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Free books in Minnesota

One of the blogs I follow is one on the future of advertising by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Initially very enamored with MIT’s Open Courseware initiative, I was even more pleased to discover — by way of their advertising blog — that there is a cutting edge open, free textbook publishing company right here in Minnesota (bugs me that I had to read a blog from Boston to find out about something 25 minutes from my office…but I digress).

The company is Freeload Press and they state their mission as:

Freeload Press, Inc. began in 2004 with the goal of using sponsorship to deliver more affordable course materials. A collaboration of academics, authors, publishers and media executives developed the free  + download = Freeload model, with textbooks supported by commercial sponsors. Now, with authors, books, and sponsors in place–and over 100 colleges using Freeload Press, Inc. course materials–we are expanding sponsorship model for use by other publishers.

Back in the early 90’s, I was a consultant to Harcourt Brace College Publisher’s in Fort Worth, TX — a division which appears to have been absorbed into some other Harcourt business unit. My work with them was in a startup new media division delivering value-added material on CD-ROM, shrinkwrapped in the back of new college textbooks in the hope that students would buy new ones over used. Even then, the college textbook was plummeting in sales as the market (students and parents) railed against the prices college publishers demanded.

I often wondered back then about the efficacy of ebooks. Aware of the technical limitations (textbooks are printed at 1200dpi and screens are either 72dpi (Mac) or 96dpi (PC)), I still could already visualize ebooks at some point replacing textbooks. I also wondered, “Why are there dozens of competing psychology textbooks? Geography, math, biology ones?” It seemed as though there was a ton of redundancy and inefficiency in this marketplace since it was highly doubtful there could be THAT much difference in these disciplines to warrant so many texts on the same subjects.

MIT’s Open Courseware project was begun to essentially collaborate with the rest of the market (higher education) on baseline courses that they ALL have to deliver (but read their site and draw your own conclusions) so each higher education institution could instead focus on their respective competitive advantage. Freeload Press is clearly focused directly on the need for a budgetary constrained market (education overall) to have access to knowledge (which is accelerating toward free anyway) and enable and empower all of us to move the world forward through superior levels of education (which benefits us all).

There have been grandiose ideas of sponsored educational materials before…just look at what Chris Whittle has done. Still, something tells me the stars are aligned this time with a more fundamental understanding of the power of the internet, that there isn’t a free lunch and someone has to pay, and the great success of the open source software movement and manifestations of the collective adding value in the form of Wikipedia.

I’m gonna keep my eye on Freeload Press as I know they’re on to something.