August 12, 2006
"Free" Textbooks!
Posted by Gordon Smith

Freeload Press has a catchy name. Their tagline is "Liberating the Textbook." Their marketing pitch:

Students spend an average of $900 per year on textbooks.

We propose they spend $0.

The secret sauce: advertising. Their e-books, which come with embedded ads, are provided without charge. Paperback versions are available in two flavors -- ads and no ads -- with differential pricing.

I registered and tried to download a finance book, but was unsuccessful. When I returned to the site, I was asked to register again. Forget it. I get the concept, and it doesn't appeal to me. "Burdening the Textbook" is more like it. But I freely admit that am a snob about advertising. (You will notice that we do not accept ads on Conglomerate.)

That said, this is probably an inevitable development. Students are a captive audience, and 20 years from now, I suspect that our textbooks will look more like People magazine than Prosser on Torts.

Also, for students with limited means, this idea would be a very welcome development. Unfortunately for those students, Freeload has only a handful of titles, and the current lack of execution on the website does not bode well for the long-term prospects of the company.

HT David Wood.

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Comments (5)

1. Posted by David on August 13, 2006 @ 11:51 | Permalink

I actually like the concept quite a lot as it opens up the possibility of education to the masses (including those in third world countries and/or not at a university). I'm not sure I think a fully subsidized book is necessary, but something to bring down the costs to a more reasonable level is appreciated (I'm still a doctoral student!).

I was able to download an accounting book and the adds weren't that bad--one at the beginning of each chapter. Not sure how much I would be willing to pay for an add on the business side of things, but the price is sure nice to the students. I think this approach may work especially well for large introductory classes, but probably not as well for more specialized courses.


2. Posted by Gordon Smith on August 14, 2006 @ 10:41 | Permalink

David,

Look at the corporate sponsors they have set up: Culver's, FedEx Kinko's, Pura Vida Coffee, and Total Recall Learning (?). How many of those companies are going to pay for ads to educate the Third World? Notice that all of the books are for college-level courses. That's the target audience: kids with current or impending discretionary income. This is not about saving the world.


3. Posted by jack on August 14, 2006 @ 17:52 | Permalink

Gordon,

You seem to be very quick with a blanket negative judgement. I am a Professor associated with Freeload Press and know that we will be providing more and more free titles as we gather speed. We have a way to go but we have started. College, K-12, and adult education populations are in our plan.

Sorry, you had difficulty with our site. We have been fine tuning during the summer months before the academic year kicks off. Since thousands of people have downloaded our products your experience is uncommon. We assess user experiences with the site and with downloading and the verdict has been excellent. It is not perfect so we have work to do.

You would be surprised how many companies in and outside the U.S. are interested in the Freeload Press model.

Just a friendly reminder to you that a business has to start and sustain itself. This usually means a limited number of initial products or services, a few unfortunate glitches, but a steadiness and a dedication to its audience. In our case we want to help students who can't afford to purchase their assigned course materials. We'll await your contribution to the education of people around the world. You can remain a snob about advertising while we attempt to provide high quality free academic resources to people around the globe.

Since you have the last word on this blog I'll simply thank you for commenting about Freeload Press. I don't like or respect your tone but we have noted your comments.


4. Posted by David on August 15, 2006 @ 5:16 | Permalink

Gordon,

I didn't say the company was setting itself up to save the world, the company's trying to make a buck...BUT, while making a buck they also make it possible for others to use the product and improve their station in life. Since they don't limit downloads to the demographic the advertising companies are targeting, individuals the world over can access this information. Potentially, sites like ocw.mit.edu (MIT's opencourseware) could integrate with this technology to provide high quality, low cost education. While I doubt this is the intent of freeloadpress.com (to help the world become educated), it is a nice side benefit that could happen while the company makes a decent profit.


5. Posted by Gordon Smith on August 15, 2006 @ 7:38 | Permalink

That's a fair point, David. I didn't mean to mischaracterize what you are saying.

Jack, Good luck to you and to Freeload. I tend to resist advertising where I can because it (usually) uglifies whatever it touches. It doesn't at all surprise me that businesses are interested (why wouldn't they be interested in getting their ads in front of college students who are assigned to read the books?), but I am not convinced that Freeload is going to be their company of choice. Time will tell.

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