LETTERS TO THE EDITORS
To the Editors:
David Harris’s and Mark A. Schneegurt’s article “The Other Open-Access Debate” (November–December) on the price of textbooks reminds me of a decision I made some years ago. I launched a new pair of courses for Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Program in Interactive Media and Game Development. Based on one of my hobbies, collecting strategy games, the two courses in board-game design were unique nationally at the time. As I designed the courses, I wrote five textbooks (found as the series “Studies in Game Design”).
I self-published, which meant that each book’s release was nearly instantaneous. I wrote two books over a summer. They were on sale by that Labor Day. I priced the books to be affordable for students. The books, some with lavish full-color illustrations, cost the students $4–$6 each. So, most students bought the books without complaint. And there also have been library sales. My royalty rate was 70 percent, for the most part. Self-publication is a win-win outcome for faculty and students.
Alas, portable book devices apparently do not handle LaTeX or PDFs well as inputs. However, my third self-publisher firm, Third Millennium, takes PDFs as inputs, so that I could indeed self-publish physics texts this way.
George Phillies, Professor Emeritus
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Drs. Harris and Schneegurt respond:
Dr. Phillies’s approach is an excellent example of how digital technologies enable producers of content to reach an audience that was not possible just a few years ago. The cost savings for students is an undeniable benefit to society. However, the push toward openly licensing content is about more than just low cost—it’s also about the rights afforded the user of the content. Users can adapt, redistribute, and augment our published materials without permission. This level of freedom sparks innovation and broadens accessibility.
We believe that authors should be compensated for their work, so under our model authors are paid for their intellectual work during production, but not through a lifetime of royalties at student expense. Our content-development model is supported by extensive peer review and professional editing to ensure that the materials are accurate and meet the scope and sequence requirements of established curricula. The finished products are available, free of charge, in a myriad of online formats, with great flexibility and accessibility, and as low-cost printed volumes that match the quality of traditional textbooks. The digital revolution has heightened the adventure of education, through self-publishing content and open educational resources. We believe that both models can coexist effectively in the market.