Would open access textbooks be cheaper?

By Roxanne Missingham, BSc '76

For university students, textbooks have been both a saviour and a bane.

Having most of the essential readings in a single volume enables students to access resources easily.

Despite mostly being used for short periods of time, they come with a hefty price tag - and weight.

With the price of textbooks increasing they are becoming less accessible to students. In the decade to 2013, the price of textbooks worldwide increased by 82 per cent, roughly triple inflation.

In Australia textbooks cost hundreds of dollars each.

For administrative law, a student might spend $123.95 on a single textbook.

The National Union of Students has launched a campaign to make textbooks cheaper, calling for the removal of import restrictions on books.

According to the Union, some students are dropping subjects or changing their degrees because textbooks are so expensive.

To add to this, last year the Federal Government ceased student scholarships to fund textbooks and other education resources and, instead, replaced this with a student start-up loan.

But over in the US, an open access model is being adopted and is radically shaking up this highly profitable textbook industry.

The US textbook industry is worth US$14 billion a year while Australian publisher revenue for textbooks is approximately $400 million.

The movement aims to create open access textbooks, which would mean any student or member of the public could access the appropriate texts online for free.

Campaigns for affordable textbooks started with strong advocacy in the US and, in October last year, the US Congress announced it would introduce a competitive grant program - the Affordable College Textbook Act - to support the creation and use of open access university textbooks.

This means high quality textbooks will be easily accessible to students, academics and the public for free.

So far the open access movement has focused on making publicly-funded research available to the world.