How to Get (Printed) Open Textbooks to Your Students

One problem open textbooks (and instructors adopting open textbooks) face is how to make the texts available to their students. Of course, it’s easy to distribute electronic OERs. But if you want to provide your students a nice, printed version they can take to the coffee shop, you’re in a bind. First, you have to have it printed.  This is a bit of work, but with online print-on-demand services like it’s possible.  But students would have to order the text themselves, and tax and shipping can almost double the (low) cost of a print-on-demand paperback, especially if you want it fast.

So big props to our campus bookstore, especially its manager Brent Beatty, who agreed to order 30 copies for my class and sell them at cost. Brent has been a member of UCalgary’s OER Working Group, so he’s attuned to the issues and challenges of open textbooks. All I had to do was send him the order link; with volume discount, low volume shipping cost, and’s frequent (constant?) promotional discount (25%) the shelf price is just a few cents above the list price on lulu (C$11).

Now I just hope enough students buy it so they’re not making a loss!


  1. David Marans

    The print edition of my LOGIC GALLERY has been available for just $20 at LuLu for over six years. There have been a exactly 7 sold.
    Meanwhile there have been over 10,000 (sic) downloads of the complete Open Access pdf.
    While some might say that printed texts still merit a place in education; the vast, vast majority of students are simply not concerned. OER’s, Open Access, and other free meterial can be on their tablets and even smart phones and taken anywhere.
    No problem wharsoever!
    It’s a new world.

    1. Richard Zach

      Half my students bought a copy anyway though.

    2. William B Yeater

      I am a 50 year old student who decided to finish up my degree. Mainly doing independent study (MOOC, etc) and then challenging the course (CLEP, uExcel) Having trouble getting used to online and eBook versions. Sometimes I can find print versions. The biggest problem I have with pdf versions is flipping from the index or TOC to chapter I need and back. (print the index and TOC?). For example I will get a practice text to see where I am weak at, then use the index to brush up on that area. (I read the entire book first).

  2. David Marans

    I suppose it does help coax a student to buy the print edition when the professor is standing up in front with it in hand and all sorts of funny symbols on the borad behind.
    Yet it is much different when the book is both Open-Access and print published AFTER you retire.
    The link to the PDF can (as does mine) appear is syllabi all around, but no college book stores have the print edition, nor is anyone is wagging the print edition in front of them.
    Mind you, I am NOT complaining nor being hostile.

    Students just shy away from printed book. Many swear never to by a printed text.
    So what will happen when some of these students become college professors?
    How inclined will they be to publish in print?

    Will the demise of printed books be a great loss. We say yes. Was the demise of incunabula great loss? Hmmmm…… And what will people say in the year 2040?

  3. Jeff Erickson

    I’m confused. Why would anyone want to take a printed book to a coffee shop?

    (I’m typing this in a coffee shop. I see 18 laptops, one person reading a printed textbook, one person reading a printed paper, and one brave soul scribbling in a legal pad.)

    I’ve been distributing extensive lecture notes for my algorithms classes for almost two decades. In that time, despite the thousands of students who have used them, I’ve seen at most five printed copies, and at least two of those were mine. (Someday I hope my notes are as polished as your books.)

  4. Heather M. Ross

    Our bookstore is offering print on-demand services (in partnership with the printing shop run by our our undergraduate student union) for open textbooks being used at our institution (the U of Saskatchewan). They charge only for cost and students can get something that looks like a course pack. There has been very little interest from students, but the bookstore only prints copies that are ordered so they have no stock of these books sitting on the shelves. As David and Jeff have pointed out, students are reading the books online (or printing them elsewhere. BCcampus has indicated that they’ve seen very little interest for printed copies as well.

    1. Richard Zach

      I heard that too, so I was surprised last term when 50% of my class requested & bought printed copies.

      Has anyone looked at what factors turn students off buying them? I don’t quite believe that “kids these days just don’t read printed books.” Students (at least mine; see use the textbooks differently in print and electronic form; e.g., they highlight text a lot more.

      1. Heather M. Ross

        This academic year we’ll be surveying students in courses using open textbooks (about 20 courses) to get their views on the open textbooks including printing. The other day a student came to see me and asked if he really was allowed to print the open textbook his instructor had created. We spend a lot of time raising awareness among faculty, but students don’t seem to understand how open textbooks work either.

      2. Richard Zach

        I’ll be curious to see what they say!

Comments are closed.