As publishing students we have learned that academic publishing is where most of the money is. We also know as students why this is the case. Textbooks are outrageously expensive. This is an ongoing moral battle for us. We know how important academic publishing is, and some of us would even like to enter this field. Nonetheless, it is still difficult to overlook the extreme prices of textbooks.
Could this all be changing? In this article from the Huffington Post, college textbooks could soon be free. Seeing those words together in a sentence is absolutely unheard of. However, a new legislation introduced in Congress named the “Affordable College Textbook Act,” filed earlier this month, might just make those words true.
Senators Dick Durbin and Al Franken sponsored the bill that would create a grant program for colleges and universities to “create and expand the use of textbooks that can be made available online” and offered with free access to the public. This bill would allow students, and anyone else, to have access to the digital textbooks.
Of course, free textbooks are still not free to make. Senator Durbin cited in the legislation the success of a $150,000 grant to the University of Illinois for its Open Source Textbook Initiative. With the grant, UI faculty created a book that is now available to anyone for free. The faculty will also update the book when any new information becomes available. The University of California-Davis saw similar results with a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
How will the possibility of free textbooks affect academic publishers like Macmillan and Pearson? Textbooks are a valuable part of our education. When students have to skimp out on purchasing a textbook because of its price, this diminishes their learning experience. Thankfully textbook rentals have alleviated some of this. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how academic publishers will respond to the Affordable College Textbook Act.