The Answer to Escalating Textbook Prices?
● What’s the secret of Freeload’s success so far? Why hasn’t this been done before?
Doran: It just got so over the top with students going without books or with the wrong editions that even the academic community started to become concerned. We also saw that the technology was in place to distribute from Point A to Point B with digital delivery. Those two things combined to give us the opportunity to say, “Hey, we know advertising is an extreme way of doing this, but if we can deliver free textbooks, would that work?”
Preliminary research was much more positive than what we thought. We thought maybe 25 percent to 30 percent [of the market] would be OK with it. With the first 1,000 instructors we talked to, we got an 82-percent approval rating on the idea, which just stunned us. I think the problem is a lot worse than a lot of people know.
A lot of these kids are migrating away from print anyway. In addition to the bandwidth being there so we can deliver the books online, the student interest was there.
● What’s your response to those who say that the world of education should be sheltered from the influence of advertising and marketing?
Doran: We understand that concern, and we’re very careful. We’re very respectful about how to do this. We do offer an ad-free version … or they can [opt for] one with ads. Obviously, the price reflects that. Where and how we’re putting the ads in, and whose ads are going in are all going through an academic filter.
● How do you convince authors to work with you?
Doran: It has been surprisingly accepted by the author community. They understand some things need to be changed. The authors we’ve signed so far are proven authors. We don’t try to make a case that they’re going to make as much money on the royalties side. We want them to know right up front that that’s probably not going to happen. They will get more units used and a larger market share.