people paying for the books (the students) are not the ones choosing them (the teachers).

The editorial goes on to suggest that what is needed is regulation “to ensure that both students and professors are able to make informed choices” — regulation of the kind proposed in House bill H.R. 4137 (covered on DLTJ earlier).

The New York Times has a posting on their editorial blog on April 10th that follows up on the federal legislation. It says that the House and Senate versions are currently being reconciled in a conference committee, and goes on to summaries the key points of the House-proposed legislation.

The public radio program Marketplace had a feature on April 15th that covered textbooks. It also had a statement that I hadn’t heard in other stories:

[Executive director of Higher Education for the American Association of Publishers Bruce] Hildebrand says it costs a lot to produce multi-color glossy pages and the other materials teachers want, like lecture notes, PowerPoint slides and exam questions. In effect, students are paying higher prices to make life easier for their professors. They usually don’t even know what the prices are.

While I’ve heard the claim before that professor’s don’t know the true costs of textbooks and have a hard time finding that information, this is the first time I’ve heard that “students are paying higher prices to make life easier for their professors.” I’m not necessarily buying that. In fact, there was a comment from a listener who teaches biology that was broadcast on yesterday’s show refuting that. The listener says “That is completely ridiculous. Even if I were to use only the slides that they provide, it would still take me hours per lecture to write a lecture the first time.”

Then there was news on April 16th about the Public Interest Research Group announcement that they had reach 1,000 signatures on an online petition to make textbooks affordable including the use of open textbooks, when available. The trade periodical Inside Higher Ed was one that published an article about the PIRG’s accomplishment. AAP’s Bruce Hildebrand praised the effort (that would ironically reduce traditional publisher revenue), saying “any faculty member or group that is willing to make that level of commitment to provide a free textbook, I applaud them.” He then goes on to caution that content creators are assuming the role of publisher, along with all of the duties to keep the content updated and integrate it into instructional systems. This article also lists several examples of how Open Educational Resources is gaining ground, including a description of a management school professor who stopped using traditional textbooks 10 years ago.

Lots of activity here; it is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The text was modified to update a link from http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/04/15/textbook_costs/ to http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/textbook-costs-getting-hard-cover on November 13th, 2012.