Free Textbook Market

            Scott G. McNealy, the co-founder and former CEO of Sun Microsystems – one of the largest sellers of server computers – is launching an online hub for free textbooks and other course materials called Curriki, according to an article in The New York Times. Sun Microsystems was purchased by Oracle, a software manufacturer, in 2010.

            Curriki, a nonprofit organization, and many other organizations are building a trend of creating open-source, online versions of many existing textbooks. These online versions are much cheaper and sometimes free.

            Many traditional textbook publishers have been slightly modifying existing editions of textbooks and reselling basically the same version to increase profits. Textbook publishers have been doing so for years; however, this will soon end.  

            “We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks” in the United States, McNealy told The New York Times. “It seems to me we could put that all online for free.”

            Many of these open-source, online textbooks are written by retired, or groups of, retired teachers and professors. These retired teachers allow anyone to distribute these open-source textbooks in digital, printed, or audio format.

            Many schools and organizations are opening up to these textbooks. However, the process is not as simple as it may appear.

            The states of California and Texas are the two biggest consumers of textbooks because of their large student populations. Therefore, these open-source textbook creators are pushing to meet the requirements of these states. Most states have separate regulations for textbook usage.

            Both Texas and California have recently adjusted their textbook regulations to grant these open-source textbooks a fighting chance against the states’ arduous approval processes.

            The states are currently considering permitting these books.

            Other companies like Flat World Knowledge are competing against traditional textbook publishers at the college level. Flat World Knowledge has been giving select colleges free online versions of textbooks. Students can then buy a black-and-white version of the textbook for $30 or $60 for a color version, which is significantly cheaper than around the $200 mark that most traditional textbooks would cost.

            McNealy and other open-source textbook aficionados are still trying to garner enough support and money to bolster free or discounted open-source textbooks. However, these programs are becoming more credible, and it is expected that textbooks will become cheaper, and possibly free, eventually.