Free Textbooks or Plagiarism?

Pablo Valerio, International Business & IT Consultant | 12/13/2012 | 31 comments

Pablo Valerio
Most analysts agree that the $6 billion textbook business in the US is ripe for a digital makeover. But authors, publishers, and retailers are facing a bigger threat to their long-established business -- free electronic textbooks.

Basically, it’s the Wikipedia effect. There are several “free” online resources with all the material necessary to compile the same, if not more, information found in any conventional textbook.

So, how do you go from Wikipedia and other free content sites to a full e-book that matches the $200 textbook used in your Calculus class? Boundless Learning, a Boston company that has been giving away free electronic textbooks for college students, has the answer.

Boundless founder Ariel Diaz found his new business idea when trying to take a crash course on “Quaternions” for a consulting project. Instead of buying a book on the subject, he used a Wikipedia article, and found it extremely detailed and accurate. The difference with Boundless is that it uses the content available online to create a free alternative to existing textbooks, pulling freely-available articles from online sites to match the information (not the words) found on the original.

Teachers are also joining the revolution. Many university professors are beginning to give away free electronic versions of their textbook for individual classes. Instead of trying to make more money selling the book, they want to have more students attending the class. Their classes become popular, and students are happy to not spend more money on textbooks.

It's tempting for schools to embrace this technology. Colleges and K-12 schools are struggling worldwide to get funding, and students are complaining about increasing tuition fees. Saving money on textbooks could ease the pain and help more students afford college. K-12 administrators, especially CIOs charged with bringing new technology and course materials into the classroom, would love to save money and bring in new technology at the same time.

College CIOs should look at the possibilities of new editing platforms, and facilitate the digital transformation of course content for instructors and students.

But there may be an important catch. Publishers (Pearson Education, Inc.; Cengage Learning, Inc.; Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group, LLC, and D/B/A Macmillan Higher Education), are now suing Boundless, claiming that Boundless “generates these 'replacement textbooks' by hiring individuals to copy and paraphrase from Plaintiffs’ textbooks." Boundless refutes the charges, saying it uses sophisticated algorithms and human editors to compile the books from copyright-free online sources.

With legal issues pending, it might not be the best time to invest in bringing these e-books into the classroom. And some would certainly question the potential value of a textbook made by a computer, edited on the cheap, and given for free. But, ultimately, something has to be done.

As Dr. Mark J. Perry, Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan says, “The cost of college textbooks has been rising at almost twice the rate of general CPI inflation for at least the last thirty years.” He claims that textbook publishers operate a “cartel-style” model.

What do you think? Are free textbooks made in this manner the best way to break up the cartel? Comment below.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Page 1 / 4   >   >>
nimanthad   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   2/22/2013 10:55:59 PM
Re: veracity
Yes soozyg, its a common factor which applies to all
soozyg   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   2/18/2013 7:27:04 PM
Re: veracity
@nimanthad, yes, i supposed that's true for all industries, not just publishing.
nimanthad   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   2/17/2013 11:01:33 AM
Re: veracity
True soozyg. I think its something we have to accept in the digital era. Things are made for or to be published on digital media ae easy to access and most of the time there are ways to bypass the original.
soozyg   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   2/16/2013 3:57:09 PM
Re: veracity
@nimanthad yes, but it's similar to technology issues in music distribution. musicians are crazed that they're stuff is easily stolen and they lose potential royalties all the time due to piracy. Security is getting better; there are programs that "stamp" photos for photographers so anything posted on the artists' website can't be downloaded and sold. But authors and artists see what's going on in the music world and they are afraid for their own work. They don't like anything that's not made of paper!
nimanthad   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   2/15/2013 10:44:14 PM
Re: veracity
soozyg: True but I think technology can do something about this. I think it is possible to limit the download of a copy to one (based on the click of the link) plus not allowing to write it to devices.
soozyg   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   2/12/2013 11:19:37 AM
Re: veracity
@Skr2011 yes, that is great for the students, but what about the authors and artists that make their $ off these publications? If you go too cheap, they won't survive.....
soozyg   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   2/12/2013 11:18:12 AM
Re: veracity
@nimanthad yes I agree with you. there has to be a balance. authors and artists are really against publishing any work electronically because it can be duplicated and they won't get any residuals. Which is a totally valid point. However, it is the way of the world now, so they have to be flexible.
nimanthad   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   2/11/2013 10:12:36 AM
Re: veracity
soozyg: Surely they should get credit but some does not want technology to come up simply becasue they cannot cope up with it. That is where the attitude issue comes up.
Syerita Turner   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   1/2/2013 11:11:37 AM
Re: veracity
Now I agree that they should go digital and just lower the prices and do away with hardback books alltogether. With so many households having laptops and desktop computers as well as mobile devices I am sure that they will be better suited for the new technological life we now live daily. Also schools are requiring freshman entering college to have laptops so the digital route just seems to work out well.
Skr2011   Free Textbooks or Plagarism?   12/31/2012 2:07:48 PM
Re: veracity
They need to do what the software industry did: lower prices and go to digital distribution.

I think this is a great soultion!
Page 1 / 4   >   >>


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