OpenStax College’s free textbooks will save students $1M this fall

Downloads and orders for free physics, sociology textbooks top 13,000 since June

College students and instructors are rushing to adopt the first free textbooks from upstart publisher OpenStax College. The Rice University-based publisher said it expects to save students at least $1 million this fall after 13,000 of its physics and sociology textbooks were ordered or downloaded in their first 10 weeks on the market.

“Our first two titles will save students more money in one semester than they cost to develop,” said Rice engineering professor Richard Baraniuk, OpenStax College’s founder and director. “We’re well on our way to our five-year goal of saving 1 million college students $95 million.”

OpenStax College launched in February with a philanthropic model to offer free textbooks for the most heavily attended college courses in the nation. Baraniuk said more than 50,000 online users have viewed the first two titles — College Physics and Introduction to Sociology — since they were published in June. The books also have been downloaded nearly 7,000 times, and instructors at 55 colleges have adopted the books for fall classes.

Dean Florez, president of 20 Million Minds Foundation, one of OpenStax College’s philanthropic partners, said, “As a foundation, we are impressed by OpenStax College’s immediate impact on the market. Our mission is to provide immediate relief for students who are being saddled with $1 trillion in educational debt. We are extremely encouraged too see how rapidly faculty are embracing this solution for the benefit of their students.”

OpenStax College Editor-in-Chief David Harris said new orders from college bookstores are coming in daily. He said students and instructors are also flocking to the titles online; College Physics is averaging more than 1,000 views per day, and more than 10,000 users have viewed Introduction to Sociology.

“The response has been phenomenal, especially when you consider that these two books were published less than three months ago,” said Harris, a 22-year veteran of the textbook publishing industry.

Harris said free books are a big draw for college students, but instructors are more concerned with quality.

Baraniuk holding physics textbook

Richard Baraniuk, founder of Rice University's OpenStax College program.

“A bad book is still a bad book, even if it’s free,” Harris said. “Our books are both free and high quality, thanks to the investment of our philanthropic partners.”

OpenStax College is developing its first five titles with grants from the 20 Million Minds Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Maxfield Foundation.

“The Hewlett Foundation has been supporting open-education resources for more than a decade, and we have seen a significant change in the awareness of OER in the past year,” said Vic Vuchic, a program officer in the Hewlett Foundation’s Education Program. “We are very pleased by the initial success of OpenStax College in a whole range of metrics — including adoption. We remain committed to providing openly licensed high-quality content for students around the globe.”

Harris said OpenStax College’s next three titles — Biology, Concepts of Biology and Anatomy and Physiology — will be completed in early 2013, and sample chapters will be available online this fall. He said OpenStax College also has begun raising money to develop its next five books: college algebra, general chemistry, principles of economics, U.S. history and psychology.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.