Wikibooks Aim To Make School Textbooks Free

By: Jon Henshaw, M.A.

Knowledge is an expensive business. Every year, schools are faced with the dilemma of either using out-of-date and worn textbooks, or dipping into their budget and purchasing new and expensive ones. A similar scenario exists for college students. Just as schools are pinched for money, poor college students wrestle with purchasing either a used, older edition textbook, or spending two to three times more on a brand new updated edition.

As you can imagine, textbook publishers relish in the current structure of this business. They create demand by creating a constant flow of new editions, and timely revisions. In addition, most of the authors for these books get paid a small flat fee for their work, while the publishers make huge profits through large volume sales.

Until recently, there hasn't been an alternative to the publishers' monopoly on textbook sales. Fortunately, the Wikimedia Foundation Inc. has an idea to shake up the textbook publishing industry forever. Their solution is Wikibooks.

If you're not familiar with the Wikimedia Foundation Inc., they're the organization that created Wikipedia (a Web-based, multi-language, free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers and sponsored by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation). They are now embarking on a new project called Wikibooks. Wikibooks wants to take the same approach it took with Wikipedia, and create textbooks for all grades, including college level textbooks. Lawrence Lessig's blog recently stated:

In the long run, it will be very difficult for proprietary textbook publishers to compete with freely licensed alternatives. An open project with dozens of professors adapting and refining a textbook on a particular subject will be a very difficult thing for a proprietary publisher to compete with. The point is: there are a huge number of people who are qualified to write these books, and the tools are being created to leave them to do that.

The vision of Wikibooks will take some time, but the momentum is moving forward. Hopefully, within the next few years, their efforts will start to come to fruition. It's exciting to think of a culture where knowledge will be truly freely available. If a student needs the latest edition of a textbook, they'll simply go on the Internet, find the textbook and either reference its content online, or create a print version to take with them. The savings will be enormous to everyone, and knowledge itself will have a wider reach than it's ever had before.

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