March 25, 2011
We’ve got big news. Today we’re announcing something that you may have assumed was already the the case: Eleven Learning is an open source textbook publisher.
What does that mean?
From now on, our textbooks will be available freely. We’re recommending that our authors adopt the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Click the link to read the full text of the license deed—in plain English, no less—but the brief version is that you can freely share and distribute our textbooks for noncommercial purposes. You can also modify them and share those derivative works, provided that credit is given to the copyright holder and that this license also applies to the new works.
What if an author wants to use another license, like CC BY-NC-ND?
We can live with that. You’ll find thousands of online debates about which license is most “free”, and the difference between “free as in beer” and “free as in speech”, but you won’t find it here. For us, pragmatism trumps ideology. This is a big tent.
Why do you use the term “Open Source” instead of “Open Educational Resources”?
Because everybody and their grandma knows what “Open Source” means. Unfortunately, only OER people seem to know what “OER” means. When I use “OER” in an email message, I inevitably feel the need to define it. That’s a drag.
If the book content is free, and you’re a for-profit company, how do you make money?
OK, more seriously: by charging for it.
Yes, readers can obtain the content for free. Some of them will do so. They’ll download the source, reformat it, print it, then get it spiral-bound. Good for them.
Many will look at the print and online solutions we offer and think, “It’s easy to buy. It’s a fair price. It makes my life more convenient. They’re paying royalties to the authors. That’s a pretty good deal.”
Call it the freemium approach. Call it similar to Red Hat’s value-added model for Linux. With apologies to Heinlein, we call it appealing to students’ self-interest and their better nature.
So just to be clear, students can just use the books for free.
Why go open source?
Our slogan is “community-powered textbooks”. Through our peersourcing process, we ask our reviewers to help us both edit and spread the word about our books. And when one asks for help, it’s only fair to offer something in return. We can’t pay them back, so we are <gag>paying it forward</gag>.
What took you so long?
For a while now, we’ve danced around this issue and been open source in all but name. Our books were already free. People assumed we were open source. But we hadn’t officially committed to it. We were the common-law marriage of open source publishers.
The rest of our team was in favor of taking the leap. But I was chicken. Why? Perhaps it was the you-can’t-do-that look of horror I received from a few publishing industry sages when I shared our plans with them.
But then I remembered that, contrary to their knee-jerk reactions, we already are doing it. This is the way forward.
Please join us in welcoming the newest addition to the Eleven Learning family: ISBN 0-978-9834557-9-0, registered with the Library of Congress for the forthcoming book Developmental Linear Algebra: The Path to Mathematical Maturity by James Hefferon of St. Michael’s College.
With that number, we have moved one step closer to publishing the first completely new, commercially viable, open source linear algebra textbook. You can count on one hand the number of new linear algebra textbooks launched by Big Publishing during the past decade. The number of viable independently-published titles over that same period is zero.
Together with Jim and the team of volunteer peersoucing editors, we’re on the verge of doing something remarkable with this project. While getting an ISBN is a simple exercise, it’s still exciting and invigorating to us, and it’s a wake-up call to everyone who didn’t think this was the real deal.
Some of you may wonder why we aren’t doing away with legacy concepts like ISBNs. We debated that ourselves. In the end, we decided that ISBNs weren’t part of the Textbook Problem: they make it easier to locate, adopt, and order our textbooks. So we’re keeping the baby as we throw away the bathwater.
In this case, the baby’s name is 0-978-9834557-9-0.
March 1, 2011
As regular readers will know, we participated in the Startup Showcase at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty overwhelming: we picked up some great information, met a lot of interesting people, renewed old acquaintances, and received tons of positive feedback. Some observations (warning, may include significant randomness):
- Starting conversations with “We’re an open source college textbook publisher” is a great way to grab people’s attention these days. More on our OER effort coming soon.
- Said the CEO of another textbook publisher: “I know you…you’re the guys who quit math.” Thanks for reading our blog!
- The mix of companies at the Startup Showcase was interesting. Some were disruptive, but most were enabling technologies. Overall, it was the right combination for an event such as this one. The audience was fantastic: we were pleased to learn that there were a couple potential authors in the crowd, too.
- Our favorite bit of advice came from media entrepreneur and investor Linda Holliday, who said “Your mix of free and revenue-generating content is a dance you do with your customers.”
- If you weren’t able to make the conference and want to check out some of the presentations, here they are. This conference really is the bleeding edge of the industry. We’re smarter just for having been in the building.
Finally, we were presenting opposite the Westminster Dog Show. Fluffy dogs are hard to compete with. As we headed back to Boston, we saw a bunch of them outside of Penn Station…