This is the second post in this week’s Seminar about textbooks.

From the New York Times:

$200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math.

Infuriating Scott G. McNealy has never been easier. Just bring up math textbooks. Mr. McNealy, the fiery co-founder and former chief executive of Sun Microsystems, shuns basic math textbooks as bloated monstrosities: their price keeps rising while the core information inside of them stays the same. “Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time,” Mr. McNealy says.

Early this year, Oracle, the database software maker, acquired Sun for $7.4 billion, leaving Mr. McNealy without a job. He has since decided to aim his energy and some money at Curriki, an online hub for free textbooks and other course material that he spearheaded six years ago. “We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks” in the United States, Mr. McNealy says. “It seems to me we could put that all online for free.”

Indeed. Free textbooks, at both the high school and college level are inevitable. They are coming faster than you think. Are you a Williams professor who wants to get ahead of this trend, who would like to see thousands of students using your book? Open source it now before a competitor does.

Eric Frank, the co-founder of Flat World Knowledge, argues that there is a huge financial opportunity in outflanking the traditional textbook makers. His company homes in on colleges and gives away a free online version of some textbooks. Students can then pay $30 for a black-and-white version to be printed on demand or $60 for a color version, or they can buy an audio copy.

About 55 percent of students buy a book, Mr. Frank said, adding that the leading calculus book from a traditional publisher costs more than $200.

What textbook does Williams use for calculus? What should it be using?

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