The world of writing and publishing textbooks is an interesting one.
The Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University, Professor Stephen Schwartz, has recently been considering the conundrum of students being required to publish textbooks authoried by their instructors:
"If you know that you can count on 1000 students buying your textbook (at a price you set), then you really can’t lose. You may as well pay the upfront costs because you are guaranteed a profit from sales to your own hapless students.
No bookshop needs stock it, no other university needs assign it and no libraries need buy it - the authors still come out well because it is required reading for their students. This is why, in the vast majority of cases, the only sales of these self-published books are to the author’s own students.
Academics who engage in assigning their own books to students could be viewed as exploiting their students for personal gain."
An ethical minefield for sure.
This New York Times article Don't Buy That Textbook, Download it Free tells the story of Cal Tech Professor of economics R. Preston McAfee who is making his textbook free on the web for download. And he's not the only one.
They're calling them open-source textbooks.
I know that lots of people in book publishing are trying to work out what's going to happen in the future with the impact of the internet. Nobody knows yet.
Bonus 1: I love this quote which Noam Cohen has included in the NYT piece:
Jonas Salk was asked who owned the patent to the polio vaccine and scoffed: “Could you patent the sun?”
Bonus 2: Great blog piece by Stephen Schwartz explaining why our children must have some knowledge of the Bible and the language of science to fully participate in our society. :
"We cannot understand, for instance, the history of western societies – including Australia - without some knowledge of the Bible and its influence. See this article from Slate on the religious influences on Abraham Lincoln as just one example
Beyond that, the Bible has been highly influential on literature, on philosophy, and even the way we speak … turning the other cheek, road to Damascus, reaping what we sow, ashes to ashes, fall from grace and many more are all expressions taken from the Bible.
Similarly, how can we hope to understand the present and glimpse the future without some understanding of the language of science? "