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Free e-textbooks linked with material purchases

Software and internet news (September 2009)

A textbook publisher, Flat World Knowledge, is to release more of its titles on the internet under a Creative Commons (CC) licence. A trial using some of its business and economics titles in 30 US colleges earlier this year revealed savings of 82 per cent compared with paper versions, amounting to $82 (£52) per student per class. The new titles include texts on psychology, sociology and genetics, with 50 titles due to be in development by summer 2010.

The CC licence allows users to access the complete work online and to re-edit and use relevant sections as required. The publisher expects to profit from making the same texts available as PDFs for $19.95 (which will work with many types of e-book reader) and as audio texts for $39.95 (approximately £25 and £12.50 respectively). A number of print options and supporting materials will also be available on a paid-for basis. Ars Technica reports that around two thirds of students purchased such additional materials, with an average value of $30 (£19), suggesting that the business model has some prospect of success.

In May 2009 the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced a plan to provide text books to all the state's schools in an open source, digital format. However, commentators have remarked on the difficulty of launching such projects in the past, especially in view of specific details of the curricula and other requirements defined by the state's education legislation.

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