Submissions:2016/Textbooks and the New Information Economy

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Textbooks and the New Information Economy
Academic Peer Review option
Type of submission
Jake L. Warner, Michael S. Malley, William R. Heinze
E-mail address
Andata; The University of Alabama Education Policy Center

Information wants to be free — not necessarily “free of charge,” but fundamentally free to evolve and expand. Throughout history, human capital has always been a leading indicator of progress, as each subsequent generation builds upon the collective knowledge of its predecessors to augment the culture, technology, and thought of its time.

In the Digital Age, duplicating and distributing information has practically no cost. Services such as Wikipedia and The Internet Archive have successfully leveraged the ever-declining costs of digital storage and web hosting to demonstrate the capabilities of technology in providing open access to the world's information. Widespread access to Internet devices — possessed by 46.1% of the global population and 88.5% of the U.S.[1] — and low barriers to entry have enabled the creation not only of an online ecosystem conducive to rapid dissemination of news and information, but of a global, knowledge-sharing hub. Compare this to the traditional publishing model, in which printing and distribution relied upon publishers' massive economies of scale; only large institutions such as publishers and universities could amass collections of expensive texts, and publishers (including university presses) alone possessed the necessary infrastructure to produce these works. These institutions acted as gatekeepers to what would enter public knowledge. This new model should, logically, herald unprecedented exploration and progress as new and old information is assimilated into the academic corpus.

Recently, revolutions in open access publishing for journals have created a new dialogue, and open journals are rapidly gaining credence among academics. Beyond the immediate impact of rejuvenating the public domain, these journals have redefined the information economy; no longer is information a commodity, but a public good. Primary-sourced knowledge is more accessible now than ever.

Textbook publishers, on the other hand, have resisted this phenomenon and attempted to circumvent open access by peddling secondary and tertiary sources of information. What we have seen and will continue to see is that legacy publishers have monopolized electronic distribution with their closed platforms — and at a premium cost to students. A 2012 study by the American Enterprise Institute found that the price of textbooks in America has risen 812% since 1978 and more than doubled in the past decade[2], and students are reeling. Why has this industry, which is largely responsible for curating the information that is taught in educational institutions worldwide, forsaken the interests of its constituents?

This presentation will explore this problem in depth, tracing its origin and manifestation, and propose several potential solutions. In particular, it will examine the open textbook movement, which seeks to bring the open source philosophy to the textbook industry. Lastly, it will survey current legislation and the legislative reforms that have been proposed to rectify access with profit.

Length of presentation
30 minutes
Special schedule requests
Saturday strongly preferred; Sunday or Monday acceptable
Preferred room size
As large as is available
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