When Dennis Passovoy, a lecturer at University of Texas' McCombs School of Business, selected a new textbook for his Organizational Behavior class last year, his students didn't even have to buy it. They could read the book online for free, or purchase it in several formats, including as an audio book, PDF, or $30 paperback version ordered online that would be printed and then shipped to their doors. "It was equally as good as this $160 textbook, but what really got my attention was if the students adopted the book online, it was free," says Passovoy, who got the new textbook from startup publisher Flat World Knowledge.
Flat World was launched in 2007 by two textbook industry veterans to provide an alternative to expensive course books, such as Organizational Behavior, a standard text from Prentice Hall that lists for $180. "It was so obvious to anybody in the industry that students are running as fast as they can to avoid buying a new book," says Jeff Shelstad, Flat World's 46-year-old chief executive officer. CourseSmart, a joint venture by major textbook publishers including Pearson and McGraw-Hill, distributes digital versions of textbooks for a fee. Six months of digital access to Organizational Behavior, for example, costs $98, according to the venture's website.
I guess it's a start. Still, $98 seems egregiously expensive to me.