Guest Column: What You Can Learn From Open Access
Like trade book publishing and other content industries, the $8-billion college textbook market is struggling to adapt to a new media universe. Old business models weren't designed for today's customers who want more access and control over content at lower costs.
Students routinely search the Internet for used books, textbook rentals, piracy sites and a thriving gray market of low-cost international editions, being unable or unwilling to pay $200 for a new textbook. (The College Board reports that students are spending an average of $1,137 for textbooks and supplies this academic year. For students at community colleges, the cost of textbooks and supplies as a percentage of tuition and fees is 72 percent; 26 percent for students attending a four-year public college, according to estimates by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.)
And more students elect to do without. While these alternatives have a short-term effect of driving down costs for students, textbook publishers are responding to the loss of new unit sales by increasing prices each year; creating a unique ISBN for new faculty adoptions through custom books and bundles; and revising editions faster to flush used books out of the market.
Educators are rightfully concerned that learning suffers when students can't afford textbooks. They also want more content control to modify the textbook to fit their specific course requirements.
Academic authors, too, have been hurt by the industry's broken model. Royalties are shrinking from fewer new book sales. Authors face internal competition from multiple titles in their courses. Many authors are kept on a treadmill of revisions to justify new editions.
Standing in the way of solving these problems are traditional copyright restrictions that no longer work in a technology-driven world. Copyright laws are complex, as Google's Book Search project to create a universal library proves, but people find ways to work around them. As content companies know, digital rights management (DRM) doesn't prevent piracy.