In 2008, I designed a production, publishing and distribution process for home grown text books at Otago Polytechnic. Ruth Lawson's Anatomy and Physiology of Animals was the first to test the model.
Anatomy and Physiology of Animals is a 269 A4 page paperback that is authored, edited and updated on Wikibooks, with a reformatted version periodically taken from the wiki and uploaded for distribution via the print-on-demand service Lulu.com
The Wikibook acts as a freely accessible digital version of the text, as well as offering opportunities for collaborative editing including potential student editing and expansion exercises.
The Lulu book takes a stable version from the wiki and offers it in a printed and perfect bound format for US$24 a copy. The printed version is always up to date and available on demand - that is, 1 order 1 print, with ordering and postage handled by the Lulu.com service. Otago Polyetchnic no longer have to commit to a print run of hundreds to achieve the production cost savings, and no longer rely on a crapy spiral bound photo copy going at the same price.
Despite the availability of the free digital version, and despite the openness of the wiki and the relatively unrestricted copyrights over the book, almost all the students in the Otago Polytechnic course choose to buy a printed Lulu book, returning a useful royalty cheque sent in by Lulu.com to the Vet Nursing Department each year, helping to sustain the process. I imagine this purchasing preference would continue if at the end of each year the Lulu book was updated to reflect the encouragsed and coordinated contributions of the students of that year - so long as the price remained below the cost of making a photocopied bootleg version (more on that later).
Following the success of the Anatomy and Physiology of Animals project, the NZ Ministry for the Environment funded Otago Polytechnic to do the same for a text on Sustainable Business, using the widely referenced book by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise as its original source. This project is due for completion March 2010. Another project I know has followed this model is the Open Educational Resources, Educator Handbook.
I think this model would work for standard production and publishing businesses, maintaining (possibly even increasing) financial returns to original authors and editors. If publishers can work out a way to undercut the Lulu service, they could tap into the opportunities that these free and open texts offer with their less restrictive copyrights. A smart publisher would do so with a view to rewarding authors, editors and designers.
Taking the model further>>
There is some interest in this model where I work now with Sport Studies at the University of Canberra. One of the units taught here prescribes the text, Sport Management in Australia but there is a growing feeling that this text does not meet the needs. The publishers have contacted us asking if we would like to renew our subscription to the text, and this has presented an opportunity to propose the above model.
It would require the copyright holder to release the text under a less restrictive license such as Creative Commons Attribution or Share Alike. We could then upload the text to Wikibooks and begin editing a new version. Once we were satisfied with the new version, we would reformat it for a print on demand service, ensuring royalties on the sale of the printed texts are returned to authors and original rights holders to satisfy their concerns, but not so much as it would increase the cost of the printed text to such a level so as to encourage alternative copies.
A risk in this process is if we are unable to complete the new version of the text, leaving the original version open in copyrights. There are two ways to manage this risk:
- Produce a print on demand version of the original as a fall back measure
- Develop to new edition offline, and follow through with the release when it is complete. (this measure could increase the cost of development by limiting contributions to a limited number of editors)
And so we have a business model that does not rely on copyright protectionism, provides access and reusability to teachers and students without legal implications, and offers an opportunity to increase engagement with the text by way of student editing and additions.
I hope to convince my colleagues to initiate negotiations with the publishers of the out-of-date text, and see if we can convince them to trail the model with us.