Archive for September 30, 2009

Uh-Oh! Enforced Open Textbooks

I find this new bill pretty scary:Durbin Open Textbook Bill Finally Introduced!.  I don’t have anything against Open Textbooks.  The ones I’ve seen so-far haven’t been very innovative, and I do wonder if it’s a viable model. People deserve to be paid for their effort, and higher quality effort should result in greater pay. That’s the economic force that encourages better materials. Part of what this bill does is fund development of Open Textbooks, and I think it’s a great thing to develop that model.

The scary part of this bill is the enforcement that everything (“curricula and textbooks”) funded by the National Science Foundation must be open source:

In General- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, educational materials such as curricula and textbooks created through grants distributed by Federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, for use in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary courses shall be licensed under an open license.

I suspect that most science education innovations in the United States get some part of their funding from NSF.  I am quite confident that most of those innovations in computing education are. Alice, Media Computation, DrScheme — all of them had NSF funding. Under this bill, none of those could be published commercially.

By selling books through a publisher, we (authors, but also the teaching community) get a dissemination mechanism and a support mechanism. I’ve talked to teachers (including university faculty) who won’t use a book unless it’s offered by a publisher — they want to know that it won’t go out of print while they still need it, and that it will be updated as long as there are customers.

As an author, I’m glad that Pearson has a sales staff that goes out and tells people about my books. I want those people to get paid. I don’t know if Pearson can still make money if a percentage of their market decides to simply deal with the PDF and Pearson can only sell to those who don’t trust the author’s website or who want hardcopy.

Under this bill, a commercial publisher can’t put good, well-assessed curricula in a textbook and then disseminate it via a salesperson and bookstore distribution network. How does one get high-quality, sustainable change if you can’t ever pay authors, salespeople, bookstores, and publishers?

September 30, 2009 at 9:37 pm 24 comments


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