For most college students, textbooks are a huge expense. And it only gets worse since the prices have been rising at twice the rate of inflation over the past twenty years.

But what if those books could be downloaded for free?

Freeload Press is trying just that. Their titles, mostly business and finance books published in pdf format, are used in classes at more than 100 colleges in the US.

Of course, there’s a catch. Students must complete a survey on the company web site (information that is undoubtedly sold to marketers) and the books themselves come with ads.

I have no problem with people trading personal data for something if they are well aware of what’s going on. However, students shouldn’t have to.

Most of the material in beginning level college textbooks, not to mention most of what we use in K12 schools, is basic information that doesn’t change much from year to year.

The books, however, are priced as if it was profoundly unique.

Take for example the basic Calculus textbook I used in college and which now sells for more than $150. Or the $50+ Algebra 1 book purchased by many high schools in our district.

Those curriculums and many others could be put into a wiki, accessible to everyone and updated as needed by teachers and students.

Exactly what the Wikipedia foundation is doing with their WikiBooks project.

If the leaders of the larger school districts in this country (like ours) had vision, they would invest some money to kick start this or another open source textbook project.

A relatively small amount spent up front could result in millions saved over the years on buying hardback volumes that are impossible to update until the next adoption cycle.

textbook, wikibooks, college