Letter to the Editor: Cheap textbooks are good, but free textbooks are better


Regarding your Jan. 13 editorial, “Pass go, head directly for Beat the Bookstore,” I agree with you that competition is beneficial to students, but you’re still thinking inside the box. Competitors like Beat the Bookstore can only save students a few dollars on textbooks, but what if we tried something radical and made textbooks free?

Go to www.ocw.mit.edu and examine what MIT, one of the premier institutions in our country, is doing. They are providing free access to their course materials. Granted, not many of the textbooks they use are freely available yet, but some are, and the number is growing.

To put this into context, there are currently about 580 students enrolled in Calculus I this semester. The bookstore charges $74.80 for the used version of the required text. That means that it is costing the students in those classes a combined total of at least $43,384 (as not all of them will be able to buy a used copy).

What if the administration commissioned a few professors or graduate students to write a royalty free text that was licensed under a creative commons license (www.creativecommons.org)?

Once the text was completed, it could save students about $40,000 per semester, and would do so perpetually. A small initial investment would, in the long run, save students millions of dollars.

If students want a printed copy, they could simply take the PDF file to a print shop and and get a bound copy for approximately $40 for a savings of about $35. That would be a good deal.

Jason Underdown

Junior, Physics