BY BILL ANDERSON

Three years ago I was in a university book store in the US. For the first time ever, I saw that students could lease electronic copies of a text book for a semester. At about half the cost of the hardcopy text it was probably a bargain given that the second-hand (hard)copies I saw were going for around two-thirds of the full price. I’ve since also discovered that students in the US, who pay on average around $US650-700 annually for text books, can lease hardcopy books as well.

In Aotearoa/New Zealand, as in the US, textbooks cost a lot. Victoria Rea’s post highlights this point. I’m not sure what has happened in Australia and NZ, but in the US, textbook prices have risen by over 800% since 1978 – in comparison with a CPI increase of around 250%. It is no surprise that with such an increase, US students are seeking and using alternatives such as leasing, or that Victoria suggested that Open Educational Resources (OER) are a step towards solving the problem.

There are, indeed, alternatives to leasing textbooks that take advantage of the large number of open educational resources, typically Creative Commons licensed, available online. Such alternatives come in many forms.

Some lecturers, familiar with and committed to OER use, suggest individual resources that together might substitute for texts. Organisations have attempted to use OERs as the basis for texts. One such is boundless.com, which gathers and organises OER material in ways similar to textbooks. Flat World Knowledge also attempted to bring free and open access textbooks to students. Both have struggled to create business models that incorporate OERs, add value for students, stay low cost and remain profitable.

Publishing companies stand to lose the most as high quality OERs become increasingly available. They are doing what you’d expect – fighting the trend, as they did in the case of boundless.com, or adapting to it. In the latter case, Pearson offer a service that allows lecturers to create course materials using their own content, Pearson’s resources, and OERs. The bottom line here is that CC-licensed OERs are having an impact on the way the textbook game is being played. It may take a while, but change is definitely coming.

While textbooks for students are one issue, another is the publication of texts by academics for an academic readership. The issue here is different. All academic authors want their work to be read – by as large an audience as possible. How to make this happen? A colleague of mine, Terry Anderson of Athabasca University in Canada has found at least one answer – and it is an answer I see echoed in a post on this website.

Terry is a highly respected academic and author in the e-learning and distance education field. He has written several books, publishing his first two under ‘normal’ copyright licensing provisions. They were successful, selling around 1000 and 1200 respectively.

Terry’s most recent book is available openly from the publishers under a CC licence (CC BY-NC-ND 2.5 CA). Terry tells me that downloads of whole copies as well as individual chapters have amounted to over 180,000. What’s more interesting is that the publisher has also reported sales of hardcopy books have amounted to over 2200 copies. Terry feels that open publication has both increased readership and increased sales (as it did for Richard White’s music – see Hannah Mettner’s post about Richard White).

Like the music industry before it, the world of books is changing. Certainly, in the academic world the Creative Commons licensing of texts and the use of existing OERs is creating a publication environment unlike any we have seen before.

Bill Anderson has recently retired from the position of Director, Distance Learning, at the University of Otago.

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