Make Textbooks Affordable, a campaign composed of Student Associations and Public Interest Research Groups from across the US, yesterday released a statement in support of open textbooks signed by 1000 academics. From the press release:

Open textbooks are complete, reviewed textbooks written by academics that can be used online at no cost and printed for a small cost. What sets them apart from conventional textbooks is their open license, which allows instructors and students flexibility to use, customize and print the textbook. Open textbooks are already used at some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions – including Harvard, Caltech and Yale – and the nation’s largest institutions – including the California community colleges and the Arizona State University system.

“Open textbooks are comparable, affordable and flexible alternatives to traditional expensive textbooks,” said Professor Linda Bisson, Chair of the Enology and Viticulture Department at the University of California, Davis. “Not only do they save students money, but they provide instructors with a high-quality textbook that they can customize to meet their needs.”

Textbooks cost students an average of $900 per year, which is a quarter of tuition at an average four-year public university and nearly three-quarters of tuition at a community college, according to a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“Textbooks can price students out of higher education. With costs rising faster than inflation and tuition, some students are faced with the difficult choice to drop out, take on additional debt, or undercut their own learning by not purchasing textbooks,” said Nicole Allen, Textbooks Advocate for The Student PIRGs.

Research conducted by The Student PIRGs identifies publisher tactics as the primary cause of escalating prices. Bundling textbooks with unnecessary supplements forces students to purchase items they do not need; unnecessary new editions undermine the used book market; and withholding critical price information keeps faculty in the dark.

“As faculty members, our top priority is to choose the textbook that is best for our students. We share concerns about affordability, and face similar frustrations with publisher practices,” said Sandra Schroeder, Chair of the American Federation of Teachers Higher Education Program and Policy Council. “Open textbooks and other affordable options, when appropriate for a course, are a win-win for everyone.”

On the What are Open Textbooks? page, they mention our Open Text Book project, and the Open Knowledge Definition – which is great to see! Its good that they emphasise the importance of licensing that permits people to “reproduce, customize, or distribute” as well as access.

However while they allude to Creative Commons licenses – they don’t explicitly distinguish between those licenses which are open (Creative Commons Attribution and Attribution Sharealike), and those which are not (Creative Commons licenses with No Derivatives or Non-commercial options).

While the latter do afford people more choice about what can be done with their work – there are problems with interoperability, and do not serve well as the basis of an ecosystem of textbooks and textbook content that may be built upon, modified and redistributed without restriction. For example, publishers may not have the incentive to add value to existing content if they would be unable to re-distribute this in a commercial context.

Nevertheless its fantastic to see growing support for open textbooks!

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at and he tweets at @jwyg.