Law puts text books online for students

Jared Thomson

Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills last week enabling California students to access and download free digital textbooks online in an effort to save students hundreds of dollars spent on textbooks, tuition and cost of living each year.

Originally proposed by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Senate Bill 1052 and 1053 establishes the California Open Education Resources Council, consisting of members representing CSU, UC, and California Community Colleges, to select 50 of the most widely taken college courses in which digital open source textbooks and related materials will be developed.

S.B. 1053 specifically establishes the California Digital Open Source Library under the provisions of the Donahoe Higher Education Act, effectively creating an online database where students can download free open source digital textbooks and faculty can modify said textbooks and material accordingly to mesh better with their teaching methods.

The free digital textbooks will be accessible via computers, but will mostly benefit students who own e-reader or smart tablet devices such as the Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad and Barnes & Noble Nook, though these books will also be accessible to smart phone owners.

Students who cannot afford e-reader devices or don’t have computer access at home will be able to purchase printed versions of these textbooks for $20, and college bookstores and libraries will be provided with reserve copies for student access.

One concern that comes into question is how this will affect college bookstores which rely on profits from textbook purchases, both new and used? LMC Bookstore Manager Bob Estrada isn’t worried about the digital onslaught that will likely be ready for launch for the 2013-14 school year, however the undetermined time frame could be late as 2016.

“For over 10 years, those of us in this industry have heard how digital books will make print books obsolete,” said Estrada. “Here we are 10 years later and those predictions are far from accurate. While digital books have been slowly increasing in popularity, survey after survey indicates that students, by a large majority, prefer print books to digital books.”

LMC student Donna Eaves agrees to an extent, citing that the LMC Bookstore does profit on more than just textbooks, but the need for physical text books is still in demand. “Textbook companies may be affected, but there are some books that I would prefer to carry,” she said. “Things like math and chemistry, I would prefer to carry around because of the math involved. Subjects like psychology and biology I would carry around in my Kindle.”

DeAnna Moss part-time student, looks forward to having the physical weight of books lifted off her shoulders while concurrently saving money.“I think it is a sign of the times to have free digital textbooks available for California college students. It would be beneficial for those who have an e-reader device to be able to obtain a book for free, and be able to have all their books available in one place,” she said.

“My textbooks usually cost around $100 to $150 per class. It is pricey, but I generally price shop online and end up purchasing from Amazon.com, and I am able to sell it all back to them for a credit when the class is over if I chose not to keep the book,” said Moss.Students who aren’t eligible for financial aid have the hardest time affording textbooks, which is why LMC student Dylan Kuhlmann is looking forward to this endeavor.
“I’m actually really excited for this. A while back I was given a Nook, specifically because of textbooks, but I’ve been too afraid to buy anything for school on it, because they cost about the same,” he said. “Students are already pretty likely to shop online, given the option. [Textbook companies] have a real hold on the education system, and they should get some fairness knocked into them.”

It’s unclear if this effort will negatively impact textbook manufacturers. The state is able to achieve affordable textbooks by supplying open source books rather than incurring the high expenses of copyright textbooks. In lieu of the recent tuition raises, students will be ready to take discounts anywhere they can get them.
“I’d love any help I can get just to get by these higher costs for tuition,” said LMC student Patrick Wilson.
According to a press release by Steinberg, “Under separate budget trailer bill legislation (SB 1028) private funding is required for implementation of the program. While five million dollars has been appropriated from the Golden State Scholarshare Trust Fund, that money can only be used as it is matched dollar-for-dollar by private foundation or individual donations.” Estrada also pointed out that professors are going to have to agree on the material that is developed.

“It is, after all, the professors who make the decision on which textbook will be used for his or her respective class. One size does not fit all, as you can see by the large number of different textbooks in existence,” he said. At this time, it’s doubtful that college instructors will be required to utilize these free digital textbooks in their curriculum, which may spark debate in the future among students looking for a break.

The LMC Bookstore currently has no plans to offer e-reader devices for sale, but Estrada said they would be prepared for any change in product demand in the future.