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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Textbooks For Less

    According to the recent New York Times article, “Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free,” published Sept. 14, 2008, there is a solution to the problem of students being forced to buy overprices textbooks and the answer can be found in your dorm room — your computer.

    The solution lies in the concept of spreading knowledge for free via the Internet. According to the article, one of the recent pioneers in this model is R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor and textbook author at CalTech who turned down a $100,000 advance from a book company for the rights to publish his textbook.

    Instead, McAfee chose to offer his textbook online — where it can be viewed for free. McAfee also has made arrangements for print versions to be made available on various websites, with the highest price being $59.95 — cheaper than the estimated $200 retail price of the book. While the book isn’t a major seller, schools such as Harvard University use the text in some of their economics courses, according to the article.

    Although few professors publish textbooks for free, the Times also mentions OpenCourseWare (ocw.mit.edu) created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). OpenCourseWare is a collection of lesson materials, not necessarily textbooks, for hundreds of courses at MIT. “Teachers put up material, called ‘modules,’ and then mix and match their work with others’ to create a collection of material for students,” according to the article. By doing this, MIT is, in fact, offering their course material for free.

    “We are changing textbook publishing from a pipeline to an ecosystem,” said Richard G. Baraniuk in the article. Baranuuk, an engineering professor at Rice University, constructed the idea behind the MIT site.

    Despite the usefulness of OpenCourseWare, it still is not a substitute for buying conventional textbooks. For the time being, while we wait for the dawning of open source textbooks, there is a cheaper solution to buying books. Many websites such as CourseSmart.com are offering digital copies of textbooks which on average sell for half the price of a print version. According to the CourseSmart web site, the company published one third of all popular college textbooks online as eTextbooks.

    Although digital textbooks are a great way to save money, there is one major catch to using such services. According to the CourseSmart terms of service, eTexbooks are unlike print textbooks because CourseSmart requires you to view the textbook via a web browser, which requires an Internet connection.

    Although requiring an Internet connection is inconvenient, you are free to access the web site from any computer with the Internet. If the web-view model is not your preferred method of accessing the eTextbooks, CourseSmart also allows you to download a copy of the textbook to one personal computer.

    Despite the limited methods to access your eTextbook, both the web and download models allow you to print and/or copy and paste up to 150% of the total pages of the eTextbook.

    The biggest difference from conventional textbooks is when using an eTextbook from CourseSmart (although this is common with many other providers), you are buying a subscription (i.e. renting) to use the eTextbook. The CourseSmart terms of service states that “Most subscriptions will last approximately six (6) months,” however they state earlier, “The length of subscriptions to individual CourseSmart eTextbooks may vary.”

    While electronic course materials are unlikely to replace physical materials any time soon, it could be easier to just turn on your laptop rather than lugging around a five pound textbook.

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